By Matt McAndrew
A group from St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville and St. Mary Parish in Iowa City traveled to New Melleray Abbey on April 19 to observe Good Friday services. The monks of New Melleray are under the guidance of Abbot Mark Scott, O.C.S.O. The service included the Passion of Our Lord, Scripture readings and intercessions for the church. This year, the group of 21 monks is observing the monastery’s 170th anniversary.
Early in the history of the Catholic Church, monastic communities provided a new, disciplined way of living at a time when it was badly needed. Monastic life offered both spiritual and physical security in an age of increasing violence and instability. St. Benedict helped to adapt monasticism to the needs of the Catholic Church. St. Benedict established a rule that became the basic constitution for all western monks. The great strength of the Rule of Benedict, established then and still used today, is in its combination of firmness and reasonableness. The first and most important duty was to do the “work of God” and to take part in religious services that filled many hours of the day.
New Melleray Abbey, the monastery near Peosta, Iowa, was founded in 1849 by monks from Mount Melleray Abbey, Ireland, who belonged to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (commonly referred to as Trappists). Because of the potato famine in Ireland, they sought to establish a house in the United States with a promise from Bishop Mathias Loras of Dubuque, Iowa, for 500 acres of virgin prairie to provide a home for the Irish monks.
The monastery is located southwest of Dubuque, about 80 miles — or a drive of about one-and-a-half hours — from Iowa City. The monastery is a retreat center for all seeking a quiet, tranquil contemplative lifestyle. Guests may visit the monastery and share in the monks’ daily liturgy from Vigils at 3:30 a.m. through Compline at 7:30 p.m. Personal or themed retreats are available.
The monks also invite guests to visit and take a tour of Trappist Caskets where the monks produce handcrafted caskets that are their primary form of manual labor and self-support.
Reservations may be made by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (563) 588-2319, extension 100. A freewill offering may be made for meals and accommodations.
For those considering a vocation: Men between ages 21-45, who are in good health, may choose to make a retreat at the monastery. There is no charge, but a freewill offering can be made. As a community, the monks live out Jesus’ call to go and make disciples of all nations and to love God and neighbor.
(Matt McAndrew is a member of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City.)