Our Lady of Calvary Abbey
There are two trappist monasteries at Rogersville in the heart of New Brunswick, Canada, one of monks and one of nuns. Trappists belong to the larger Cistercian family.
Cistercian monasteries are above all places dedicated to prayer. Not that the prayer is any better quality than anywhere else, but the lifestyle of the monks and nuns is entirely orientated towards the search for God and union with him in continuous prayer.
Our Lady of Calvary is a community of monks founded in 1902 and situated between the villages of Rogersville and Colette about 100 km North of Moncton on route 126.
In a world given over to the frenetic pursuit of diversions and distractions, evasions and pretension, the Cistercian monastery tries to be an oasis of truth. Here, the soul longing to live learns, patiently through a whole lifetime, the secret way of the heart. The monks try to follow a trusty guide in the Rule of Saint Benedict.
Written in the sixth century, the Rule has shaped generations of God-seekers on all the continents and in the face of many historical circumstances.
One great challenge of the Cistercian life is certainly its simplicity, a first requirement for truth. This quality characterizes the life of the monk and its environment. Architecture, décor, liturgy which is the staff of the monk’s daily life, as well as the programme of the ordinary day, all are marked by simplicity, because the God who is being sought is simple, the One God. The monk is engaged in re-establishing this unity within himself, as a first stage, because he recognizes that the divisions that the world and every human being suffer from have their origins in his own heart. This search for unity is why a man becomes a monk, from the Greek monos meaning one or alone.
Solitude and silence are two indispensable elements in the life of the monk. Alongside of chastity, withdrawal into the desert and the seeming monotonous round of daily monastic living, they find their explanation in the desire to avoid anything that would hinder or obscure the avid search for God. On the other hand, the monk will carefully develop his intellectual and spiritual faculties of understanding.
The Cistercian monk is a cenobite, that is to say a monk living in a community guided by a rule and an abbot. He does not choose the brothers with whom he lives. He thanks God, instead, for those he has given him. With them he will learn to love Christ, whom he will also love in them. He will love Christ above all things else, not in expressions of feeling but in that truth which can be tested in the fire of fraternal living.
For the monk, obedience is the road to true freedom. Rather than doing what he likes, the monk will seek to like what he does. For Saint Benedict, whose Rule the monk seeks to follow, the abbot holds the place of Christ in the monastery. It is, therefore, Christ to whom the monk seeks to be obedient when he renounces his self-will on entering the monastery. The monk binds himself to the obedient Christ and, again according to the Rule of Saint Benedict: the monk will prefer nothing whatever to Christ.
The Rule also says: “When they live by the labour of their hands, as our fathers and the apostles did, then they are really monks. At Our Lady of Calvary the two principle sources of income are a dairy farm and the raising of poultry. Each brother makes his contribution to the daily work according to his capabilities and the needs of the community. The older members are particularly happy to continue serving the community until late in life.
Alongside prayer and manual work, lectio divina is one of the three pillars of the monastic day. More than just reading any book, lectio divina is being in touch with Christ as the Word of God in a heart to heart encounter. The monk tries to give a generous portion of his time to it. It is the best seedbed for his prayer.
A welcome extended to short-term guests is a carefully preserved tradition in monasteries living according to the Rule of Saint Benedict. Although the monk has withdrawn from the world, it is not for the sake of any selfish enjoyment of the riches of the monastic life: he is happy to share them with anybody who is seeking God in solitude and silence. Every Cistercian monastery ought to have a guesthouse. The extent of the facilities offered will be in proportion to the capabilities of the personnel available. Retreatants of any race, language or religion are welcome.
Here at Our Lady of Calvary we have a guesthouse, which can accommodate 12 guests, but not more than four women at a time. We also have two suites suitable for married couples. We can also accommodate one handicapped person, male or female at a time, provided he or she is independent or accompanied by a carer.
Guests are expected to stay at the monastery in order to participate in the prayer-life of the monks. Therefore they are encouraged to assist at the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours and especially the Mass in the monastery chapel. Books are provided for their use. They are free to use the community chapel for their private prayer and a chapel is available also in the guest house.
Where do the Trappist Cistercians come from? Saint Benedict of Norsia wrote a Rule in the 6th century for the monks who had become his disciples. This Rule, a model of balance and discretion, became adopted throughout the Western monastic world. Those who lived under this Rule were called Benedictines. In the 11th century, a group of monks from the Benedictine Abbey of Molesmes, in France, set out to found a new monastery in a wild place called Cîteaux. They hoped to be able to follow the Rule of Saint Benedict more closely. The “New Monastery”, as it was called then, quickly became the nursery of a new order, the Cistercian Order, which, due to the dynamic approach of Saint Bernard was able to cover Europe with monasteries in only a few years.
In the 17th century, a big reform made the Abbey of La Trappe in France well known. After this, the monks who were the product of this reform received the name of Trappists, still used today.
At the end of the 19th century, anti-clerical legislation forced religious congregations to leave France. At that precise moment of history, the founding pastor of Rogersville, Fr. Marcel-François Richard, was dreaming of bringing farming monks into his parish so as to encourage his settlers to stay put and not be lured by promises of a better future on the other side of the United States border. He was put in touch with Dom Emile Lorne, Superior of the Abbey of Bonnecombe, in France, which was looking for a place of refuge, since the community was threatened with expulsion. Fr. Richard presented his request and promised to provide the land for a foundation.
So it was that, on 1 November 1902, (in the small hours of the morning) an embryonic community took possession of a small cabin, in Rogersville, and began, without more ado, the Office of the Day’s Feast, All Saints. Since that day the monks of Our Lady of Calvary have continued the daily celebration of the praise of God.