Tag Archives: monk

Monastic Family of Bethlehem and of the Assumption of the Virgin, Livingston Manor, NY

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Back in February I received two extraordinary gifts from Brother John Paul, CFR: a weekend spent in a hermitage used by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and Brother John Paul’s introduction to a groups of cloistered nuns who live not far away, The Monastic Family of Bethlehem, Livingston Manor, NY. I had for several years appreciated the artwork of the nuns and this was a prime opportunity to meet Bethlehem, as it were, and to experience the sacred Liturgy and to drink in, for a very short time, the beautiful monastic atmosphere.


The nuns in Livingston Manor, New York, call themselves officially, “The Monastic Family of Bethlehem and of the Assumption of the Virgin” founded on November 1, 1950, at Saint Peter’s Square in Rome when Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The inspiration of French pilgrims was described in this way:

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That throughout the world there may exist religious communities devoted to silent adoration, striving to live in continual reference to what the Virgin Mary lives in heaven where she has been taken up with her soul and her body, into the glory of the Three Divine Persons, hidden for ever with Christ in God.


The monks and nuns of the Bethlehem communities, live the scriptural exhortation to seek the face of Christ by living in the school of Mary. From the Mary, the Mother of God, we learn not to set limits on our love of God and neighbor. This seeking of Christ’s face is discerned in the daily work of community living alone and together, in fraternal and liturgical love, and in the sacred Scriptures. In his letter approving the Monastic Family of Bethlehem, Eduardo Cardinal Martinez Somalo said: “The devote themselves to listening assiduously to the Word of God and to prayer of the heart in a life of solitude, silence liturgical and fraternal communion and humble manual work. In order to be faith to this vocation they receive the twofold monastic tradition of East and West. They are disciples of Saint Bruno, receiving his spiritual fatherhood and wisdom of life. With him they are trained in the school of “Divine Philosophy,” which is Jesus Himself, the eternal Wisdom of the Father. They keep a holy watch awaiting the return of their Lord. Their life, then, is entirely ordered to divine contemplation and the greatest possible love for the Divine Persons and for all human persons.” The point, therefore, is to be progressively likened unto Christ Himself.

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Seeking that pearl of great price the monks and nuns of this order seek to live with all their heart the evangelical life, though hidden from the world. Life in the Bethlehem Family is life in an eremitical monastery, meaning each nun (or monk depending on the monastery) lives in a hermitage and the hermitages are connected by a cloister leading the to church, the sign of fraternal and liturgical communion. This vocation, from my one experience of being present at the monastery in New York, is lived intently as it is drawn from what Saint Luke observed in his Gospel “and Jesus withdrew to the mountains and prayed” (5:16). The Monasteries of Bethlehem take Saint Bruno’s Rule and his wisdom of life but they are not Carthusians but are affiliated to them in a bond of charity.

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The first community of sisters began in 1951 and the monks’ community was founded in 1976, in the Massif of Chartreuse. In 2007, the Bethlehem Family consisted in 650 members from 33 monasteries through out the world.


Work is essential in this life. You quickly learn that the monastic life -or any other style of life for that matter–is not meant for those who want to rest and relax while supervising the work of others. Each nun or monk is expected to contribute to the shared life. For example, when a new monastery is founded the nuns and monks first build their oratory where the Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated and the Divine Office is sung. Daily bread is earned, not an entitlement that one sees in other orders. Similar to the average working class family in the world today, the monks and nuns work to sustain their life and glorify God. From something to be avoided or disdained, nuns and monks engage their entire being into the work assigned so that the love of God might be expressed, a sign of trust in the “God the creator of heaven and earth.” Here in New York, the Sisters of Bethlehem earn their living by working with their hands. Through their artwork, they seek to convey something of God’s beauty and truth. Their work itself is accomplished in prayer, praise to the Creator of all things and intercession for all those to whom these items are destined.

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The Monastic Sisters arrived in Livingston Manor, New York, in May 1987. The monastery is about 2.5 to 3 hours north of New York City. In this monastery, they earn their living by making medallions, icons and chinaware. They also sell dolomite statues, crèches, crucifixes, and bas reliefs made in the monastery of Mougeres France.


My brothers keep a holy and persevering watch awaiting the return of their Master in order to open to Him at once when he knocks, said Saint Bruno.


As Saint Isaac of Nineve said, “When the Spirit makes his dwelling in someone, this person cannot stop praying, for the Spirit does not cease to pray within him.”

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In the solitude of the cell, the monk and nun of Bethlehem has this schedule each day:

1 hour of the liturgical hours

45 min of lectio divina (Bible reading)

1.5 hours of personal prayer

1.5 hours of biblical and theological study

c. 2 hours for 2 daily meals and free time

4-5 hours of work

8 hours of sleep


In the church

1.5 hours for Matins and Lauds

1 hour for Mass

30 min of Eucharistic thanksgiving

45 min for Vespers

Monday is a day of complete solitude and on Sunday there is a meal together with a gathering for a chapter meeting and spiritual conversation.

The nuns can be contacted at:
Monastery of Our Lady in Beatitude
393 Our Lady of Lourdes Road
Livingston Manor, NY 12758 USA
tel: 845-439-4300


Monastère Sainte Marie Reine des Cœurs
3095, chemin Marie Reine des Cœurs
Chertsey, Québec, J0K 3K0 Canada


Monastère Notre Dame de Mongères
F-34720 Caux France

Tel: 33-04-67-98-4486

The motherhouse:
Monastère de l’Assomption Notre-Dame
F-38380 Saint Laurent du Pont France

Monks tel: 33-04-76-1497
Nuns tel: 33-04-76-4055

Seeing the Invisible will allow you to do the impossible

The monks of Cistercian Abbey, Spring Bank, WI, are featured in a PBS video.

These monks are proprietors of LaserMonks.com, a non-profit work providing a discount prices items for your printers and other products (some of which made by monks & nuns of other monasteries).
Watch the video…it’s fascinating to see their vocation lived.

A spiritual haven in Hamilton, Ontario: a Benedictine monastery in the Orthodox Church

My friend Father Michael’s monastery was recently featured in the Canadian secular press in an article titled, “Cannon Street’s spiritual haven.” In most people’s experience monasteries are unusual, never mind a monastery using the Rule of Saint Benedict and following the Orthodox Church. May God grant them many years! Have a read and don’t mind the boo boos in the article…

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

Vietnamese monks live Cistercian life, San Bernardino, CA

By David Olson dolson@PE.com

Cist1.jpgLong before dawn in the remote desert south of Barstow, the only light for miles around is a faint glow from a triple-wide trailer.


Inside, several monks chant in Vietnamese. Then there is silence.


The trailer is home to the first cloistered Catholic monastery in the Inland area. The white-robed monks pray and chant together seven times a day and silently meditate twice. Here in Lucerne Valley, off a dirt road and at the foot of barren mountains, there is little to disturb them.


“There is God in this deserted place,” said Brother Matthew Nguyen. “There are not many people here, but God is here.”


San Bernardino Diocese Bishop Gerald Barnes celebrated the opening of St. Joseph Monastery on Aug. 17, but for now, the two cream-colored trailers, a water pump and solar panels are all that sit on the 80-acre site.


The monks hope to one day erect permanent buildings to house a chapel, retreat center and living quarters.


Peter Pham, a Cistercian monk, delivers food at sunrise outside the St. Joseph Monastery in the Lucerne Valley south of Barstow. Six Vietnamese members of the Cistercians devote their lives to contemplation there. It will also serve as a Catholic retreat.


St. Joseph is the second U.S. outpost of a Vietnamese congregation of Cistercian-order monks, who seclude themselves in monasteries to devote their lives to contemplation. The other opened in June near Sacramento.


There are nearly 7,000 Cistercian monks and nuns worldwide. Most sites are open to the Catholic faithful for retreats, as St. Joseph’s visitors trailer will be in a few months.


The monks and nuns in Cistercian monasteries typically spend little time outside them, except for shopping for groceries and other necessities, and for special events such as ordinations.

Although the number of monks and nuns in U.S. monasteries has declined over the past few decades, experts say the drop has not been as steep as the fall in non-monastic priests and nuns.

Proportionately more people choose a monastic life than before as a reaction to secularism and an increasingly fast-paced U.S. lifestyle, said Sister Patricia Wittberg, a professor of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.


There are about 200 Catholic monasteries in the United States, but there is no reliable count of how many people live inside them.

Cist2.jpgLike the parish priests who minister to their congregants and the nuns who serve the poor and sick, Cistercians and their devotion to intensely contemplative lives form a vital part of the Catholic church, said the Rev. Thomas Rausch, a professor of Catholic theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.


“It’s a special vocation,” Rausch said. “The church needs people who energize it from within with their prayer.”


The monks of St. Joseph rise each morning at precisely 3:55 a.m.


Twenty minutes later, they gather in the dim light of the trailer’s chapel to chant for a half-hour. Then comes 30 minutes of meditation broken by the ringing of a bell announcing daily Mass.

The rest of the day is dedicated to prayer, meditation, singing, Bible-reading, study and work. They speak to each other as little as possible, said the Rev. Anthony Pham, the monastery’s superior.


“Most of our time is for God,” Pham said, as he ate a breakfast of fried eggs topped with soy sauce.


Pham said that, while he is meditating, he reflects upon God’s love and the meaning of his calling as a monk. Work is an integral part of monastic life. As much of it as possible is manual labor, to leave the monks’ minds free for contemplation.


The monks are now clearing brush, digging trenches for pipes, grading land and performing other tasks to build and adorn their monastery.


Like other monasteries, St. Joseph must be self-supporting, so the monks are discussing possible business ventures.


Other monasteries make products such as beer, fruitcake or cheese, and one in Wisconsin sells toner cartridges under the name Lasermonks.


The St. Joseph monks are thinking of opening an on-site gift shop featuring Vietnamese religious articles that they would also sell online. Or perhaps they’ll make tofu for Vietnamese markets.

The 12-bed retreat center that will open in several months is why the monastery exists. A Vietnamese priest from Santa Ana, who attended a Cistercian boarding school as a boy, contacted the Cistercian order to convey the need for a retreat house geared toward Vietnamese immigrants, Pham said.


Many older Vietnamese Catholics do not speak English and would not feel at home or get the spiritual nourishment they seek if they were to attend a retreat at an English-speaking monastery, he said.


They and many other Catholics yearn for a place to recharge, to take a break from their busy lives to focus on their relationship with God, Pham said.


The retreat guests — visitors who are not Vietnamese will be welcome as well — will participate in the same prayers, singing, meditation and other devotions as the monks, Pham said.

If asked, the monks will guide them, suggesting which Biblical verses to read. But much of the benefit of a retreat will be the example the monks set, Pham said.

Founders of Citeaux.jpg“The way we live has a special effect and impact on other people, in the way that we get closer to God,” Pham said. “When we are closer to God, we love God more.”


Even more than parish priests, the monks forgo worldly goods. Because they rarely leave the monastery, they have few material needs. They do not eat meat, as a way of sacrificing for God.

“If we put too many things in ourselves, we cannot serve other people,” Pham said. “If you’re willing to throw things like the good car, like status in the community away, you come back to only being a human being, nothing more. We try to empty ourselves, so God can pour his graces into us.”


When a permanent monastery is complete, Pham will spend almost all his time there.


Until then, Pham is busier than he would sometimes like. He regularly interrupts the contemplative life of Lucerne Valley to drive to Victorville. There, he fills out forms, applies for permits and talks with county bureaucrats. Even monks can’t avoid San Bernardino County land-use and building codes.


He has a studded ring on his right hand that he rubs while driving, so he can pray the Rosary while on the road.

Thumbnail image for Cist3.jpgAll six monks who live at the monastery spent at least six months at a Benedictine monastery in Pennsylvania to improve their English and acculturate themselves, Pham said. Two more monks are now in Pennsylvania, preparing to move to St. Joseph. The goal is to have 13 monks by the end of 2009.


The monks receive several-thousand dollars a month to support themselves and the monastery. Most money comes from Vietnamese immigrants in Orange County. Further donations, along with revenue from the monks’ forthcoming business, will fund the construction of the permanent monastery.


The trailer chapel where the monks now spend much of their time is spare. The monks sit on white plastic chairs or kneel on a blue-and-white carpet before a crucifix and a wooden altar carved in Orange County by a Vietnamese craftsman. Statues of St. Joseph and Our Lady of La Vang — an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 18th century Vietnam — stand near a plaque commemorating Bishop Barnes’ visit.


Outside, there is little but sand and desert brush. Lucerne Valley was chosen for the monastery because it is remote enough to foster contemplation but within driving distance of the huge Vietnamese community in Orange County.


The land cost $80,000. Pham started paying for it with his $200 monthly stipend, along with donations from Vietnamese families.It was a risk. Pham knew the money wasn’t enough to pay the entire cost of the land. But he trusted in God.


Then a Vietnamese family took him to Florida with them on vacation. By chance, he met a wealthy Vietnamese Catholic there. Pham mentioned the monastery he was building. He didn’t ask the man for money. But by the time he left Florida, the man offered to pay the remaining cost of the land.


“I didn’t know this person, and I didn’t have the money to pay for the land,” Pham said.

“But everything comes together with God.”




Cistercian arms.jpgThe Cistercian order to which the monks at St. Joseph Monastery in Lucerne Valley belong dates from 1098, when it was founded in Citeaux, France, by St. Robert of Molesme. The English word “Cisterican” comes from “Citeaux.”


Their creed is “Ora et Labora,” or “Prayer and work.” Most of a Cistercian monk’s day is spent in contemplation.


The monks at St. Joseph are called Common Observance Cistercians. Perhaps better known is the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappists. The Trappists initially had a stricter interpretation of monastic rules, but today differences between the Common and Strict Observance Cistercians are negligible and there are discussions to unite the two orders.


There are nearly 7,000 Cistercian monks and nuns worldwide.


The mother abbey for St. Joseph Monastery, Phuoc Son Abbey, is outside Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.


SOURCES: The (Common Observance) Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Break, Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia

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]yahoo.com.
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