Sunday, June 6, 2010


Greetings from Switzerland!

After a very long but scenic train ride from Rome, I arrived Friday evening at the Abbey of Einsiedeln, where I will be for the majority of my stay in Europe this summer. The trip was a smooth one, though I was exhausted when I arrived; I had spent 12 hours either on a train or in a train station that day. However, the spectacular view as we rumbled through the Swiss Alps the last few hours of the journey more than made up for it! Toward the end of the trip, the train glided along the shore of Lake Zurich, which is surrounded by small villages, pastures, rolling hills, clear streams, and beyond the valley, the snow-capped mountains. On Friday when I arrived, the day was sunny, and many sailboats were on the lake. I can’t imagine more pleasant scenery!

As much as I enjoyed Rome and Italy, I am very glad to be here in Switzerland. For one thing, it is a little cooler, and much more quiet. In the long run, it is more my speed. Most importantly, visiting Einsiedeln is a unique opportunity for me to be immersed in the tradition from which Saint Meinrad Archabbey sprang. As you know, Saint Meinrad was established by the Swiss-German monks of Einsiedeln in the mid-19th Century. Our church at Saint Meinrad is named for Our Lady of Einsiedeln.

“Einsiedeln” means hermitage, and the church and monastery here in Switzerland were built over the site where Saint Meinrad lived as a hermit and was killed by two thieves in the year 861. The monastic community here began in the year 934, so Einsiedeln is well over 1,000 years old. Among other things, it has survived the Reformation, the French Revolution, and a number of devastating fires. The property here has been destroyed, rebuilt, and renovated many, many times. The beautiful church has undergone several transformations – from Romanesque, to Gothic, and Baroque (its current design, since the early 18th Century).

For now, I have posted only a view of the front of the church’s façade (viewed from the village just below). I haven’t taken pictures of the interior yet—it’s difficult to decide where to begin! To say it is greatly ornamented would be an understatement. Countless frescoes and statues decorate the ceiling vaults, pillars, and capitals in a vast array of color and action. It is teeming with grace and liveliness – one might even say playfulness. Many figures—mostly angels and cherubs—do much more than serve as decorations. They leap from the artwork, dangle from pillars, and point to other action. The purpose is to overwhelm the worshipper and draw one’s attention and devotion to the eternal truth of God, who transcends all. It is quite unlike anything I have ever seen.

Thousands of pilgrims come to this church—many to seek the prayerful intercession of Mary by visiting the black marble chapel of Our Lady of Einsiedeln just inside the entrance. Adorning the chapel since the 15th Century is the well-known Black Madonna and Child (a replica of which was given to Saint Meinrad Archabbey for its church). Every evening, the monks of Einsiedeln process to the shrine to sing with devotion the Salve Regina. To hear it is to be swept up into the praise of God by all his saints.

The monks here, as at other Benedictine abbeys, are dedicated to the daily round of prayer and receiving pilgrims and guests as Christ. As is the case at Saint Meinrad, many minister to surrounding parishes, and give retreats or conferences. In addition, the monks of Einsiedeln operate a high school to prepare students for university. I was afforded a peek at this Saturday night, when I was invited to accompany some other monks to a year-end band concert performed by the students. I was quite impressed!

The Abbey of Einsiedeln is also involved in numerous other works, including horse-breeding and forestry. It is also well-known for its library and archives, which have been temporarily relocated while new facilities are constructed. Br. Mauritius, one of the junior monks here (who will make solemn vows July 11) is a member of the fire department. Incidentally, he is also a former member of the Swiss Guard, and served both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican before coming to the monastery. He will return to Saint Meinrad with me Aug. 9, live in the monastery, and spend a year studying pastoral ministry at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. So, I will have the opportunity to return his generous hospitality!

There are two other juniors here—Thomas and Philipp—as well as two monks from other communities who are studying here—Johannes and Matthias. Each of them speaks at least some English (their English is much better than my German!), and they have all been very welcoming and helpful. So, for that matter, has the entire community. Many of them—including Fr. Urban, the prior, and Abbot Martin—have ties to Saint Meinrad due to seminary studies earlier in their monastic vocation. The most recent is Fr. Aaron, who will soon take over as associate pastor at the parish church in the village of Einsiedeln.

Fr. Urban, Br. Mauritius, and I have briefly discussed some tentative plans for the summer. Primarily, I will be getting to know Einsiedeln, its monks, and their way of life since Saint Meinrad Archabbey is an extension of this place. A number of excursions are also planned—to Zurich, to other monasteries in Switzerland and Austria, and to some mountains for a hike or two.

Perhaps I can also pick up at least a little German, which is almost necessary for all practical purposes. The liturgy here each day is primarily in German, with some Latin. This will be a challenge for me, praying daily in another language (sometimes it makes my head hurt!). The Latin is a bit easier for me since I’ve had more exposure to it and it is so much a part of the tradition of the universal Church. However, it is still difficult, and the liturgy here—while beautiful—is a bit more complex than what I am accustomed to at home. Hopefully, I can ease into it a little. In conversation, the monks and others around here speak a quite distinct Swiss-German dialect, which is more informal. However, many here are very accommodating toward me in using as much English in conversation as they are able, for which I am grateful.

So, basically, I will be soaking up the Swiss-German heritage of Saint Meinrad and Einsiedeln. During my free time, I also hope to get some work done in preparation for an upcoming retreat I am scheduled to give at Saint Meinrad when I return. I also hope to visit Annecy, France, which is near the border of Switzerland. It is in that region that my patron saint—Francis de Sales—lived and is entombed.

It is a great blessing to experience so many elements of my monastic vocation coming together like this!

1 comment:

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC said...

Dear Br. Francis,
How wonderful that you are exploring so many roots of your community and personal vocation. May our Lord bless your summer richly.
Br. Bernard, OHC