Circular Letter Nr. 2

Christmas, 1998   


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



Greetings in the Lord, from Sant'Anselmo in Rome!

Many of you are receiving various forms of communication from my Curia office regarding different aspects of our Jubilee Year projects. But with this Circular Letter I want to write in a more fraternal way concerning life at Sant'Anselmo, in the Confederation, and throughout the Order.


With the new academic year, we welcomed 20 new students, coming from 19 countries. We have begun with a total of 106 residents -- 73 Benedictines, 5 Trappists, 3 other monks, 3 from the Teutonic Order, 4 other religious, 13 diocesan priests, and 5 laymen. Once again, the enormous richness of the cultural and ecclesiastical life of Sant'Anselmo is illustrated by the community members this year. With most of the staff now "seasoned veterans", and thanks to a generous and observant student body, the life of the College is running smoothly.

Since my last letter, we have some new Staff members: Brother Paul Diveny (Morristown) as Economo; Brother Boniface Hampel (Muensterschwarzach) in the Abbot Primate's Curia; Father Isaac True (Conception), who, although he is actually taking a sabbatical year here at Sant'Anselmo, generously offered also to teach philosophy if his services were needed; and Professor Gerhard Gaede, loaned from the diocese of Osnabrueck, teaching in the theology faculty. The change in Economo was necessitated by the appointment by the General Chapter of the Cassinese Congregation of Father Mario Ravizzoli (Pontida) as Prior-Administrator of the monasteries of Perugia and Assisi. We do thank all the monasteries who generously support Sant'Anselmo in an extraordinary way by sending us staff members. In a particular way, I want to thank Father Mario for his service to this community during the last five years. He has been unstringing of his time and energies, noteworthy especially during a period of upset and transition through which Sant'Anselmo has passed (the death of Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen; the interim period of one year in which Abbot Francis Rossiter served in the office as Pro-Primate; the "novitiate" of my ministry as primate). Personally, I have found his advice and support invaluable as I have been learning how to be Primate: his full-time presence will be deeply missed. We wish him well in his new work -- especially the important work of rebuilding after the earthquakes -- and we do hope he can return often to Sant'Anselmo. I am grateful that Brother Paul and I can still profit from his counsel, whether by telephone or by personal visits.

This year the community bid farewell to Father Maternus Hoegen of Maria Laach, after 26 years of service in the Athenaeum as professor and dean of philosophy. Sant'Anselmo and the entire Confederation owes Father Maternus a profound debt of gratitude after such a long period of service: may the Lord bless him abundantly! Another loss greatly felt was that of Father Richard Yeo, elected abbot by his community of Downside in August. His gift to the Order has been very great, as a member of the Congregation for Religious. His presence at Sant'Anselmo has been one of steady stability and generous service too, and deeply appreciated. His wise counsel for me has been a great benefit in the many canonical questions which arise in an office such as that of the Primate. In saying a sincere thank-you to Abbot Richard, we want to acknowledge all the gifts he brought us throughout the Order. May his ministry to Downside be blessed!

Travels of the Abbot Primate

During this year, I completed the last of the commitments I had made as abbot of Conception -- and this necessitated a few trips. In addition, some trips were made for the purpose of fund-raising. The rest were for pastoral visits to the monasteries, often in connection with meetings or anniversary celebrations there. If the reason for travel is other than a pastoral visit to a monastery, I always try to include visits to monasteries in the area nearby, if there is time. This list continues that of the first Circular Letter (those who were being visited for various reasons a second time are placed in parenthesis):

Schedule for 1998

Confederation Monasteries

47. Christ the King, London (Jan 31)
48. Ealing, London (Feb 1)
49. Douai (Feb 1-2)
50. Oceanside, CA, USA (Feb 14-16: North American Abbots Workshop)
51. Valyermo, CA (Feb 17)
52. San Luis Obisbo, CA (Feb 18)
53. Woodside, CA (Feb 20)
54. Cleveland, OH (Feb 22: 75th Anniv)
55. Salzburg, Austria (Mar 1)
[Goettweig, Austria (Mar 2-7; 12)]
[Prague: Brevnov; Emauzy (Mar 26-30)]
56. Genova-Quarto (Apr 13)
57. Engelberg, Switzerland (Apr l7-19)
58. St. Anselm, Manchester NH (June 14-19: Gen. Chapter of Amer. Cassinese Congregation)
59. Weston Priory, Vermont (Jun 17)
[Montecassino (Jul 17)]
60. Marmion, Illinois (Jul 31-Aug 2: Dedication of new church)
[Oceanside, CA (Aug 14-16: 25th Anniv. of my secretary, Fr. Aquinas Nichols)]
61. Ottobeuren, Germany (Sept 20-23: Synod of Abbots President) 62. Arcadia, Australia (Oct 1-2)
63. New Norcia, Australia (Oct 5-6)
[Morristown, New Jersey (Nov 20)]
[Prague, Brevnov (Dec 4-6)]
[Rome, S. Ambrogio (Dec 7)]

Benedictine Women

36. Grand Terrace, CA USA (Feb 13)
37. Glendora, CA (Feb 17)
38. Chieri/Torino (Apr 14)
39. Maria-Rickenbach, Switz (Apr 18)
40. Paris (Apr 22-23: meeting of Congr. of Perpetual Adoration, Mecht. de Bar)
41. Bibingen, Germany (May 25-27: celebration of 800th anniv. St. Hildegard)
[Roma, S. Cecilia (Jul 9)]
42. Glebe Point/Sydney, Australia (Sept 26-30: Good Samaritan Sisters Liturgy Week)
43. Jamberoo (Oct 2)
44. Northcotel/Melbourne (Oct 3)
45. Jouarre, France (Nov 17-19: Meeting of Abbesses of French Congregations)
[Rome, Tutzing Sisters Generalate (Dec 12-13)]
46. Civitella San Paolo (Dec 17)

The visits to the monasteries during the last two years have been a real joy to me as well as a spur to my prayer for all. It is inspiring to see so many monks, nuns, and sisters striving to live the Benedictine vocation in an authentic way.

Some of us are suffering from a certain fatigue or depression, as we struggle to adapt our lives and apostolates to the situation in which we now find ourselves. Such adaptation is part of the story of being Benedictine. We find ourselves living apart from the world in a certain sense, but in a very real sense affected by the situation of the world. And so, we need constantly to adjust our expectations about our monasteries, regularly revise our methods as to how we can give to the Church and the world the gift we have received in our precious vocation. During certain periods and in some countries, vocations are relatively numerous, and most monasteries expand their apostolates (taken in the widest sense) to serve with these larger numbers. During other times, vocations are fewer -- often due to the situation of the world outside our control (e.g., birthrate, war). It is important that a monastery then revise its plans in a spirit of humble response to the situation, which really is a new gift from the Lord. If we stubbornly retain our old vision, diminishing numbers will make us sad, even bitter. And, ultimately, failure to adapt will lead to the disappearance of a monastery. But if we are accustomed to listen to the Lord well, we actually will see in the new situation new opportunities being offered us.

We very much need to be talking to one another about these new opportunities. It is important that when we get together, time not be wasted in pining over a "glorious past", as if our history was now over and we can only look back (or that our history was always so "glorious"). Rather, we need to be asking questions such as: What is the situation of the local church around us and just how could we best contribute to that? How can we renew ourselves within our monastery, so as to be able to communicate better the joyful hope which is ours as Benedictines -- and which the world so badly needs today? These questions, and others like them, need to be asked by all. Some monasteries, particularly in the developing countries, are "flourishing" with numerous vocations today. It would be a great mistake to take comfort only in the numbers. ("Put not your trust in horses and chariots..." says the Prophet -- that is, in things material.) Rather, it is crucial that a very serious formation in Benedictine life and values be given to those numerous recruits. Otherwise, what seems like a "flourishing" period may turn out to be something much less than that.

Above all, we need renewal of a serious kind, to recapture the core teachings and values of St. Benedict's Rule, so as to live and witness these for the 21st century. In many monasteries, we may have been engaged for thirty years since the Second Vatican Council in "clearing away" some accretions which had crept into our lives, accretions which did not necessarily carry the authentic Benedictine ideal. But the process of clearing away was to be for the sake of returning more vigorously to that ideal -- and living it more vibrantly. A simple example might help illustrate my thought here: At the end of the Council, some communities took a look at their schedules and noted that the horarium was often cluttered with extra "Offices for the Dead," various public devotions (May-, June-, July- and October-devotions), etc. The cry in many communities was, "Let us get rid of these things which came into our practice over and above the requirements of the Holy Rule! These hours in church could be better spent in lectio divina in accord with the Rule!" Having gotten rid of those extra hours in church, what do we find monastics today doing in their place? Is it not true that not a little of the time which was proposed to be alloted to more private prayer and lectio actually has come to be spent only in more work or in front of the television set? Surely young people need to see that joining a monastery is an alternative to life in the world, not merely a continuation of it. Certainly we need also to be men and women of our time, not mere museum-keepers of the past. And so the serious question for renewal is just that: how to continue in an authentic manner the rich tradition we have inherited, but in a manner that also witnesses in a vital way to people of our time. May the Lord bless us all, as we struggle to communicate in our Benedictine way God's Presence in the world!

Various Activities of the Year

January, 1998 was filled with activities, but I was not able to enjoy most of them since I developed a herniated disk in my back! This impeded my full participation in the meeting of Italian abbesses here in Rome, at Sant'Antonio, but it was possible to greet them and also to welcome them to Vespers, supper, and a concert on the eve of my feastday. Later in the month, I was able to participate in Evensong and a reception in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey in London, part of a fund-raising event to help the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy here at Sant'Anselmo.

One of the highlights of February was to participate in the annual meeting of the North American abbots at Oceanside, California. It had been programmed some years before, while I was still abbot of Conception, that I should make presentations on the liturgy to the abbots and that commitment was fulfilled. But the main delight for me of such meetings is simply to meet and talk with brother abbots.

A great deal of time in March was taken up by an assignment which I received from the Holy See to do an extraordinary visitation of the community of Goettweig in Austria. It was especially with the able assistance of Abbot Franziskus Heereman von Zuydtwyck of Neuberg and the secretarial help of Fr. Francis Bergman of Maria Laach that this service was able to be carried out. The welcome extended to us by Abbot Clemens and the brethren there, as well as their openness and sincerity, made easier the task which of its nature was somewhat delicate and difficult. Please God, this community, and the entire Church in Austria for that matter, may receive a special blessing of divine peace during this sacred time in which we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.

During the month of March also, Abbot Pio Tamburrino OSB was ordained a bishop. He has long been a friend of Sant'Anselmo, especially as professor but also in other ways. He was a member of the Commission for Sant'Anselmo as well as on the Board of "Benedictine Heritage" at the time of his nomination. We wish him many blessings in his new ministry to the wider Church. At the same time, his new ministry necessitated the choice of others to carry on his roles of service to Sant'Anselmo. His place as member of the Commission for Sant'Anselmo is to be taken by Abbot Georg Holzherr of Einsiedeln, and his membership on the Board of Trustees for "Benedictine Heritage" will be taken by Abbot Peter Novecosky of St. Peter's, Muenster, Canada. Sant'Anselmo is grateful for their generous assistance.

In April the Salzburger Äbtekonferenz was held and I was happy to be able to attend, along with the Rector, Fr. Albert Schmidt. These meetings offer good opportunities for fraternal exchange, and are always informative for me. Similarly, that month a gathering of the superiors of the Congregation of Perpetual Adoration (Mechtilde de Bar) in Paris gave me a chance to share the concerns and hopes of many communities of nuns.

In May, here at Sant'Anselmo, we had a kind of "mini-Visitation" (unofficial) of the community. As most of the leadership staff is quite new and we have a new Customary for life in the community, I thought, for the betterment of our service, it would be valuable to have this kind of examination already after only two years of my tenure as Primate -- rather than wait until the regular quadrennial and official Visitation during the spring of the year in which the Abbots' Congress is held. So, in conjunction with the regular meeting of the Commission for Sant'Anselmo, the community was given the opportunity to speak to the members of the Commission, in the manner of a regular Visitation. It was intended to aid us who lead Sant'Anselmo, and we found the work of the Commission very helpful and their insights and suggestions valuable. We hope that it will assist us in making wise and beneficial decisions for the community here.

A major work of the spring months was the elaboration of a new financial accounting system for Sant'Anselmo, what in the English-speaking world is often called "cost accounting". This was done with the help of Archabbot Edmund Wagenhofer of Salzburg, Austria; Abbot Laurence Soper of Ealing, London; and Fr. Gordon Tavis of St. John's, Collegeville. Their invaluable suggestions, along with the hard work of Abbot Richard Yeo (Downside) has enabled us to elaborate a new fiscal policy for the three entities centered here at Sant'Anselmo: the Athenaeum, the College (i.e., the monastic house), and the Curia (representing the entire Confederation). This arrangement was given general approval by the Synod of Presidents in September. There is much yet to learn about the new arrangement -- there has not been enough time even to explain it thoroughly to the community here -- and the first year or two will be opportunities to improve on the initial effort. The hope is that the new system will enable us to make a much more thorough and yet more coherent report at the Abbots' Congress every four years, as well as the annual report at the Synod. A more accurate balance-sheet will surely be a help for better management: this is the goal of the new system.

In June, after directing the annual retreat for the priests of Denver, Colorado (one of the commitments made before I was Primate), I was able to attend the General Chapter of the American-Cassinese Congregation at Saint Anselm's, Manchester, New Hampshire. It was another opportunity to meet many abbots, but also the other members of the Chapter, and I found it very enjoyable. (Unfortunately, this previous commitment made it impossible for me to attend the meeting of the Council for A.I.M. this year.) My presence in the northeast U.S. also gave me a chance to visit one of the priories which is under the care of the Abbot Primate, Weston Priory in Vermont, for a delightful visit with the brethren there. At the end of June, the Sant'Anselmo community bid farewell to Mother Giovanna Brutti (Viboldone/Milano), who spent one year serving as the superior for the community of student sisters under the care of the Abbot Primate, called Santa Lioba. She helped in guiding the community as it moved to its new quarters with the community of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, and all of us are grateful for her service. Her place during this academic year is being taken by Sister Aquinata Böckmann, already a valued professor on the faculty of our Monastic Institute. Since the community of Santa Cecilia has joined one of the Federations of nuns in Italy, certain difficulties have arisen there from a misunderstanding of our original agreement for Santa Lioba. I hope that good sense and charity will prevail so that these difficulties can be promptly resolved.

July and August proved to be good months for me to catch up on a backlog of work, as I stayed in Rome except for short trips away. Originally I had hoped to spend these months in Germany in order to get back some of the speaking ability I once had in the German language. But certain other demands made that impossible. The situation was not totally lost however, as over a period of weeks a couple of generous monks came to tutor me for an hour or two each day here in Rome, Fr. Benno Wintersteller (Kremsmuenster) and Fr. Gregor Zippel (Rohr). I am grateful for their patience and generosity -- but I still need to find time to spend in a German-speaking milieu, if I am to learn to speak the language as I so want to!

In early September, Sant'Anselmo was host to a Symposium for Benedictine Women, with the theme of "The Experience of God and the Benedictine Approach to Prayer". In addition to the working sessions, the meeting included visits to Montecassino and Subiaco, and we were delighted to have a special audience with the Holy Father at Castel Gandolfo in which, after his address to us, he greeted each member personally. Later in the month, the Synod of Abbot's President was held in Ottobeuren. In addition to the fruitful sessions together, we received a warm welcome from Abbot Vitalis and the community there. The Synod was not only helpful, but also enjoyable in the fraternity we share, not to mention the special dinner we had with the Staats-Minister and other civil officials in one of the magnificent halls at the abbey. From Germany, I flew to Australia -- certainly one of the longest flight times possible in the world! My first task there -- which really was a joy -- was to give a series of conferences as part of the Liturgy Week hosted by the Good Samaritan Benedictine sisters. After that, I was able to visit monasteries both on the east coast of the country and the west coast. The visit to New Norcia included a visit with and presentation from the mayor of Subiaco (Perth), a town which prides itself on its name and its relationship with Benedictines (including those in Arkansas with the same name). It was my first time "down-under", and Australia captivates one easily, both for the warmth of its people and the beauty of its country. My warm reception by Benedictines and Trappists, as well as diocesan alumni of the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy, was memorable indeed.

October saw me back in Sant'Anselmo for part of the Orientation Week we hold for all new residents, and for the solemn opening of the academic year. It also included a meeting of the abbatial Board of Trustees for "Benedictine Heritage" in Toronto, Canada. For those who do not know about this project, it might be well to say a word: it was conceived by a lady in Toronto and myself as a help to Sant'Anselmo in particular and to the Order in general. The project entails taking artistic designs of all kinds from individual monasteries who volunteer to offer them; reworking these designs in an artistic manner; and then using them for the production of interior decorations of very high quality -- such as rugs, wall paper, various cloth materials, etc. A percentage from the sale of these designs (which should begin in 1999) will be given to the abbatial Board for distribution: a certain amount is allocated for Sant'Anselmo and the abbeys donating the designs, and the rest will be distributed as the Board thinks best.

The primary goal from the beginning was to provide financial help to the caro collegio for its needs, but also to assist in other ways various Benedictine causes. Also, in October, Sant'Anselmo was host to the members of the Board of Directors of the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy Foundation. This group, laity and clergy from England and the United States, are dedicated to support the Institute, both financially and through good publicity. The yield on the investments in the Foundation's endowment assist the Institute with scholarships for needy students, support of faculty chairs, and library acquisitions. We are already benefiting from their generosity, and their support for the Institute ultimately will help all the Athenaeum of Sant'Anselmo. We have much to give thanks for, when we realize how generous is the support from these good friends of Benedictines.

In November, Sant'Anselmo hosted another important meeting: the Commission "for China" which was mandated by the Abbots' Congress in 1996. The group, representing Benedictines from around the world, discussed possible ways of apostolic service for us with regard to China. It was a very informative meeting, with input not only from the members but from officials in the Vatican and others knowledgeable about the Church in China. Archabbot Notker Wolf of St. Ottilien led the discussions, just as he has been significant in the leadership of the whole movement for Benedictines to serve in China. Also during this month was an important meeting of a Committee which I have formed to discuss a possible new program of "Formation for Formation Directors". Under the direction of Father Mark Butlin (Ampleforth/A.I.M.) and Sister Gertrude Gillette (Petersham), this committee is examining all the aspects that would be involved in Sant'Anselmo establishing such a special non-degree program, in connection with but distinct from the Monastic Institute. During November also, I was happy to attend part of the meeting of the French abbesses at Jouarre, for a fruitful sharing of ideas and insights. It gave me an opportunity also to meet with the community of Jouarre itself, whose gracious hospitality we shared during the meeting.

In December I visited the community of Brevnov in Prague, as part of a series of formation sessions which Father Prior Edmund Power and I are doing for this community. I think all know that since the Communist takeover in the former Czechoslovakia, the Slav Congregation has come under the direct care of the Abbot Primate. These sessions with the growing community of Brevnov are part of the expression of that care. Despite a snow storm which stranded me in Zurich overnight on the trip back from Prague, I was able to return in time to celebrate the feast of Sant'Ambrogio at the Generalate of the Subiaco Congregation, with is located in the ancient home of the great Doctor Saint.

All in all, a very busy year, but one blessed in very many ways. I feel privileged to be able to serve Benedictines all over the world as well as at Sant'Anselmo, and can only pray the Lord will use these many trips and meetings as a blessing for all who participate.

Special Activities at Sant'Anselmo

The project of a Gift Shop for Sant'Anselmo is moving ahead as planned. The goal of the Gift Shop is not only to gain financial support for Sant'Anselmo, but also to publicize in a quiet way the talented works which are being done in our monasteries throughout the world. To that end, we have sent out a form letter to all the monasteries to ascertain what products they might have to sell in this Gift Shop. Unfortunately, some of these letters were not addressed properly and hence did not arrive. If any superior has not received such a letter soliciting information of products which might be sold here at Sant'Anselmo, please let us know and another copy will be mailed off to that monastery from the Curia.

The project of the "Aula Magna" was stalled again this summer -- for reasons which I do not know. The permissions have been granted for this work (which, from the civil government's point of view, is really for the renovation of the lower walls of the institution); the finances from the government were approved and allocated: but no work was done other than put up a protective retainer-wall in half of the main courtyard. This dilatory approach to the project is frustrating for us, but since we are not paying the bills, one can push only so much. Recent news gives us hope that more rapid progress can be made soon. In the meantime, we wait in hope.

Regarding the Jubilee Year projects: I have appointed a committee to oversee the activities of the Year, the whole project headed by Mr. Roberto Carocci: Frs. Joan Recasens (Montserrat), Vincent Tobin (St. Meinrad), Philippe Rouillard (Wisques), Johannes Paul Abrahamowicz (Goettweig) and Luigi Bertocchi (St John's, Collegeville). Together we are working out a schedule of the spiritual activities we hope to carry out or encourage, as well as other cultural events which will be of service to the pilgrims in the City. The Athenaeum will hold an International Congress as part of its contribution toward taking advantage of this special year to offer the Church our special Benedictine gift in a new way.

We who understand monastic life as a return to the Father by the way of obedience cannot help but be in tune with the call of our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, to make this third year of preparation for the Jubilee as a "pilgrimage to the house of the Father". This is done primarily by the interior and community renewal mentioned above. In particular, we need to return to the basics -- which the Holy Father also emphasized: conversion, and above all, charity, especially manifest in a preferential option for the poor, which accompanies a commitment to justice and peace in the world.

Our monasteries are intended to be living signs and embodiments of the "civilization of love" which alone can confront and overcome the crisis of our contemporary civilization which so often expresses itself in manifestations of self-centered greed and hate. If we commit ourselves simply to be fully what we have professed to be, our preparation for the Jubilee will be complete and our contribution to it blessed.

Upcoming Dates and Information received in the Curia

1. Monastic Recyclage, at Sant'Anselmo (English-speaking): May 10-June 5, 1999.

2. A.I.M. Council, at St. Joseph's, Louisiana, U.S.A.: June 21-24, 1999.

3. Synod of Abbots' President, at Christ the King, Schuyler, Nebraska, U.S.A.: September 16-19, 1999.

4. Inauguration of Academic Year at Sant'Anselmo: October 11, 1999; and the Orientation Week for all new students (both monks and non-monks), October 2-8, 1999.

5. International Congress of the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy ("Art and Architecture for the Liturgy"), at Sant'Anslemo and elsewhere in the City: October 12-15, 1999.

6. Meeting of the Benedictine Superiors of East Asia and Oceania, at Waegwan Abbey, Korea: October 18-22.

7. A change in the telephone numbers of Rome: one must now add 0 before 6 for all calls. Thus, the Curia phone is: (39-06) 579-1319; and Fax: (39-06) 579-1374.


As I write this, we are coming to the conclusion of another civil year. It was also a year in which the entire Church has been called by the Holy Father to strive for deeper union with Christ, as part of a profound renewal in connection with the Great Jubilee and Holy Year of 2000. I hope this year has been an opportunity for every community, listening regularly to the reading of the Holy Rule, to awaken its faith in the presence of Christ in our monastic life and practice -- in prayer, in the superior, in the old and the young, in the sick, in the guest, even connected with the lowliest tools of daily manual labor. It is a living faith which will be the force to attract vocations, not mere routine. And it is the same kind of living faith which should blossom into a new and vibrant hope in the Lord, who is working in our lives and communities in a special way at this time, the end of one millennium and the beginning of another. In turn, this faith and hope must be the basis for the "civilization of love" which every monastery is called to be. May the Spirit of the Lord breathe in us all, for conversion and renewal, as we live in joyful hope of God's Advent -- recalling it in history, celebrating it anew in mystery, awaiting its full manifestation in glory. God bless all!


+ Marcel Rooney OSB
Abbot Primate

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