Newsletter of the Cistercian Monks | Tarrawarra Abbey
In this issue
Fr Mark Ryan
Fr Mark Ryan
Fr Mark Ryan, the last of Tarrawarra’s resident Irish founders, died on 24 October and was buried in our community cemetery on 4 November. He fell going to lunch with priest friends who had come to the monastery for their monthly prayer day with him. Two days later he had left-hip surgery in the Maroondah Hospital, Ringwood, but his heart wasn’t up to it and he died the following day.
Queen Elizabeth declared 1992 her ‘annus horribilis’ (yukky year). Mark’s was definitely 2017 when he had eight falls, five hospitalisations, right-hip replacement, pneumonia, and under-lying heart failure. Sonja, the cardiac nurse from the Maroondah, managed to communicate to him, after his last stint in hospital that year, what he could do, and refrain from doing, to live successfully with heart failure. As our GP, Dr Peter Trigg, and Mark’s cardiologist, Mr Mark Horrigan, (both of whom were very fond of him), often said: ‘Mark has a great will to live!’ He demonstrated it by embracing Sonja’s advice. Unfortunately, he slipped up (pardon the pun!) on 24 October when he substituted the stick for the wheely-walker!
Mark’s pot-biography is included in Dom Steele’s funeral homily. A few things can be added here. Mark came straight from school to monastic life, and then, as a 22 year old in first vows, to Australia. His early years here had to combine studies with hard labour on the team building our church and the temporary buildings to house the community. They were mighty men!
Mark would be chuffed to have us include these words of appreciation from his friend, Archbishop Chris Prowse of Canberra- Goulburn:
“Thank you so much for letting me know about Mark, a dear and cherished friend for many years…
If you forgive me, I wish to offer a little appreciation of Mark in my own life. You may use this as you see fit.
Fr Mark Ryan OCSO was the first person I experienced personally who TRULY read the Scriptures as the Word of God. With his unmistakable Irish accent, his proclamation of God’s Word indicated its freshness and power to convert even in the listening! This was when I was a seminarian 45 years ago! Soon afterwards, when I visited Tarrawarra for a few days, I asked him to be my retreat director. He was reluctant to accept but then agreed. It was a spiritually transforming experience for me. He was humble, attentive and challenging and a truly blessed channel of the Holy Spirit for me. The fact that he was not an academic and literally had mud on his boots due to his duties on the farm (especially maintaining the water pump) but allowed the Holy Spirit to use him totally was a joy for me. I was staggered when he informed me afterwards that I was the first person he had ever led in such a retreat. It indicates just how much he allowed the Lord Jesus to change him mid-stream in his life. He went on giving spiritual retreats and reflections to others (especially priests) all over Australia. Indeed, his last function before his final hospitalization was in preparation for a priests’ gathering. Over the years he has always kept in touch with me with a loving persistence that made him my ‘Hound of Heaven’. May Fr Mark Ryan rest in the peace of the Risen Lord whom he loved and served so totally throughout his life as a Cistercian monk. Fr Mark’s death represents the last of the Tarrawarra ‘Irish’ priests. It is therefore a historic death. It gives all of us an opportunity once again to thank the Lord for the monastic community of Tarrawarra and all their many blessings upon Australia over so many years.”
Two Roscrea Memories
Two Roscrea Memories
Our community archivist, Br Luke Rudd, recently turned forty (‘hip-hip-hooray!’ And ‘for he’s a jolly good fellow!’), moved by the passing of the last of our Irish founders, dug into the treasures he curates and came up with these two Roscrea memories Dom Kevin O’Farrell preserved:
There was a statue of Our Lady in one of the corridors and it was rather neglected so that Our Lady’s hands were covered in cobwebs. Br Mary Joseph, who loved Mary, noticed this and was quite angry. He met the Fr Infirmarian… and said to him ‘Did you see Herself in the corridor?’ ‘Well’, said the Infirmarian, ‘and what about her?’ ‘I see’, Br M. Joseph replied ‘that now she keeps her knitting with her.’
It can be added that the wags amongst our founders often related how Dom Camillus Claffey, their abbot back there, used to initial ‘C.C’ into dust in places not appreciated by him. The message was clear!
Again from Dom Kevin, but a favourite with other founders too: A monk of Roscrea seeing a specialist in Dublin and then waiting a few days for his report found time dragging on his hands. At this stage, passing the office of a Coach Company he saw a Mystery Tour advertised for that day and thinking of it as an ideal way to fill in some hours he went in and booked a seat on the tour. The coach set off, and the monk enjoyed the scenery, and the company and felt very happy with himself. The destination was still unknown. All went fine until our friend began, so he thought, to recognise some of the countryside, it looked familiar. He began to panic a little. Then the climax came; the coach driver announced that he was going to reveal the destination of the Mystery Tour – yes – ‘Mount St Joseph Abbey.’ What did the monk do? – he stopped the bus, got out and thumbed a lift back to Dublin!
Homily For Fr Mark Ryan’s Funeral Mass
Homily For Fr Mark Ryan’s Funeral Mass
In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews is a favourite verse of Fr Mark: ‘See, I have come to do your will, O God.’ (Hebrews 10:9) And, in a sense, this sums up Fr Mark. For in lots of ways, Mark was a generous man. Mind you, to unlock his generosity, you had to know how to ask. If I said to Mark, ‘Would you do this …?’ he would stammer, ‘Oh … um.’ But if I approached him saying, ‘Fr Mark, I wonder if you would be able to help me with this …,’ then he would almost fall over himself trying to oblige. Mark’s generosity really came to the fore after Fr Stephen List, our organist, died. Mark hadn’t played for many years, so he quietly went down and had a little play on the organ to assure himself that he could still do it, and then he volunteered to be our organist, a job he did till in later years he contracted carpal tunnel syndrome, which made playing difficult, and by which time Fr Brian had returned to the community and was able to take over. That we were still to have an organist was a great boon to the community. Being the only organist is an onerous job, for, as you know, we chant the Office seven times a day, day in day out. To be organist means that not only do you have to be there every day, but you also have to be there on time for each Office; it’s a huge commitment in terms of time and self-discipline, but a commitment Mark took on selflessly and with good humour. After he had an operation to relieve the effects of carpal tunnel, Mark was still keen enough to get back on the organ, but by them other health issues had intervened.
Mark’s organ playing also highlights another aspect of Fr Mark. In lots of ways he was a humble man. For, on a not so good day, Mark could play all the wrong notes without batting an eyelid and he would just plough on. Anyone else would have been looking for the nearest rock to crawl under out of shame, but at the next Office Mark would be there ready to do it again. Mark’s could be a hamfisted generosity, but the fact that his bumbling might put him in a bad light never diminished his capacity to give generously. The other amazing thing about Fr Mark was that you could have a blazing row with him, but the next time you met him all was forgotten; Mark never carried a grudge.
Mark’s spirituality really was centred around: ‘See, I have come to do your will.’ That he might not be able to do it so well, nor any personal difficulty he may have had with you, ever deterred him from having a go at trying to help out. I think he must have learnt early to ‘trust in God’s help’ to make up for any deficiencies. (Rule of St Benedict 68:5) In this he imitated his Lord, who, as our Gospel reminds, ‘came down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.’ (John 10:38) In this Fr Mark is a good reminder that, in our imitation of Christ, we don’t need to be perfect; we just need to do what we can out of an openhearted generosity — ‘for God loves a cheerful giver,’ as the Rule puts it. Such was our Fr Mark.
Mark was born in Dublin in 1932 to James and Irene Ryan, one of seven siblings. In 1950 he entered our Motherhouse at Roscrea. When he received the habit a couple of months later, Mark retained his baptismal name. In late 1952 Mark made his first profession. Not long after, he boarded a ship bound for Australia, which in those days was considered a one-way ticket. He made his final profession here at Tarrawarra Abbey in 1955. Two years later, his was the first ordination to take place in our Abbey Church. In 1958, along with the other members of our foundation group, Mark changed his stability to Tarrawarra Abbey. Sadly, Mark is the last of our founders, and we begin a new chapter without any Irish in our midst. Mark did his studies both here and in Roscrea, and in 1978 he did some further studies at YTU (the Yarra Theological Union). In 1979 Mark was on leave for almost three years, during which he worked in various houses of prayer and out of which was born his outreach to many of the priests of the Melbourne Archdiocese, an outreach he maintained to the end. Apart from being organist, Mark was also our Cellarer (Assistant Bursar) for many years, and on the death of Br Gabriel he took charge of our plumbing department.
In today’s Gospel the Lord says to us: ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.’ (John 6:37) Mark formally committed himself to following our Lord, first, when he entered Roscrea, but then again later, when he volunteered to come to Tarrawarra, and again when he returned after his leave of absence. That Mark persevered to the end is evidence of the Lord’s commitment to him. In his later years Mark found a peacefulness that comes from the acceptance of the limitation that is our lot, and in which we finally get to say in all its fullness, ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42-43) This peacefulness expressed itself in Mark as a growing, if awkward, graciousness — awkward, for this was all new territory for Mark — a graciousness that made him a joy to have around and that is a sign of the Lord’s blessing come upon him. In our Gospel today the Lord, the Godwho-is-with-us in our gathering here, tells us, ‘Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’ (John 6:40) Who can doubt that the Lord has not already said to Mark, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:21) Who can doubt, on that last day, that we will not see our Fr Mark again.
Farewell, Mark. May you rest in the peace of your Lord.
Dom Steele Hartmann
Our Archbishop, Peter Comensoli, at Dom Steele’s invitation, concelebrated Mass at Tarrawarra on 22 November, then shared a meal in our refectory. He had visited many years ago, but this was our first opportunity as a community to welcome him since his appointment as the ninth Archbishop of Melbourne on 29 June 2018. (Tarrawarra had been founded towards the end of the 46-year term of Daniel Mannix, the third of Melbourne’s chief pastors). Archbishop Peter had spent a busy sixteen months, since his installation on 1 August 2018, putting down roots and making pastoral contacts with his people. His early life was in the Diocese of Wollongong. Then he was an Auxiliary Bishop in Sydney 2011-2014, before becoming Bishop of Broken Bay in December 2014. Now Marvellous Melbourne!
20th Anniversary of TAG
20th Anniversary of TAG
The Tarrawarra Advisory Group (TAG) celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2019. It was our joy and privilege to have past and present members, together with their spouses, join us on 9 November for Mass and a splendid meal provided by our cooks, Barbara and Charmaine. We remembered in prayer those who were prevented by health issues from being present. Dom Steele revisited TAG’s genesis and subsequent contribution to Tarrawarra’s ongoing life in the following words of deep gratitude:
“TAG had its origins in 1999 with John Little being invited to assist us in a review of our economy, beef and dairy being our main sources of income at that time. Being wholly agricultural, our economy was of the boom-and-bust type — ‘when it was good, it was very, very good, but when it was bad it was horrid,’ to misuse a line from the old nursery rhyme. To ensure we had enough funds to cover the cheques, our then Bursar, Br Gregory Curry, made payments only after pension day. It wasn’t just that we needed to be better farmers. For the difference between a good and a bad year mostly lay outside our control, it being determined largely by the vagaries of the weather or the markets; ours was only to go on the economic rollercoaster ride.
Towards the end of that year an opportunity came in an offer from the Blessed Sacrament Sisters to sell us their Eucharistic Breads business. A small group was put together to help us examine this offer, and then to help us establish it as a going concern for Tarrawarra Abbey; thus, in a very much hands-on and practical act that was hugely significant for Tarrawarra, TAG was born with John Little as its inaugural chair. To purchase the business and to erect some necessary infrastructure, we needed to borrow. TAG helped us assemble the required financial package through the Catholic Development Fund. We commenced business as Tarrawarra Eucharistic Breads in 2000.
The Eucharistic Breads business brought with it a stable and reliable income, a new experience for Tarrawarra Abbey. This enabled us to begin some much-needed building works. In 2005, urged on by TAG and at their suggestion as a fitting way to mark our Golden Jubilee, we completed our library. Previously we had put up some rooms for the monks, but only after interminable discussion, mostly centring around whether or not we could afford it. When the price came in, the monks all took fright, and to reduce costs, the roof was lowered and the rooms were made smaller — something we now just have to live with. To finance it, we managed to get an interest-free loan from one of our Japanese houses. Of course, the monks never having heard of hedging, by the time we came to pay it off, it cost us more than had we simply borrowed from a bank here. In contrast, with our library project, an endorsement from TAG settled all financial questions for the community, leaving us free just to plan what was to become our beautiful library.
In the 2009 Black Saturday Fires three hundred acres of our farm were burnt, killing 63 of our cattle. TAG was insistent, mostly in the person of David Kift, on our need for a fire shelter. The magnificent building, which we now call ‘Fountains’, was completed in 2015. It replaced the old Wool Shed, and so, as well as being a fire shelter, it houses a community meeting space and TV room, a small gymnasium, our tailor shop where our habits are made, and an archive store.
Other projects that TAG has helped us plan and execute include the renovation and remodelling of our sacristy, bell tower, and the Dom Kevin meeting room complex, the renovation of our refectory, and the complete refit of our kitchen.
In more recent times, the focus of TAG has widened from the narrowly economic to include all aspects of monastic life — from Safeguarding and Governance to Bike Trails through our property — and helping to make us more transparent and accountable in the stewardship of the heritage that comes to us and known as Tarrawarra Abbey. Currently with the help of TAG we are looking at our next big project, which is to include the provision of better accommodation for our Guests. To this end, TAG has been pushing me to come up with a Vision Statement of where we would hope to be in ten years’ time. This has been a difficult exercise, for, being a contemplative Order, we don’t have any ministry that needs to be improved or expanded, and we are not looking to undertake any new outreach. St Matthew’s Gospel puts well what we are on about: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer.’ The Rule of St Benedict tells how we are to go about this: ‘Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way with the Gospels for our guide, that we may deserve to see him who called us into his Kingdom.’ In a sense, it is the Gospels that are our Vision, with the Rule being our Mission Statement; I don’t know of any better way to put it. Ours is an endeavour to live the Gospels and so enter into Christ’s Kingdom, the Rule being the means we use to do it. Nevertheless, at TAG’s insistence, we have endeavoured to look ten years down the track and come up with a statement, and this has led us into a Master Planning exercise with the architects who designed Fountains. We look forward with confidence, to see where this next step along the way will take us, knowing that the TAG will be there to support us.
All that’s left to say is, ‘Thank you for your generous support over the years. The formation of the Tarrawarra Advisory Group was really a watershed moment in the history of Tarrawarra Abbey. By way of Thank you, we would like to present you with an Illustrated copy of our Vision Statement: a copy of the Book of the Gospels’.”
The community expended much effort during 2019 in establishing and implementing Tarrawarra’s Child Safeguarding policies and practices. Fr Samuel Chua, (bless him), did the hard yards and burnt the midnight oil on our behalf. Tania Stegemann, Director of Compliance for Catholic Professional Standards, spent a couple of days with us in late November auditing the situation. Our audit report on 13 January stated: ‘The Abbey has achieved 100 per cent compliance with the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards (NCSS) and has implemented or is substantially progressed in the implementation of all 80 NCSS indicators which are relevant to their operations’. Catholic Professional Standards Limited CEO, Sheree Limbrik, said ‘the audit shows that Tarrawarra Abbey takes the safeguarding of children seriously in its operations’.
Tarrawarra Last Supper
Tarrawarra Last Supper
Tarrawarra’s refectory/dining room has been graced, since 6 August, with an indigenous Last Supper painting (acrylic on canvas, 1m x 2m). Dom Steele commissioned John Dunn, a Western Yalanji/ Olkola man from North Queensland after being impressed by his Stations of the Cross. ‘I liked what you did with the Stations of the Cross. What I want is for you to have thought about the Last Supper, and to depict what you see as an Aboriginal artist. I guess what I’m hoping for, and what I liked about the Stations of the Cross, is something that is very much Australian Aboriginal Christian Art’. That is what John has given us: an Australian Aboriginal depiction of the central Christian event and mystery of the Last Supper, the Eucharist. John provided, at our request, a brief commentary on this painting crowded with symbols. Our contemplation of the work has fleshed this out. We are delighted to share it with you.
The Last Supper is being held with the disciples in a cave. (Ceremonial dancers, in the upper left, set the key of sacred ritual). The faces are blanked out; enabling us to insert ourselves into the sacred meal that Jesus commanded us to repeat ‘in memory of me’. He is standing, centrally placed, still welcoming and offering a reluctant Judas the bread dipped in oil. The table and its contents are at ground level. (Leonardo da Vinci’s table would have been rather out of place in a cave!) The Twelve are seated around Jesus, some with their backs to the viewer. (The red bandaners around the heads help to focus the individuals). Each figure is wearing a possum skin cloak, the animals depicted on each signify the person’s family totem: frill necked lizard and tracks, a kangaroo at sunset, family with emu, lizard and platypus, black cockatoos, kangaroo with tracks and people, magpie and lizard, wombat and platypus, echidna and brolgas.
Bunjil (the wedge-tailed eagle) and Waa (the crow) are given prominence, as they are the two moiety totems of the Wurundjeri, our Yarra River people. They are located behind Jesus on the back wall of the cave, on either side of the Southern Cross. Bunjil, in aboriginal mythology, is a creator spirit, culture hero and ancestral being. (Melbourne boasts a growing number of representations of Bunjil, including the mosaic at the entrance to St Patrick’s Cathedral). Bunjil is also depicted on Jesus’ possum skin cloak. As stories of Waa often present him as a trickster and the enemy of Bunjil, he appears on Judas’ cloak.
Human footsteps symbolize the communal Indigenous and Christian journey: the Dreamtime journey, millennia of daily journeys by indigenous people across their land, the journey of Jesus and his disciples, and the ongoing journey of humanity and the pilgrim people of God. Many meeting places/circles along the way lead to the Eucharistic gathering and sharing with Jesus in the cave.
Handprints on cave walls (discreet but ubiquitous here) are, according to the artist’s sister, Sherry Balcombe, commemorative of the ancestors – in Christian terms, ‘a cloud of witnesses’. They speak of ‘belonging here’, not a possessive claiming, but a communion and a belonging to the place and commitment to caring for it. Cistercian monks, from the twelfth century, have identified as ‘lovers of the place’.
Thank you, John, for this contribution to our monastic life. We hope to be able to welcome you here in the future, for you to see your work displayed and inspiring us.
Br Simon Wang
Br Simon Wang
Br Simon Wang attended an Iconography Workshop at Australian Catholic University conducted by Philip Davydov, 13-17 January. Simon had no previous experience but produced (alongside the other six participants) an Icon of Our Lady of ‘Igorevskaya’. The original icon, painted in the sixteenth century, currently belongs to the collection of the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow.
Philip Davydov holds an M.A. in State Fine Arts from the Academy of St Petersburg, faculty of Theory and History of Art. He is a professional, second-generation iconographer with more than 15 years of teaching experience. He is also a professor at the Institute of Theology and Sacred Arts and head of the Sacred Murals Studio in St Petersburg, Russia. Simon is undoubtedly talented. Watch this space!