This past week I spent it visiting friends at Portsmouth Abbey. Savoring the graces of Easter was an important part of my desire to be away from that which is “normal” plus visiting friends who I haven’t seen in a while was refreshing. There are 13 monks resident.
Portsmouth is a monastery of Benedictine monks under the patronage of Saint Gregory the Great. The abbey has been in Portsmouth, Rhode Island since 1926 located 7 miles north of Newport and 20 minutes south of Fall River on Narragansett Bay. The location is beautiful and for me, quintessentially “New England.” Among many things the abbey is famous for historically being populated by monks who converted to Catholicism and for the school the monks run, Portsmouth Abbey School.
The liturgical life of the monks is substantial. The day begins with Vigils and Lauds at 5:45a followed by an hour for lectio followed by Mass. If as a monk you work in the school your day progresses. Midday, Vespers and Compline complete the day with meals and recreation thrown in. It seems to me that many of the monks had house chores to mind for the good of the community. Adoration and rosary are done according to your own schedule though on Fridays there is a communal time for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Of the many things one can say about the way the monks offer Mass is that they follow the mind of the Church. Say it another way, they have a reverent way of saying Mass according to the rite of Paul VI with a sense of the “reform of the reform.” But given age of many in the community there are some parts of the ceremonial that’s not done at the moment. It was refreshing, and a joy, to sing the proper antiphons and the 11th century Easter sequence, Victimae Paschali
, in Latin. (How many parishes sang this sequence all week?) Though not wedded to the Latin chant 100% of the time, I appreciate how the chant makes a case for the liturgical continuity that is spoken of by the Pope. What the church in the USA needs to recover in my opinion is the role of chant, English or Latin, because of the antiphons; the four hymn Mass is not particularly Catholic anyway.
A few years ago Dom Joseph was instrumental in starting a renewable energy project at the Abbey by establishing a wind turbine. You can read about the project here (be sure to listen to an interview at the end of the story with Vatican Radio). When you do the numbers, the modest investment made by the monks with additional monies from the State and benefactors has paid dividends and has become a symbol of what monks “should” be doing for the environment and teaching others by example. The success of the abbey’s project has led the Town of Portsmouth to install a wind turbine of their own. Portsmouth is one of a few US monasteries to harness the wind’s power for energy: Conception Abbey in Missouri has done the same.
Of course, Dom Joseph (with the help of others) has sparked other green initiatives: for example, a 2005 graduate of the school with a degree in Art History from Georgetown, Allie, recently started a very large vegetable garden with the hopes of providing fresh vegetables for
the students and the monks’ refectory; the extra vegetables will go to those in need. Gardens are good stewardship of the earth and dear to my heart and a wonderful way to relax and have some clean fun. Gardens are useful, too.
Curious, a small abbey with a good school (c. 450 students) also has two Scottish Highland cows. Nice characters to have around but they’re not the cuddle type of pets. I hear they’re a little annoyed at the monks because some of their grass was turned over for a
garden. Not used to a smaller plot of land for grazing, the cows make it known that they’re bigger than the people keeping them at bay.
One missing set of workers on the abbey farm are the bees. The monks need a bee hive!
Recently, members of the faculty and staff of the abbey school founded the Portsmouth Institute. The Institute is hoping to provide the “greater Portsmouth-Newport-Fall River (tri-state area?) with some solid theological, philosophical and cultural thinking. They’re starting off with a June conference called The Catholic William F. Buckley.”
My time at the abbey included an afternoon spent with a dear and longtime friend Chorbishop Joseph Kaddo, the pastor of the Maronite Catholics at Saint Anthony of the Desert Church in Fall River. Msgr. Kaddo is happy in his vocation and thriving nicely where he is.
OK, back to “normal” life….