Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Swiss-American

  
Br. Mauritius earlier this fall with Fr. Bonaventure

SPECIAL FEATURE: A guest post from our resident Swiss monk at Saint Meinrad -- Br. Mauritius from the Abbey of Einsiedeln:

Br. Francis asked me if I would write some words about my stay at Saint Meinrad for his blog. It is a pleasure for me to do so.

It has been almost four months since Br. Francis and I took the airplane from Zurich, Switzerland to the U.S. The time has passed quickly; the first semester is almost over. I have been attending very interesting classes. My main focus is on pastoral theology, and I have learned a lot in the subjects of “Sacrament of Reconciliation,” “Catechetical Ministry,” and “Adolescent Spirituality.”

I have gained many new insights, especially from “Ministry to Families,” in which I learned to look at a person not only as an isolated individual but more as a member of a larger interacting family system. I recorded two simulated counselling sessions on videotape in which I acted as a priest counselling a couple or a family in trouble. Later, I analyzed and discussed the tapes together with the teacher.

In the same way, I recorded two simulated confessions. I was the confessor and Br. Francis was one of my penitents. Of course, because of the seal of the confessional, I cannot reveal what he confessed. (I never expected that he would steal money from his boss! : )

In addition to classes, each seminarian is assigned to a place of ministry at a nearby parish, school, or hospital to gain practical experience. I have been assigned to Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Haubstadt, Indiana, about an hour west of St. Meinrad. On Wednesday evenings I go there to teach religious education to a high school freshman class, which I enjoy very much.

As you can see, the formation here at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology is very practical. It is good preparation for the various situations a priest is likely to face in his ministry.

In the past few weeks I have been able to take two very nice trips. I visited two daughter houses of Saint Meinrad (grand-daughter houses of Einsiedeln). First, I drove eight hours north to Aurora, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where I stayed for three nights at Marmion Abbey. The monks there were very welcoming and friendly. I attended classes at the Military Academy run by the abbey and experienced the Homecoming festivities taking place that particular weekend.

On the way back, I stopped in Terre Haute, Indiana, and went to the cemetery looking for the grave of Father Bede O’Connor, one of the two first monks from Einsiedeln who came to the United States in 1853 to establish Saint Meinrad. Father Bede, originally from England, worked in various parishes and missions in the area and later became vicar general of the Diocese of Vincennes (the diocese in which Saint Meinrad was located at that time). He died in 1875 in Terre Haute and was buried there.

The grave of Father Bede O'Connor in Terre Haute

During the Thanksgiving break I visited New Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas. While planning for the trip, I asked around to see if one of the many seminarians here from the Diocese of Little Rock lives nearby and could take me. I was very happy when seminarian Joseph Chan volunteered to do so. It turned out to be an unforgettable trip. Joseph was very well organized and we had a good time together on the road. He left me at Subiaco, where I spent my first American Thanksgiving.

The monks there were very kind and hospitable and immediately made me feel at home. I attended two classes at their high school. One night the basketball team played a game against another school. Some of the students are from China. I tried to tell them the few Chinese words taught me a couple years ago by Fathers Johannes Dong and Andreas Pan, two Chinese priests who used to live with us in the monastic community at Einsiedeln. I was very surprised that the students understood me, and asked me if I really came from Switzerland!

Father Hugh Assenmacher, who wrote a book about the history of New Subiaco and shared his immense knowledge with me, was willing to show me the location where the old monastery used to be until a fire destroyed it in 1901. The spring where the first monks drank is still visible. Father Wolfgang Schlumpf, the founder, was convinced that the water had healing properties. I tried it, and it had a heavy taste of iron.

This was a special moment for me—to stand at this historic place where several confreres of mine used to live, pray, and work. The monks of New Subiaco consider Einsiedeln to be their motherhouse. Even though it was Martin Marty, the first abbot of Saint Meinrad, who had the initial idea for a new foundation in Arkansas and who sent the three first monks there in 1878, in the following years many monks came directly from Einsiedeln to support the recently begun abbey in Arkansas. So, perhaps one can say New Subiaco Abbey was founded in cooperation between Saint Meinrad and Einsiedeln.

The view of New Subiaco Abbey from the field where the monastery
was first located. A fire destroyed the first building in 1901.

Worthy of special note is Father Gall D’Aujourd’hui, who used to be a teacher at the monastery school in Einsiedeln in the 19th Century. With his missionary enthusiasm he convinced eight of his young students (not yet monks) to join him in an adventurous undertaking. Father Gall and the so-called “Eight Beatitudes” left Einsiedeln in September 1887. All of them persevered, underwent their priestly formation in the new foundation in Arkansas, and became monks there.

There is another Benedictine foundation besides New Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas—Holy Angels Convent in Jonesboro, which was established by sisters of Maria Rickenbach in the Swiss canton of Nidwalden. On the journey back to Indiana we stopped there for a short visit.

It was really impressive to see how important a role the Swiss Benedictines played in the building up the Catholic Church in Arkansas in the 19th Century. Today, things have changed. The great periods of missionary work of Swiss Benedictine communities is over. Switzerland itself has become a field of “New Evangelization.” Even though there is no radical anti-Catholic movement anymore as there used to be in the period of the “Kulturkampf,” the Church still faces many challenges. I dare to predict that, in the years to come, the main focus of Einsiedeln’s mission will be the homeland.

Meanwhile, I continue to study eagerly at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology and am looking forward to finishing my first semester Dec.10. -- Br. Mauritius

POSTSCRIPT: Although he is too modest to have mentioned it, Br. Mauritius is also taking Spanish classes, adding that language to his fluency in German, English, French, and Italian. He was also a big hit as the King of Nineveh (complete with crown and beard) in a monastery skit based (loosely) on the story of Jonah and the fish. Over the Christmas break, he has plans to visit some other monasteries in the U.S. Many thanks to Br. Mauritius for sharing this post and his life with us here at Saint Meinrad . — Br. Francis

3 comments:

Mike said...

Thanks for this post!! Quite informative and insightful.

Arbnor said...

Very very very nice report!
thank you

Greatings from Switzerland,

Your Arbnor

Br. Francis de Sales Wagner said...

Arbnor--good to hear from you!

Br. Mauritius sends his greetings.

Maybe one day you will visit America and Saint Meinrad, too.

Peace to you this Advent season.

Br. Francis