On Labor Day we usually take some sort of outing as a group, and this year was no
exception. On a beautiful, sunny day, of which there were many this fall, thirteen
of us drove to Lemmon, SD, where we had a picnic lunch with our friend, the poet
David Dwyer. We also admired the petrified wood in the city park.
The object of the trip was a visit to a dinosaur dig on the Stuart Schmidt ranch,
35 miles southeast of Lemmon. There, on the cliffs above the Grand River, we scrambled
around picking up bits and pieces of some million-year-old lizards. They were 40
feet long, so it was lucky they were dead. Very sharp teeth. Stuart and his wife,
Lisa, are promoting and planning a new dinosaur museum at Lemmon. He and the two
professional paleontologists who will run the program were guides for the afternoon.
He has been fascinated by these fossils since he was a child playing on the same
All in all it was a fine day--even though some of the monks had root beer floats
at the Lemmon drive-in, while others, whether out of virtue or naivete or ignorance,
came straight home. No hard feelings.
One day about the same time, Bro. Placid came a little late to noon prayer. He had
just settled into his seat by the door when someone burst in the door and shouted:
"Where is Bro. Placid? Your truck is on fire!" So he calmly rose up, genuflected
and ran outside accompanied by Bro. John Seiler. The fire chief, Bro. Elias, found
himself in a cruel dilemma. Since he was leading the prayers, he had to choose between
duties. He chose prayer, but the motor burned up anyway.
No one should waste their tears on Bro. Placid. The pickup was old and he had needed
a new one for some time. In fact, he already had permission to buy one, so this settled
the matter. But not just any pickup would do, you see. He didn't want too many doodads
on it and it had to be blue; above all, it had to be blue. Result: a white '95 pickup
with stereo, cruise-control, plush upholstery and so forth.
Fr. Thomas did not let any moss grow on his north side this fall. Over the weekend
of September 11-15 he attended the national vocation congress at the Airport Hilton
in Bloomington, MN. Thanks to St. Paul Priory for putting him up those nights. On
the way home, he made vocation presentations at Fargo and Jamestown. On September
24, he toured a large group of children from Little Flower School, Minot. At lunch,
he sat the kids at the monks' tables so we had to converse with them. Such nice kids!
Were kids this nice years ago? I doubt it.
Due to the abundant rains in August and September, plus an unusually long growing
season, garden and orchard produced bumper crops. We had more tomatoes than we could
eat, and some of us can eat a lot of tomatoes! Bro. Jeffrey is the new orchard manager,
and his first job was to pick bushel after bushel of apples. Bro. Louie and his helpers
brought in huge pumpkins, so big that one man could barely carry them. The heads
on the sunflowers were so heavy that they bent them over like candy canes. One of
these heads measured fully 12 inches across. Cornucopia. And thanks to Joe Haag,
who gave us a 42-lb. watermelon from his garden.
Photo: Fr. James Kilzer
Shucking time. Because of abundant rain and sunshine, this was an ideal year for
row crops like corn and beans. In order to process the stuff, the kitchen just asked
the monks to stop by on their way out of supper. One of the side benefits of cenobitism:
many hands make quick work. Br. Alban is at the left, Fr. Robert is at the right.
Photo: Fr. James Kilzer
Onion Man. Fr. Raphael poses proudly with some big onions that grew in our garden
this summer. The pose is not phoney: "Sarge" is a great believer in the importance
of raw onions for human health and happiness. To prove his point, he still works
hard in the garden at age 82.
This fall Abbot Patrick added to the list of boards and committees he sits on when
he accepted a term with the North Dakota Catholic Conference. He is also on the Board
of Directors of the University of Mary, the Bishop's Council of the Diocese of Bismarck
and the advisory board of St. John's Seminary at Collegeville, MN. This means he
must attend about two dozen board meetings a year, and do much traveling. On Sept.
29 he attended his first NDCC meeting in Jamestown, a round trip of some 400 miles.
As the CEO of the monastery corporation, the abbot has to spend some of his time
maintaining good relations with the local church and community. Service on these
boards is a good way to accomplish this. It is also a good way to work off some of
your purgatory in advance.
Bro. Brendan has been experiencing serious health problems this fall. His breathing
became so labored that the infirmarian, Bro. Elias, took him to the hospital in Bismarck.
After a week down there, when he was close to death, he picked up a bit and could
be transferred to the Richardton Health Center. His condition is now stable, but
he is now totally dependent on the oxygen tank. Despite this suffering, his spirits
are good and he enjoys visits from his confreres.
During the week of October 11-17, Fr. Terrence gave a retreat to the Benedictine
nuns of Regina Laudis, Bethlehem, Connecticut. They are one of the very few enclosed
convents in this country; they have also retained the full Latin Office plus Gregorian
chant. Although many of the nuns are artists and intellectuals, manual labor is an
essential part of their monastic practice. They maintain a diversified farm in the
midst of the forest. They also do not allow smoking in their guest quarters.
Bro. Jeffrey saw something of the wider monastic world this fall. First he visited
St. Peter's Abbey in Canada in early September, just in time to help them pick potatoes.
That experience stood him well when he had to help us pick our potatoes on October
1. In mid-October, Jeffrey drove to Snowmass Abbey in Colorado for a workshop on
centering prayer. He also reports that he has worked his way through the new papal
encyclical, for which he ought to be awarded at least an honorary degree in philosophy
On October 30 we performed our annual ritual of unloading the wine truck. We buy
wine from California to sell here; we do not make the wine here! Well, anyway, we
have been selling a good deal of the stuff lately, so the stocks were depleted. The
new shipment totalled about 1200 cases and it took us two hours to unload it. That
is pretty good time, but we have 15 or 20 helpers. The bad news is that we are getting
old and we wonder how long we can continue this form of recreation.
Photo: Br. Llewellyn Kouba
This summer Bro. Llewellyn produced this great urn in the Abbey Pottery. It weighs
85 pounds and is 30 inches in height. He tells us the color is "Stone Lichen" fired
to a cone9 matte with bronze-like tones of green. The assembly and firing of such
a large piece is not a simple or easy thing, but the final product is well worth
the effort. You may get more information about the Abbey Pottery from Br. Llewellyn.
St. Peter's Abbey in Muenster, Saskatchewan, is our nearest neighbor to the north,
but since 500 miles separate us, we don't see too much of each other. Nevertheless,
we do feel obligated to help each other when we can, so when Fr. Terrence was asked
to give some conferences to the Canadian monks on November 6-7, he readily accepted.
He also gave a public lecture entitled ""St. Benedict and the Environment.'' The
long drive to Muenster was more enjoyable due to the company of Fr. Robert, who was
traveling to visit family in Outlook, MT. Note: Outlook, MT, is exactly halfway to
Maintenance work on these old buildings continues to be a high priority. This summer
the renovation of the stained glass windows of the church was finished at long last.
This was a joint project with St. Mary's Parish, with whom we are currently planning
a complete renovation of the church interior. Another major project this summer was
the repair and tuck pointing of the powerhouse chimney. This was done by a crew that
thought nothing of eating their lunch and leaning over the rails to watch the parade
of monks eighty feet below. Those monks were uttering thankful prayers that they
were not eighty feet in the air at that moment. "Better them than me."
Bro. Alban is continuing his work on the revision of the Divine Office, which involves
the production of a new psalter and a new hymn book. We need a new psalter because
our current one does not have inclusive language, and Vatican or no Vatican, we feel
that is a necessity in this day and age. The hymnal is even more work, because it
involves weeding out the old book and finding good new material. Then there is the
task of inscribing this music in a printable form. Formerly this was done by hand;
in fact it was done expertly by Bro. Bertrand. But now Alban has a computer program
that will enable him to do this electronically. It will probably not be quite as
elegant to look at, but it is less labor-intensive. Is this progress?
After the warmest, loveliest fall in memory, winter arrived with a roar on the weekend
of November 7-9. By Tuesday we had almost a foot of wet snow and travel was very
hazardous. Because we had such a fine summer and fall, people around here are predicting
a cruel winter. It's the old guilty Stoic Puritan suspicion that all pleasure has
to be followed by suffering. To put it another way, this is the year of La Nina,
and that means hard winter for the Plains. We shall see.
Prior Valerian made a flying trip (one day) to Duluth on October 13 to give a retreat
conference to the CEOs of the Benedictine Health System. This organization owns and
manages St. Benedict's Home in Dickinson. Valerian did even more traveling during
November when he managed to attend a meeting for Benedictine priors in Mexico City
and give a retreat to the Trappist monks in Vina, California, all in two weeks. What's
more, he did not miss his weekly classes at the University of Mary! Only he could
work out the logistics of such a schedule.
Bro. Philip appears to be failing; he was hospitalized in late November after falling
outside his room. Although he tried to remain active as long as possible, he was
finally forced to give up his job in the kitchen. He also passed along his role as
weather observer to Bro. Jeffrey after some 50 years of faithful service.
Fr. Denis was at the University of Michigan's Center for the Ethnography of Everyday
Life, November 19-21, as a consultant for a research project which the Center plans
to conduct in the Richardton-Mott area, studying changes in German-Russian family
life. John Gengler also went along as a consultant on the project. Dr. Tom Fricke,
who grew up in Bismarck, is director of the Center and a professor of anthropology.
Brothers Brendan (left) and Basil A. pictured some years ago at a community party.
In recent months Brendan has been bedridden with emphyseema. Basil is currently studying
theology at Collegeville, MN.
On December 3, Bro. Bertrand defended his thesis at Emerson College in Boston. One
of the profs at his defense was the noted novelist Andre Dubus. In this case the
thesis is a full-length novel written in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree
of Master of Fine Arts in Writing. He has had some short pieces accepted for publication
in literary journals and hopes to publish the novel as well. Bro. Bertrand has been
working toward this degree for two and half years; he will now return to the monastery
to resume the normal monastic life. While in Boston, he sang with a highly rated
men's chorus, which was a good outlet for his considerable musical gifts.
Bro. John Seiler went home to New Rockford on December 14 to assist at the deathbed
of his father, William Seiler. The old man passed away the next afternoon. The funeral
took place on December 18, with Abbot Patrick, Fr. Robert, Fr. Florian and Bro. John
Patrick in attendance. William Seiler was 96-1/2 years of age when he died. He attended
the Abbey School in the years 1919-1920, making him one of our oldest alumni. A few
days before his death, Bro. John's mother, a resident of the same nursing home, fell
and broke her leg. To add to the misery, Bro. John himself was so sick with flu dehydration
that he collapsed on Dec. 30 and was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital where they pumped
six bags of fluid into him. All in all, a tough month for the Seiler family
This December marks the tenth anniversary of Abbot Patrick's election as our abbot.
Here is what Prior Valerian wrote in the community newsletter: "On Dec. 27, 1988,
Assumption Abbey elected its seventh abbot. In a few days, Abbot Patrick Moore completes
ten years of service. Yes, it must be said--because it's obvious: he lacks inexperience!
Of the twenty reigning abbots in the American-Cassinese Congregation, only five have
served longer. Patrick has brought to the post the joie de vivre and feistiness--of
a Francophile and a sense of care refined by a decade as chaplain of St. Alexius.
He has given the place his stamp, fostering a certain je ne sais quoi ambience.''
To which we can only add: "Mais, oui!''
The balmy weather continued up until a few days before Christmas. Signs of the untimely
times included: open water on our lake a full six weeks after it is normally frozen
over; Bro. Gregory racing down to the drugstore on his bike on December 16, but finding
the northwest gale still quite cold on the ride home; Fr. Raphael in short sleeves
batting a tennis ball against the gym wall on December 17. He also admitted that
it was a bit cool for comfort. The weather bureau assures us that this cannot and
will not last, that we are due for minus twenty and so on. Yes, but the ""winter''
is already half over
We held our annual Christmas open house on December 5. Sales were down a bit from
last year, but the local economy is in very bad shape so who are we to complain?
Besides, some people will not be deterred by a little thing like bankruptcy: a man
walked into the wine cellar one day in early December and bought ten cases of table
wine. A new feature in this year's open house was citron jelly. For those who do
not know, citron is a melon that was a great favorite with the German immigrants
in this part of the country. They brought the seeds with them from south Russia and
valued it as about the only fruit they could count on in those first years on this
"This dry prairie'' was not exactly desiccated this year. Although our weather bureau
did not keep tabs, Abbot Patrick, an avid amateur meteorologist, kept a private tally
and informed Bro. Jeffrey that we received almost 25 inches of rain in 1998. Since
normal is about 16, it is obvious that this was a lush season indeed. In fact, the
pastures did not dry out this fall like usual. With the warm autumn, our cattle were
able to graze until just before Christmas. That meant less work for Brothers Placid
and Louie, and much hay saved for another day.
Our Christmas community day was held on December 28 this year. The presentor was
Fr. Roman Paur of St. John's, Collegeville, who spoke to us in his role as director
of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute. ISTI was created by St. John's in response
to the recent crisis involving clerical and religious sexual abuse. As he noted in
his opening remarks, St. John's initially became involved because some of its members
were charged with offenses. The same is true of almost all abbeys in this country,
and probably throughout the world. These things happened. We hope they don't continue
to happen, but they did happen.
But Fr. Roman's presentation dealt more with the background of the problem than with
the crime itself. In its research on the question, ISTI has become more and more
convinced that sexual abuse is the result of distorted use of power by one person
over another. In the case of clergy and religious, our very status has given us certain
prerogatives in the Church, and sometimes these have been an avenue to domination
of other persons. Fr. Roman's calm but devastating analysis of the dynamics of personal
power left one monk murmuring: ""I came for a workshop, but this was an examination
A game of cards at the annual Christmas Party for the Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery.
Pictured from left to right ate Fr. Eugene, Sr. Janeane and Bro. Pius.
January was a month for traveling. Brothers Llewellyn and Louie drove to Watertown,
SD, to pick up a pottery kiln from Mother of God Monastery. This oven is for majolica,
a type of glaze that is hard to bake in our present large kiln. But the new kiln
is no midget either; it weighs 700 lbs. and the pottery is on the second floor. Not
to worry! The brothers used a winch and pulled it up the stairs on ropes. It is amazing
how resourceful people become when they have to
On January 23, Darren Deiss of White River, SD, drove to Richardton to become a candidate
for the monastery. Darrel has been here several times before, so it is not an entirely
new experience. He joins Thomas Baker in the candidacy and they are positioned next
to each other in choir. That is not unusual in itself except that Darrel is 6'4"
in height and Thomas is perhaps 5'4". Of course, height is not one of St. Benedict's
requirements for entry and we wish these two men the best
During the last week of December and the first two weeks of January, a virus raged
through the community. About half the monks were ill, and eight or ten were bedridden.
This is probably the most serious ""epidemic'' in many years. Some of these men were
very sick, but probably none was in danger of death. Before the advent of modern
medicine monastic communities were especially vulnerable to epidemics. A visit to
American monastic graveyards shows how many people died in their 20s and 30s, mostly
from TB. So we are thankful that this ""plague'' was not worse than it was
Fr. Terrence traveled to St. Meinrad, IN, January 5-15. He was one of the speakers
at a colloquium between Quakers and Benedictines. Subjects: silence and simplicity.
This meeting included several sessions of "unprogrammed" Quaker worship. That means
sitting in silent prayer for periods of 30 to 60 minutes. Sometimes, but not very
often, someone was moved to stand and pray spontaneously. An altogether fine experience
Winter is a good time for working jigsaw puzzles. This group includes, from left
to right: Fr. James, Bro. Louie, Fr. Hugo, and Fr. Boniface. An unidentified guest
is pictured in the background.
As noted previously, we are currently building an enclosed passageway between the
monastery and cafeteria buildings. The work is being done by Kolling Construction
of Dickinson. Since this passageway will pass through the present sewing room (tailor
shop) across from the sacristy, this workroom had to be relocated. And so our maintenance
crew moved the sewing room into the liturgy room, which then had to be moved to .
. . but that would be a long story. Such a move involves much more than just a change
of rooms, since a sewing room requires special equipment. For example, tailors need
powerful lights to see those stitches of black thread on black cloth, and a tailor
shop also needs a special table that must be broad and high. This piece of furniture
was crafted by Leonard Steckler, our local cabinetmaker. But perhaps the main change
is the need for a sink, which requires all sorts of strenuous maneuvers by the workmen.
The present writer is old enough to remember the time, almost fifty years ago, when
that same room was the main student bathroom. Heu, heu, anni labuntur (Alas, alas,
how the years have flown! Horace)
In early February the monastic community decided to reinstate reading at its meals.
Since this is a clear requirement in the Rule of St. Benedict, someone might wonder
how we ever did without it. But in fact we dropped table reading about 30 years ago
on the grounds that it was impractical in our circumstances. Since we have an ""open''
refectory, in that all guests and groups eat with us, we felt we could not maintain
this monastic custom. But now times have changed and it is felt that guests will
not be inconvenienced by the reading. During January, we experimented with reading
at the evening meal. Virtually everyone agreed that it is not only feasible but quite
enjoyable. Our first book: The Abbey of Gethsemani: Place of Peace and Paradox by
Dianne Aprile. We are also glad to be back in the Benedictine mainstream in respect
to this custom
After long years of discussion, the fund-raising campaign for the renovation of the
church building has begun. A contract has been signed with Jackson Associates of
Denver, and a local staff has been named for the project. Jack McBride of Monmouth,
Illinois, is the Jackson representative, and Fr. Thomas is his assistant. Jack has
moved into the guest quarters of the Abbey and we are getting to know him. No doubt
a lot more people will get to know him before this is all over
On February 18 Abbot Patrick and Prior Valerian departed for South America. Their
purpose: to conduct a visitation at Monasterio de Tibati, our dependent priory in
Bogota, Colombia. At present, Tibati has about a dozen monks. Three of them are from
North Dakota; six of them are Colombians in final vows, and the rest are Colombians
in the formation program. As they have since the beginning, the monks sponsor and
run a prominent day school for 1,200 boys (grades 1-12).
Also since the beginning, it has been taken for granted that the leadership of the
community must be given over to the Colombian monks. Indeed, that transfer is the
condition for the future of the priory since no more monks are being sent from Richardton
to Bogota. The visitation therefore revolved around the question of when and how
this transition can be effected.
Fr. Thomas Wordekemper has been a very busy fellow this spring. He was appointed
assistant director of our capital campaign to raise funds to renovate the church
building. He assists Gary Harris of Jackson and Associates of Colorado, the firm
that is directing the campaign. If Fr. Thomas hits you up for money, be nice to him.
Fr. Robert spent the spring as chaplain at Maryvale in Valley City, ND. He replaced
Fr. John, who had hip replacement surgery in Fargo on February 18. For his convalescence,
Fr. John stayed at a private home in Fargo. He had planned coming to the Abbey for
this process, but medical complications made it necessary to stay near his doctors.
On April 1, Fr. John returned to Valley City, where he is also chaplain of the hospital.
Meanwhile, Fr. Robert celebrated his 85th birthday with the Presentation Sisters
and reports that he kept his pinochle skills honed at the convent.
Abbot Patrick attended the blessing of the renovated basilica at Conception Abbey,
Missouri, March 16. He drove alone to Blue Cloud Abbey, SD, and then the rest of
the way with Abbot Thomas Hillenbrand. The huge old basilica at Conception was in
dire need of work. The monks of Conception Abbey are to be congratulated for their
perseverance in renovating the building. We hope our own project goes as well. On
the way home, the two abbots stopped at Schuyler, NE, to visit the Benedictine Mission
On March 12, Fr. Denis came from Bismarck to give us a talk on the move of the monks
from Devils Lake to Richardton in 1899. Although we celebrated the centennial of
our existence as a community in 1993, this year is the centennial of our arrival
here in Stark County. Fr. Denis gave a lucid and lively presentation, so even though
he gave us permission to snooze, nobody did. But though apparently wide awake, one
monk had trouble following the course of the narrative. In the question period, he
said: "Why are we wandering around on the prairie?" Asked to explain, he said: "Where
have we come from? Where are we going?" Fr. Denis repeated the essential data: from
Devils Lake to Richardton. But the confrere doggedly repeated his geographical metaphysical
query: "Why are we wandering around on the prairie?" Well, who knows? Maybe this
is the essential question after all.
On March 11, Thomas Baker of St. Anthony (Minneapolis), MN, was invested as a novice.
Thomas is 37 years of age, the son of Mrs. Jovita Baker. He formerly worked at a
company that makes ovens, and he has more than a passing acquaintance with computers.
The novice master is Bro. Alban. An interesting sidelight on Thomas Baker: he is
a relative on his mother's side to Fr. Ulric Beste, a famous monk of St. John's,
Collegeville. Which goes to prove that many monastic vocations seem to have a genetic
Bro. Basil Kirsch spent March 18-23 in the State of Washington where he gave talks
to the oblates of St. Martin's Abbey. His brother, Fr. Gerard Kirsch, is oblate director
of St. Martin's, so there was a family dimension to the visit as well. Fr. Abbot
Patrick gave a retreat to the Sisters of St. Benedict at Crookston, MN, March 22-26.
Fr. Valerian gave a retreat to thirteen men at Sacred Heart Monastery on March 27.
Jeffrey Doolittle left our community on the last day of March. He was our only monk
in simple vows, having been professed last summer. A few weeks before he left, Jeffrey
assisted Sr. Emily Meisel in a workshop on Centering Prayer at Sacred Heart Monastery.
Now it turns out that Sr. Emily herself is leaving--not monastic life, but Richardton--to
return to her home community at Watertown, SD. Thanks, Emily, for all the spiritual
insight and consolation you brought to the people of this area during your nine years
as director of the spirituality program at SHM.
On March 28, Fr. Jordan Stovik of Collegeville died in the Lord. He was one of the
famous four Stovik priests, including our own Fr. Raphael. The latter was by his
side for a few days before his death, having been chauffered to St. John's by Fr.
James. Abbot Patrick attended the funeral at St. John's.
This was a year of construction hereabouts. Kolling and Kolling of Dickinson built
a passageway between the cafeteria building (background) and the north side of the
monastery. Heavy May rains made for a muddy month.
Photo: Fr. James Kilzer
It was at the Mass of Holy Thursday that we learned of the sudden death of Fr. Richard.
Abbot Patrick had just learned the sad news himself, so he had a hard time pulling
himself together. Nevertheless, he exclaimed: "It is a good day to die!" and soldiered
on with the liturgy. Needless to say, the already somber tone of Good Friday and
Holy Saturday were made even heavier by the death of our confrere.
Although a storm had dumped about a foot of snow on Holy Thursday, and the roads
were not good up to Easter Sunday, things cleared up by the time of the funeral on
Monday morning, April 5. The large attendance at both the vigil service and the funeral
Mass were a testament to the respect and love with which Fr. Richard was held by
so many people. Indeed, additional memorial Masses were held in Bismarck on subsequent
days: University of Mary (April 6) and Corpus Christi Parish (April 7).
Fr. James has been helping our farmers with the calving this spring and he has a
broken rib to prove it. When a cow went for him, he leaped for the corral fence and
broke his own rib. After that, he was so mad he chased the cow out of the pen. Cows
are normally quite placid, but when they have calves they become less so. Any animal
that weighs nearly a thousand pounds is worth looking out for, as Fr. James well
knows. He has been leading a sort of mixed life lately, doing manual work with our
maintenance department, helping on the ranch and doing much pastoral supply work.
He is also reading a pile of heavy theology books in preparation for his comprehensives
at St. John's sometime this coming year.
The walkway project in the back yard is moving right along. Some of us wondered how
a simple shack 200 feet long and 5 feet wide could cost so much. The answer to that
question became clearer as the contractor dug the foundations for the corner pavilion.
Because these foundations must get down to "bedrock" and all the dirt around the
tunnel is fill, they had to dig down about 8 feet to pour the footings. That kind
of hole produces a lot of dirt, and so the routes to the dining room have been obstructed
for days with great heaps of North Dakota clay. Heavy spring rains made the back
yard a quagmire. The general purpose of the project is to facilitate passage to the
dining room, but right now the place is almost inaccessible.
Webmeister, Br. Elias has been put in charge of our website. This is the term for
the material on Assumption Abbey to be found on the Internet. Elias also serves as
a general advisor for all the computers in the monastery.
Another cow-casualty: Bro. John Pat was helping with the spring branding on May 3
when he was whacked in the jaw by a gate in the chute. Of course, it took a careening
calf to propel the gate, which caused a gash needing eight stitches. This is the
third injury in ten years caused by this particular gate, although it was presumably
a different critter in each case. Farm work is not only heavy labor; it is dangerous.
How sad it is that society cannot find a way to pay farmers a decent wage for the
service they render to all of us.
Our annual retreat (May 23-27) was conducted by Fr. Albert DiIanni, a Marist priest
from Boston. His talks centered on the need for religious life to refocus on the
transcendent. Based on his considerable experience as a superior and also his extensive
reading, he has concluded that the "renewal" of religious life promoted by Vatican
II needs to be rethought. Although the emphasis on social outreach has been good,
it needs to be secondary to our primary goal: to honor and worship God alone.
Bro. Bertrand has been working hard at his trade of writing this spring and it has
borne fruit. Over the past few years he has produced a novel about monks; now a chapter
of this work has been published in The North Dakota Quarterly. That is good, but
even better is the news that The Atlantic Monthly has accepted some of his work.
He is publishing under the pen name of "Remi Rougeau," which was also the name of
Fr. James, left, checks the time with Br. Mark. The latter is nearing the 90-year
mark and holding his own. He even managed to hoe out a few weeds in the potato patch
June 24 marked the centennial of the arrival of the monks in Richardton from Devils
Lake. Although we celebrated the centennial of our founding as a community in 1993,
it seemed right to observe this second milestone as well. To do so, we invited the
religious women and men of the region to a workshop June 25-27 featuring Sr. Carla
Przybilla and Dr. Thomas Drummond of the New Life Center, Middleburg, VA.
About sixty persons accepted our invitation. The most of them were from Sacred Heart
and Annunciation Monasteries, but there were also guests from Blue Cloud, SD; Maryvale,
ND; Merrill, WI and Dayton, WY. From the comments, it seemed that the lectures were
well-received. And everyone had fun on Saturday evening when Bro. Pius popped corn
for us. We amused ourselves with song and skit.
The New Life Center is a treatment center for religious men and women. As such, it
is not unique. But the approach to mental and emotional health at the NLC is unusual
in that the doctors do not think that medication is the necessary route to recovery.
They stress a balanced and healthy regimen, and the consci±ous choices that make
Although Camp ReCreation for the disadvantaged is no longer held at the Abbey, some
of the monks are still involved. Fr. James is on the board of directors, and he also
worked at the camp during the first part of June. He and Fr. Boniface both presided
at liturgies for campers and counselors. Fr. James also built a float for a parade
held in town June 19. This float featured several monks such Brothers Gregory and
Placid sitting on park benches and waving cheerfully to the admiring crowds.
This is a tremendous year for the prairie. We had abundant rain last fall and again
this May, so the prairie exploded with vegetation as only the prairie can. There
were wild flowers every±where; sometimes whole hillsides were covered with daisies
and wild roses. In places the grass was chest-high in the pasture, enough to keep
the cows busy all summer. Our farmers are hard at work on a vast crop of hay.
As so often happens in this region, rain meant cool weather. June was cool and cloudy.
It was ideal weather for just plain living and working. When so much of the rest
of the U.S.A. was sweltering, we could not have the window open at night. Unfortunately,
this is not good weather for gardens. By July 1, our plants were far behind schedule.
Popcorn Virtuoso, Br. Pius is shown at the console of his theader style popcorn machine
during the June workshop for religious. Since he had been gladdening our Saturday
nights for so many years, we thought we ought to share him with the world on one
Two of our monks, both octogenarians, had car accidents this summer. Fr. Robert was
on a long vacation in California when he ended up in the ditch near Bakersfield.
The car was a loss, but he escaped serious injury. He was able to fly home without
assistance, but it turned out that he had aggravated his back injury. So he has now
acquired an electric cart to negotiate the long distances between his room, the church
and the dining room.
Fr. Eugene's accident happened closer to home, in fact right in the back yard. One
afternoon he was returning from his chaplain's work at Dickinson when his car ran
across the lawn and hit the back of a tourist car. No one was seriously injured,
but Fr. Eugene was taken to the hospital for observation. As a result of the accident,
he has relinquished his chaplain's duties.
Along the same lines, Fr. Raymond has retired from his longtime weekend assistance
at St. Patrick's Parish in Dickinson. In gratitude, the parish held a reception for
him on Sunday, July 18. Fr. Raymond is having increasing difficulty with his walking,
but he is not giving up. He can be found every day pushing a wheelbarrow of bricks
out behind the powerhouse!
Our annual Live-In program took place here July 8-11 under the direction of Fr. Thomas.
Six men, ranging in ages from 18 to 58, came to see how monks live, work and pray.
Probably the highlight of the event, at least from our standpoint, was a colloquium
on Friday evening that featured dialogue on the question: ""How does one know that
one is called to monastic life?'' There is a lot of interest out there, but also
a lot of uncertainty.
On July 9, Darren Deiss of White River, SD, began his novitiate. Darren is 29 years
of age. He is a graduate of White River High School and a veteran of four years in
the U.S. Navy. He has many practical skills and has the easy-going disposition that
helps one survive community life.
An unidentified monk gazes down a hole at the construction site and risks annihilation
in the process. By and large we contained out curiosity and stayed out of the way
this summer. The end result was well worth it.
The main event in late summer was the arrival of three young monks from our dependent
priory in Bogota, Colombia (Tibati). Brothers Manuel Cely, Roberto Duarte and Carlos
Ernesto Diaz are spending some months with us to learn English and also to become
acquainted with the North Dakota monks. Although it has been many years since we
have had Colombian monks living with us, this is not the first time. In the 1960s
several of them made their novitiate here and some have visited on occasion.
Fr. Thomas continues his work on the fund-raising campaign for the renewal of the
church building. He is preaching in the churches of nearby Dickinson on successive
Sundays and spending a lot of time on the road visiting prospective donors. In late
July sixteen of the monks attended a fund-raising banquet at the University of Mary.
The Abbey schola sang and the donations were generous.
Heavy rains during August 11-12 broke a drought that had plagued us since early June.
They came too late to rescue many crops and gardens, but they were still welcome.
Yet it would help a lot if the rain came straight down. Hereabouts it often comes
with strong winds that drive it through every nook and cranny. It takes a very well-caulked
building to withstand these rains.
No rest for the wicked department: Bro. Basil Atwell spent the summer in a Clinical
Pastoral Experience at Trinity Hospital, Minot. He is a seminarian at St. John's
Abbey, Collegeville, where he will begin his second year in September. Far from a
vacation, CPE is an intensive training course in counseling and ministry to the sick.
We hope he gets some rest before school starts.
Not everybody was working this August. Fathers Victor and Florian drove to Minneapolis
to take in a Vikings game on August 13. Both of them are avid fans, but Fr. Florian
(at age 90) is a former coach and rarely misses a major telecast. He enjoyed the
game, he says, but one was enough. People nowadays go to games to eat dinner and
visit their friends, not watch the action. The noise from the sound system is unbearable--when
you are 90. The tickets were a gift from Ernie Borr, a friend and former parishioner
of Fr. Florian.
Fr. Boniface has a new assignment this fall: he is part-time chaplain of the University
of Mary. This work will require him to spend two days a week in Bismarck for Sunday
liturgy and additional duties. This will mean that he will not be able to devote
as much time to our printing business, where he has been the main pressman for many
years. He succeeds the late Fr. Richard in the chaplain role at the University.
Although we reported in the July Chronicle that Fr. Eugene was not injured in the
car wreck, this has turned out to be quite untrue. In fact, he suffered a lesion
to his brain which required surgery in late August. Because of his age and condition,
it is expected that his recovery will be a long and hard one. Your prayers are requested.
Fr. Terrence was hospitalized for a bowel obstruction in late August, but recovered
With the arrival of candidate Jean-Pierre Rouillard of Winnipeg, we now have six
men in the formation program here. This means a much-increased work load for Bro.
Alban. Besides usual duties of the novice master, he is teaching the Colombian brothers
English. He is also hard at work on the revision of the Divine Office.
Photo: Fr. James Kilzer
Br. Llewellyn reads during the evening meal. We have reintroduced this ancient monastic
custom after many years of abeyance. Besides increasing our stock of knowledge, it
gives us a welcome respite from conversation.
O, to be young again! Novice Darren Deiss vaults off of the tractor. Darren is from
White River, SD; he and five other junior monks have been livening this place up
since last summer.
On Labor Day, a group of us went on an outing to the Killdeer Mountains. It was a
lovely, sunny day, perfect for a long hike and for communing with nature and each
other. In one car there were only junior monks, which prompted one of its inhabitants,
the Colombian Bro. Manuel, to remark that it contained "the future of the community.''
This caused some rolling of the eyes, but no one said he was wrong.
We ascended the "mountains'' (they are about 600 ft. above the surrounding plain)
from the west side, which was new to most of us. We lost the way at one point, but
Bro. Gregory saved us. He had gotten lost from the main expedition, but it turned
out that he alone was on the right path. Up on top we engaged in the usual exercise
of trying to spot the Abbey, some 50 miles away. A lot of imagination goes into this
This fall we had a distinguished guest in our midst. Abbot Nicholas Morcone, of Glastonbury
Abbey, Hingham, Massachusetts, spent a month's sabbatical in our guest department.
Glastonbury is a small community located near the seashore just south of Boston.
It is a member of the Swiss American Congregation. Abbot Nicholas was looking for
a place to get away, and you can't get much further from Massachusetts than North
On the evening of September 22, a group of the monks attended a fund-raising event
at the KC Club in Dickinson. It was, of course, part of the capital campaign to renew
our church building. When the pledges were counted at the end of the evening, it
was announced that the drive had reached a million dollars.
This banquet was very well attended: some 450 people bought tickets, but we were
welcomed as free-loaders. It was labeled as a "roast,'' and you can guess who got
roasted. And of all the monks who got teased, Fr. Raphael probably took the cake.
His typing class left an indelible mark on the alumni, who are still contemplating
their scarred shins 40 years later. He is unrepentant.
At the end of September, our capital campaign to renew our church building came to
a climax. We surpassed our first goal ($1,150,000) and are now looking hopefully
to the higher summits. In fact, it will cost much more than that to complete the
work planned. Frs. Abbot and Thomas exerted themselves by preaching in many local
parishes, which we now thank for allowing us in.
On the weekend of September 17-19, Bro. Alban took our six junior monks to Sacred
Heart Convent, Fargo, for the state formation meeting. For most of us, this is a
boring drive of about 600 miles round trip, but for the three Colombian brothers,
Ma¤uel, Roberto and Carlos Ernesto, it was more exotic. After living in the high
Andes of Bogot , the endless rolling prairies are quite different. These days you
see more than prairie when you drive I-94 in eastern North Dakota. The sloughs are
so full that the water laps at the roadway. To the north, Devils Lake has risen 24
ft. since 1993. Is the ancient ocean returning to our dry plains?
What are these monks picking? In fact, they are helping Br. Louie harvest pseudo-saffron,
a flower that provides the distinctive yellow color for the Easter bread. Watch out,
though, because every blossom has thorns.
One of the on-going activities of our monks is weekend supply to the neighboring
parishes. In recent years, this has usually involved one or two Sundays per parish,
but recently there have been longer commitments. Fr. James has been caring for St.
Bernard's in Belfield since July. This included services for tourists in nearby Medora.
Fr. Boniface has been filling in at New Salem and Almont this fall on his way to
the chaplain's office at the University of Mary.
On Sunday, October 10, the monks joined the parishioners of St. Mary's Parish, Richardton,
for a "victory celebration'' for having achieved our basic goal in fund-raising.
The event centered around a festive Mass followed by a brunch. Fr. Thomas was deeply
involved in both events: he worked with parishioners on the liturgical music and
he arranged the brunch as Abbey kitchen master. And of course he is head of the campaign
itself. It is wonderful to have all these talents, but they do entail work
We were deeply saddened by the death on October 1 of Sister Bernadette Bodine of
Sacred Heart Monastery. She taught chemistry in our college in its last years and
she served as prioress of her community during the 1980s. She became president of
Presentation Heights College, Aberdeen, SD, in the early 1990s, but cancer soon ended
that appointment. She had a remission of the disease that enabled her to work for
the North Dakota Catholic Conference for a year. Bernadette was instrumental in obtaining
the famous wind turbines for Sacred Heart. She was one of those people who have a
superabundance of vitality and hope. She will be sorely missed by many people.
Bro. Llewellyn continues to produce exquisite things in the pottery. His latest masterpiece
is a large conical amphora (about three feet high) to hold a display of cattails.
It makes a very handsome decoration for the pavillion of the new slype. The maintenance
department is working to install an electric kiln for porcelain in the pottery. In
addition, Llewellyn is busily experimenting with local clays to be used in his work.
Br. Nicholas sits at the Information Desk for two hours every afternoon directing
guests and answering telephone calls. This is one of the many simple but essential
services that make the monastery run smoothly.
Prior Valerian attended the annual workshop for Benedictine Priors held at Conception
Abbey, Missouri, November 5-8. This visit enabled him to see the newly renovated
Conception Abbey Basilica, which is reported to be extremely fine. No doubt the priors
also heard the massive new pipe organ that has been installed there. Valerian still
teaches half-time at the University of Mary, but he was able to squeeze this trip
in between his classes. He is also a big promoter of computer technology in the community.
Fr. Eugene has finally returned home! He went to the hospital for routine outpatient
surgery August 12; seven separate surgeries and three months later the ordeal is
over. The original problem seems to have been a brain lesion sustained in a car crash
in July, but eventually Fr. Eugene also had to have heart by-pass surgery. Obviously,
all of this took a lot out of an 81-year old man, but once he began playing pinochle
in bed, we knew recovery was imminent.
Because there have been a lot of medical problems in the community, our infirmarian,
Bro. Elias, has been busy chauffeuring people to hospitals. But he has been even
busier installing the wiring to connect all the computers in the monastery into a
network. When he gets done, we will all be able to send messages to one another.
Let's see, what shall I say to so-and-so?
As anyone knows who lives on the northern plains, this has been a tremendous year
for grass. The pastures are still hip-deep with the stuff. That's fine for grazing,
but it is also a very incendiary situation. When gale force winds of 50-60 mph moved
in during the first week of November, there were serious prairie fires. One of the
worst occurred at Outlook, a tiny place in northeast Montana that is the hometown
of Fr. Robert. All the residents managed to escape, but half the buildings in town
21This has turned out to be one of those wonderful, mellow autumns hereabouts. Whereas
the past two years, our lake has frozen over by Halloween, this year one could stroll
in a tee shirt in mid-November. There is something eerily beautiful about such balmy
weather this late in the year. The sun is so low that it makes enormous shadows from
the bare tree branches. The earth is fallow, but not bleak. Praise God for the infinite
variety of nature
The Young and the Old. Three young Colombian monks surround their oldest (91 years)
gringo confrere, Fr. Florian, with affection. Brothers Manuel Cely, Roberto Duarte
and Carlos Ernesto Diaz (l. to r.) spent the last half of 1999 at Richardton. On
December 31, Roberto and Carlos returned to Colombia, leaving Manuel to tough out
the Dakota winter.
Our annual Christmas open house took place on December 3, with a good crowd buying
lots of bread, wine and so on. Of course, this event entails a lot of hard work for
the brothers. This year the fruit for some of the cakes did not come on time, so
Fr. Thomas was up baking until all hours the previous night. Bro. Alban put in long
hours for weeks in advance producing enough bread for the masses.
One monk who always seems to work himself into a tizzy before the open house is our
woodcraft expert, Bro. Gregory. He is always hard-pressed to produce enough of his
special solid walnut Christmas cribs for the demand. This year, however, he decided
to go for the home run, as it were. That is, he went into mass-production. Production
goal: sixty cribs. But he also used up all his wood and he claims he won't be making
any more cribs. Until next century?
Christmas seems to bring out the best in those with artistic aspirations, especially
if they are apprentice monks. This year our gang of two juniors, three novices and
a candidate really got into the spirit by creating an Advent/Christmas display in
the refectory that can only be called monumental. It consists of a ring of 627 bricks
artistically stacked in a wall two feet high and eight feet in diameter. This "wishing
well" is decorated with evergreen branches and Advent candles. Scrooge's comment:
All those 627 bricks will have to be carried out again.
Our annual Christmas community meeting (Dec. 27) was devoted to "visioning" this
year. The Space Committee, headed by Prior Valerian, has been studying the various
sections of the monastery during the past year with an eye to remodeling. This will
probably be in the long term, since the church building project will keep us occupied
for the next couple of years. In the morning session, Prior Valerian gave us a good
session on the dynamics of community planning. After lunch, Brothers Elias and John
Seiler, along with Fathers Odo and James, all presented interesting possibilities
for various renovations.