Circular Letter #4

September 1, 2000    

To the Benedictine Abbots and Abbesses,
Priors and Prioresses, Brothers and Sisters:


Greetings and blessings from Sant'Anselmo in Rome, during the Holy Year of Jubilee! As usual, this Circular Letter is intended to bring all up-to-date on the many events and activities at Sant'Anselmo during this Year of Jubilee, but also to highlight other activities throughout the Confederation and the Benedictine world which are brought to the Abbot Primate's attention or in which he has been able to participate.


Since I last wrote at the end of 1999, we have had our usual round of both community and academic activities. Father Prior Edmund Power and I continued our practice of a monthly conference, with daily catechesis for the liturgy of the Holy Week Triduum added. We have had the joy of welcoming many abbots and priors, mothers superiors and other Benedictines to Rome and to Sant'Anselmo this year -- many more than in previous years. It is always good to have Benedictines see the College and if possible share a meal with us. This house belongs to the entire Confederation and, through the activities of the Abbot Primate as well as those of the College and Athenaeum, is intended as a means to unity for all Benedictines throughout the world. Santa Lioba, the residence for our student Benedictine sisters not far from Sant'Anselmo (thanks to the hospitality of the nuns of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere), is also under the care of the Primate, and I was happy to be able to visit the sisters a couple of times during this period and share a meal with them. We also welcome them to share with the Sant'Anselmo community on some festive occasions during the year also, such as the feast of Santa Scholastica.

Besides its usual round of classes, seminars and other academic work, the Athenaeum sponsored some special events during the second semester of this school year: study days on the work of Henri Le Saux, O.S.B. (Mar 30) and Columba Marmion, O.S.B. (May 4); an academic convocation in the church to honor Dom Olivier Raquez, O.S.B. (Sint Andries) with an honorary doctorate of theology (May 18); and another gathering to honor Prof. Ghislain Lafont, O.S.B. (Pierre-qui-Vire) with the presentation of a Miscellanea in his honor (May 25). The latter two activities enabled us to thank these two professors who have given so many years of selfless service to Sant'Anselmo and to the wider Church. Ad multos annos!

This being the year of the Abbots' Congress, the College had the canonical visitation which the Lex Propria assigns to that year. The three members of the Primate's Council -- Archabbot Notker Wolf, O.S.B. (St. Ottilien), Abbot Thierry Portevin, O.S.B. (Subiaco Congregation), and Prior General Emmanuele Bargellini, O.S.B. (Camaldoli) -- conducted this visitation. All of us at Sant'Anselmo are grateful for their efforts to help us become a better community, unusual though our community may be since all have their home of profession elsewhere. A warm thank you to the visitators for their generous work in behalf of Sant'Anselmo! The new fiscal commission also met here during May -- Abbots Edmund Wagenhofer, O.S.B. (Salzburg) and Laurence Soper, O.S.B. (Ealing); Fr. Gordon Tavis, O.S.B. (St. John's, Collegeville), and Bro. Sandro Rutili, O.S.B. (Camaldoli). We have had a major overhauling of our fiscal reporting during the last couple of years, and this group has guided us through this enormous work by examining our financial situation thoroughly and recommending new methods of record-keeping and reporting.

I think the abbots who see the report at the Congress will be pleased at the clarity now possible regarding the real financial situation of Sant'Anselmo. This has been a major point of my agenda as Primate, to achieve clarity in the reporting of the finances for this house. The Commission for Sant'Anselmo also met during May -- again with some special agendas which concern the year of the Abbots' Congress. This Commission, in addition to the three members of the Primate's Council mentioned above, includes Abbots Georg Holzherr, O.S.B. (Einsiedeln) and Nicolas Dayez, O.S.B. (Maredsous), as well as the Prior and Rector of Sant'Anselmo. For all these many Benedictines who generously offer their time and expertise for the benefit of Sant'Anselmo, a heartfelt thank-you!

Travels of the Abbot Primate

I continue here the listing (begun in earlier Circular Letters) of monasteries which I have had the opportunity to visit since the last letter. Those monasteries that had an earlier visit but to which I was blessed to be able to return are listed here in [parenthesis].


[Montecassino (Dec 17-18, 1999)]

[Cokovae, Croatia: perpetual profession (Feb 4-6)]

[Tepeyac, Mexico: meeting of N.Amer. Abbots and Prioresses (Feb 18-21)]

85. Abiquiu, New Mexico (Feb 22-23)

86. Pecos, New Mexico (Feb 23-24), incl. a meeting of the Exec. Committee of the Congregation of Monte Oliveto

87. Des Moines, Iowa: Priory of St. Gabriel, (Feb 26-27)

88. Elkhorn, Nebraska (Feb 28)

[Roma: S. Francesca Romana (Mar 9)]

[Roma: S. Gregorio al Celio (Mar 12,21)]

Wels, Austria: SaSalzburger Äbtekonferenz (Apr 25-28)

[London: Ealing (Jun 19-21); A.I.M. Council]

[Elkhorn, Nebr: Mt. Michael (Jun 27)]

[Schuyler, Nebr: Christ the King (Jun 28)]

89. Lisle, Illinois: St. Procipius (Jul 5)

[St. Meinrad, Ind: St. Meinrad (Jul 8-9)]

[Subiaco, Italy: (Jul 16)]

Benedictine Women

61. Castel Madama (Jan 2)

Norcia: Meeting of Italian nuns (Feb 10)

62. Abiquiu, New Mexico: Sisters community (Feb 22-23)

63. Pecos, New Mexico: Mother of Mercy and Peace, (Feb 24)

64. Bethlehem, Conn: Regina Laudis (Apr 10-11)

65. Chicago: Our.Lady of Sorrows, (Apr 14-16)

66. Zadar, Croatia: St. Mary (May 2-5): theological workshop for Croatian nuns

67. Oulton, England: St. Mary (Jun 18)

68. Colwich, England: St. Mary (Jun 19)

[Clyde, Missouri: (Jun 24-25); closing of General Chapter, Sisters of Perpetual Adoration]

69. Norfolk, Nebr: Immaculata Convent (Jun 28-29)

[Chicago: Our Lady of Sorrows (Jul 3-4)]

70. Lisle, Illinois: Sacred Heart (Jul 5)

[Roma: St. Cecilia (Jul 15)]

[Chicago: Our Lady of Sorrows (Aug 12-13)]

Some may have noted above, #87, a Des Moines, Iowa Priory. This is a community of men who have lived the monastic life for ten years as a diocesan institute and who recently have been accepted by Mount Michael Abbey, Elkhorn, Nebraska, as a dependent priory, thus bringing them into the Benedictine family. A warm welcome to these brothers, who begin their novitiate in October, 2000.

Various Meetings

Besides the regular and important meetings of the College and Athenaeum throughout 2000, there have been many others, some of which I had opportunity to attend. The areas involved in these meetings touched almost the entire span of interests of Benedictines. Here at Sant'Anselmo we have had on-going sessions regarding a new program of monastic "Formation for Formators which we hope to be able to offer within the next year or two. We welcomed the Association of St. Benedict, Patron of Europe, on Jan 1, and the group of members of M.I.D./D.I.M. on Jun 14 (present in Subiaco and Rome for their annual meeting). The Executive Committee of the Abbot Primate's Commission for Benedictine Women met in my Curia, May 10-11, and again Aug 25. There were numerous meetings with officials of the Vatican; also with the architects involved in the so-called "Aula Magna" project in the cortile of Sant'Anselmo.

The meetings of the Council of the Congregation of Mante Oliveto and of the Executive Committee of A.I.M. have already been mentioned in the calendar above. I want to highlight in particular here the work of A.I.M., which has done so much over the years to solicit donations which help the various needs of the monasteries which are growing rapidly in the so-called Developing World. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have worked tirelessly for this cause -- one thinks particularly of P. Marie-Bernard de Soos (En Calcat) who headed the group for so many years, and now P. Martin Neyt (Clerlande) who so ably carries on its work, with the assistance of many national and regional secretaries, as well as that of the Rome secretariat under the direction of P. Jacques Côté (Saint-Benoît-du-Lac). New statutes, which reflect the gradual growth and change of A.I.M. will be presented for approval to the Congress of Abbots, 2000. It would be well to mention also the work of dialogue carried on by the monks and sisters (including Cistercians) involved in M.I.D./D.I.M., a work now going on in every continent, with non-Christian monastics. This Commission has existed since 1978 under A.I.M., but Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen made it an autonomous body under his jurisdiction in 1994. In new editions of the Jus Proprium printed, the statutes of this group will take their place alongside those of A.I.M.

Jubilee Year Activities

In previous letters I underlined the importance of Benedictines responding to the call of our Holy Father, Pope John Paul 11, for particular celebrations of the Holy Year of Jubilee. The Calendar of Prayer and Fasting sent out last year was but one suggestion to manifest our response -- a response very much appreciated by His Holiness when it was presented it to him personally (and, as I have heard via your letters, appreciated also by so many of you). Here at Sant'Anselmo we have welcomed numerous groups of pilgrims -- some of notable size: e.g., about 800 Spanish youth for the World Youth Day activities, and over I 100 American youth in various groups, from June to August.

We have carried out a modest concert series, illustrating the commitment of monastics over this millennium to fostering cultural enrichment as well as spiritual growth. These began on Jan 16, with a tribute to the Abbot Primate from musicians of his Alma Mater, the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York -- which included the premier of a newly composed piece for organ and violin. The concerts have continued every two weeks throughout the year, with our church regularly filled with guests, and with large numbers remaining to pray Vespers with us. The artists performing are all Benedictines or those who have a close rapport with our monasteries; they have come from Europe, Asia, and America.

We opened a monastic Gift Shop on February 4, which provides products from various monasteries around the world. We are learning what items are of interest to the diverse clientele that visit us. It is rewarding to have so many people experience and comment on the beautiful work and the talents of monastics throughout the world. (It has also yielded a modest profit for us!)

Very important during this Jubilee Year have been the gatherings of Benedictines: a Congress for Young Monks, directed by P. Johannes Paul Abrahamovicz, O.S.B. (Göttweig) Aug 3-9; a Colloquium for Benedictine Women on the themes of Enclosure and Structures for greater union, Aug 25-31; and, of course, the Congress of Abbots, Sept 3-14. The latter has been blessed with the addition of a unique occasion: the beatification of Dom Columba Marmion, O.S.B., at St. Peter's in the Vatican, Sunday, Sept 3. This is the first abbot beatified in some centuries, and will prove a fitting opening for the Congress of Abbots in this Holy Year of Jubilee.

Important as part of this Jubilee Year has been the publication of the new Catalogus for the monks of the Confederation, and the publication of the first-ever Catalogus of all the Benedictine Women of the world. A small équipe was gathered to do the enormous work of preparing these volumes, led by a young man, Mr. Sean Regan, who had come to Rome to test his vocation with the community of Maria Sedes Sapientiae, but who found that monastic life is not his calling. His generosity in staying on at Sant'Anselmo until Easter this year, in order to finish the work of both volumes, made it possible to put all the information into a computer database for future control and accessibility. He was assisted by Mr. William Reagan, a graduate of the school of St. Joseph's Abbey, St. Benedict, Louisiana, and Fr. Samuel Pusateri, O.S.B. (Peru, 111.) -- and to a lesser degree by everyone in the Curia. All of us Benedictines will want to remember these workers in a prayer of gratitude at the job well done. Since all the data was entered into the computer completely new, there will be mistakes, of course (we are finding some already!). We will need the help of everyone to send in corrections as you find mistakes: know that the Curia is grateful for this help! Yet to be published this fall is a Directory which will contain all the telephone and fax numbers as well as Websites and E-Mail addresses for those monasteries who sent them to us. This latter will be changed annually to update its information, as opposed to the Catalogus which will be changed only every five years. You may order these books from the Office of the Abbot Primate.


My conclusion is somewhat special in this letter. Many are aware that in the latter part of March I had a serious attack of high blood pressure (225/165), which came close to giving me a stroke. It came during an eleven-day period in which I was host to eight different groups of guests, led the celebration of the solemnity of St. Benedict, and saw to the opening of the canonical visitation of the College. There were other factors also; but the result was that the schedule just became too much for me. More serious yet was the fact that the attack touched off an irregularity in the heart that has put me in danger of even more serious health problems. The doctors I have consulted, both in Rome and in Boston, have advised me that without a radical diminishment in my schedule of activities, almost certain damage to my health will ensue.

The problem with this matter is deeper than health. At this time Sant'Anselmo is in need of "a firm hand at the tiller," for many activities: e.g., to guide it through the work of the completion of the Aula Magna; to see through the fiscal rearrangement already begun; to address the problems of enrollment and the financial needs which go with every Athenaeum; as well as other pressing problems. It is precisely at this time that Sant'Anselmo, the Confederation, and the Benedictine women all need a strong and healthy Abbot Primate to serve them.

It is clear that despite appearances, I am not strong and healthy, and have not been so for more than a year now. Travel and exertion of any kind takes a far greater toll on me than was true before. This has in turn caused other problems, e.g., it has impeded and limited the communication which the community of Sant'Anselmo expected, the collaboration one should have with the Staff here, etc. -- these functions of leadership being even more important recently, given all the activities connected with the Jubilee Year. If one could take a year or so for a good sabbatical, then it might be possible to return refreshed to carry out the manifold tasks demanded of the Abbot Primate in a proper manner. But such is not the custom for the Abbot Primate.

Therefore, after a great deal of prayer and reflection, and having listened well to the advice of the Commission for Sant'Anselmo, I have decided to resign the office of Abbot Primate. This resignation will take place during the Congress of Abbots 2000.

How grateful I am for having had the opportunity to serve Sant'Anselmo, which I have loved so dearly, and to serve Benedictines throughout the world! It has been a grace of inestimable power, a privilege to be treasured. For any lack in my service to any of you, I apologize. For my failings here at Sant'Anselmo, I beg pardon of that community. The Lord will bless us all, despite any weakness in our leaders, if we continue to respond to our vocation with serious dedication, faithful prayer, and humble love. That blessing for all Benedictines will be my continued prayer in the future.

For now, an extended rest is indicated for me. After that, I hope to be able yet to do some limited work for the Order and the Church through retreats, conferences, etc., and some writing. Effective September 25, my address will be: 1706 Tower Drive (at Mariners Cove), Edgeways, New Jersey 07020, USA.

God bless all!

Fraternally in Saint Benedict,


Most Rev. Marcel Rooney O.S.B.
Abbot Primate

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