Category Archives: Benedictines

Anointing Father John Oetgen

This afternoon the Benedictine monks of Belmont Abbey, with whom I am currently living, gathered in the room of Father John Oetgen to celebrate the Rite of Anointing of the Sick. Father John is one of the senior monks of this monastic community spending a lifetime serving the Lord as a monk, a priest and a professor literature. He’s in 80s and he’s been infirmed for the last 4 months. He’s received this sacrament before, but Father Abbot Placid thought it best to celebrate the sacrament now as Father John has grown weaker in body. What comfort there is when brothers “gather in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who is present among us” to pray and show affection for a brother.

If you have been present for the sacrament of the sick you know how moving it is. I was moved to tears several times during the rite probably for no other reason than what I was experiencing was a great theology at work: God’s praise and our conversion. While I don’t know Father John well, the humanity of act of gathering in prayer and companionship was beautiful.

The rite, recalling the words of sacred Scripture, remind us that the sick came to Jesus for healing; moreover, we recall that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is what sets us free from sin and death. This is the faith we have professed, this is the faith we gave witness to today with Father John, it is the faith that comforts and sustains Father John.

Addressing the faithful, the Saint James exhorts us to care for the ill in this manner: “Are there any who are sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up; and if they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them.”  This we did and it was beautiful.

With the laying on of hands and prayer, we asked God to grant Father John comfort in his suffering, courage in the face of fear, patience if distressed and hope when sad and the support of the brothers (and all others) when feeling alone. So, I ask you to pray that God will do the loving thing for Father John and to assist the monks here in all ways that Providence sees fit.

Community of spirit in Saint Benedict, Don Luigi Giussani & Pope Benedict XVI

spirito 1.jpgOn this the feast of the great Saint Scholastica, the twin sister of Saint Benedict, I thought it would be appropriate to hear a few words about the significant connection between the Benedictines (Sts Benedict & Scholastica and Pope Benedict) and Father Luigi Giussani.


Signs of spiritual friendship

by Don Giacomo Tantardini (In 30 Days, May 2005)


…The hundredfold is not the outcome of a project, of a program. My real program of government is that of not doing my own will, of not following my own ideas, but of setting myself to listen, with the whole Church, to the word and will of the Lord and let myself be led by Him, so that it is He Himself who leads the Church in this hour of our history, Benedict XVI said again in the sermon of the mass opening his ministry. The hundredfold here below, like the eternal life, has a beginning, a “permanent” source (each word from the first appearance of Benedict XVI in St Peter’s Square, that was packed with Romans hurrying to see the new Pope, remains in the memory: Trusting in his permanent help). The permanent beginning is Jesus Christ, the Lord risen.


The Church is living because Christ is living, because he is truly risen (Easter Sunday 24 April). And on Sunday 1 May, when, addressing the Churches of the East which were celebrating Easter, he repeated with force Christós anesti! Yes, Christ is risen, is truly risen!, the immediate applause that rose from the square packed with faithful up to that window was very fine.


Here the communion of mind and heart among Saint Benedict, Benedict XVI, Don Giussani and the most ordinary believer is luminous and total.

Giussani detail.jpgDon Giussani always kept the gaze of his life and heart fixed on Christ (Cardinal Ratzinger, in Milan Cathedral, at Don Guissani’s funeral). We need men who keep their eyes looking at God, learning from there true humanity (in Subiaco). And, again in Subiaco, Cardinal Ratzinger concluded his lecture by quoting the more beautiful phrase that Saint Benedict repeats twice in the Rule: Put absolutely nothing before Christ who can lead us all to eternal life. Here, chapter 72: Christo omnino nihil praeponant. In chapter 4: Nihil amori Christi praeponere/ put nothing before the love of Christ.

The Monastic Taster Weekend

Are you ready for this? Try out the religious (monastic) life just for a weekend. If you like the experience, come back and stay. The best the English religious orders have to offer! I suppose when you have problems getting people to enter the religious life you have to create “fun” things to attract newbies. The BBC article reports: “In 1982, there were 217 novices in the Catholic Church in England and Wales but by 2007 that figure had dropped to 29.”

Arrived at Belmont Abbey, Charlotte

Today, I began a phase of my journey in discernment: life for a few months at a Benedictine abbey. I arrived today from New Haven, Connecticut, leaving 50 degree weather and arriving in 70 degrees. What a nice change from the New England winter; no snow here in Charlotte.

Belmont Abbey Basilica.jpg

Belmont Abbey is a small group of Benedictine monks who follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. There 17 solemnly professed monks with 5 in some stage of formation. The age range is 24 to 88. The head of the monastery is Abbot Placid and the Prior is Father David.

The Abbey was founded in 1876 by Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, the founder of monasticism in the USA, who sent monks from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, PA, to Charlotte. While the abbey is typically called “Belmont” after the town in which it’s situated, the religious title of the abbey is “Mary, Help of Christians”, sometimes just called Maryhelp; the feast day we observe is May 24.

The monks run a small liberal arts college called Belmont Abbey College.

A quick note on schedule:

7:00  – Morning Prayer

7:30 – breakfast in silence

8:30 – 11:30 work, study, lectio, prayer (whatever you’re assigned)

11:45 – Midday Prayer

Noon – lunch followed by work

5:00 – The Sacrifice of the Mass

5:45 – Dinner in silence for most of the meal with readings from the holy Rule & a book

7:00 – Vespers

Compline is in private for most of the monks but some of the formation monks pray Compline together at 9:30.

The Abbey Basilica of Mary Help of Christians is central to the life of the monks, friends, visitors and the college community. The architecture is German Gothic-Revival. The church was the largest Catholic church in the state at the time of its construction. The monks of the abbey did much of the construction work themselves (with Brother Gilbert Koberzynski crafting the ceiling in the style of a sailing vessel).The interior of the church was renovated in 1964-1965.

The windows were designed and executed by the Royal Bavarian Establishment of Francis Mayer and Company (Munich). The windows were displayed at the Columbian Exhibition, the World’s Fair of 1892 winning four gold medals. The abbey church was the cathedral from 1910-1977 and it was elevated to the rank of a Minor Basilica on July 27, 1998. The Basilica has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.

Let us pray for each other.

Boniface Wimmer at 200

BWimmer.JPGToday marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, the father of American monasticism. Providence has seen to it that Wimmer’s anniversary coincides with the Year of Saint Paul in that both men proclaimed Christ and both were great missionaries; both were contemplative and active for the sake of the Gospel and the Church–there is no dichotomy; and both had communion with Christ.

In 1846, Wimmer left Bavaria to come to the US to establish the monastic life and to evangelize the German peoples, to win all for the Church under the banner of the cross. Wimmer had a burning desire to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He, with 18 novices, founded what is today called the Archabbey of Saint Vincent in Latrobe, PA; the largest Benedictine abbey in the world. In 1855, the American-Cassinese Congregation was founded – a grouping now of more than 28 abbeys and priories which assisted Wimmer in his mission.

Archabbot Boniface once said: “The life of man is a struggle on earth. But without a cross, without a struggle, we get nowhere. The victory will be ours if we continue our efforts courageously, even when at times they appear futile.”

The Anniversary website on Boniface Wimmer

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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