In this time of Pandemic / Stay at home news / Novices / Dom Eugene Boylan / Fr Nivard’s Logbook / Fr Jeremiah O’Flynn / From Roscrea to Beagle Bay/ Library Notes / Love of reading: Homily for St Benedict
In this issue
In This Time of Pandemic
In This Time of Pandemic
As a community we have been acutely aware of the suffering and loss so many of our brothers and sisters have experienced in this year of Covid-19. The Mass in a Time of Pandemic, and its sensitively inclusive opening prayer (below), have been a regular feature of our liturgy over the months:
Almighty and eternal God,
our refuge in every danger,
to whom we turn in our distress;
in faith we pray, look with compassion
on the afflicted,
grant eternal rest to the dead,
comfort to mourners,
healing to the sick, peace to the dying,
strength to healthcare workers,
wisdom to our leaders
and the courage to reach out to all in love,
so that together we may give glory
to your holy name.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son…
A writer responded in experiential terms to the headline “We are all monks now!”, “I get the main point: Monks have something to teach us about flourishing in solitude. But living quarantined with kids feels like anything but ‘monastic’”. Likewise, people in crowded Melbourne accommodation towers or locked down Aged Care Homes have done it tough.
Yes, “we are all in this together!” However, the challenges have been unequal. We monks are definitely privileged. We have been able to maintain the rhythm of the monastic day - Mass and Offices, reading and prayer, study, work, meals and sleep. The company of brethren has not been lacking. We have a very big backyard in which to stretch our legs and enjoy nature. The birds and birdsong are plentiful and a constant delight. The numbers swelled with an influx of waterfowl during the flooding of the river-flats. Two kangaroos, plus a joey in the pouch, have availed themselves of the quieter conditions, to be trustingly “alert but not alarmed”, even making occasional forays among the monastic buildings. A soggy blue tongue lizard was washed out of its hibernation briefly. The floods forced wombats to seek higher ground, one even considering entering the cloister, but discerned as unsuitable because of its excavation obsession. Our felt loss has been the absence of guests, and our regulars at Sunday Mass and other liturgies.
Stay At Home News
Stay At Home News
Scottish poet, Robert Burns, was spot on: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley” – or more prosaically, “Man proposes, God disposes”. Fr Brendan Thomas OSB from Belmont Abbey, England was scheduled to direct our annual community retreat. However, with Australia locked down, that was not to be. We went ahead with the retreat, 19-25 July, using “do-it-yourself” material - “With Jesus in the Desert: A Retreat for a Time of Isolation” - provided by Jesuit Communications for those forced to isolate themselves during this pandemic.
Our carbon footprint was impressively reduced, airfares eliminated, and petrol consumption at an all-time low thanks to a range of other cancellations from our 2020 calendar. The Cistercian Asia-Pacific sub-regional formators meeting at our women’s community in the Philippines, 20-28 May, was one of the early casualties. The Australian and New Zealand Benedictine Union meeting to be held at Tarrawarra, 11-15 June, followed by the Catholic Religious Australia gathering in Melbourne, 15-18 June, both evaporated. Dom Steele’s projected Visitation of our community at Tobetsu in Hokkaido, Japan, 1-15 July, succumbed to sealed borders. The Benedictine community at New Norcia, W.A., was to host a joint formation session, 26 July–3 August, but that will have to wait for another day. Dom Steele’s scheduled three weeks at the Oriens (Asia-Pacific) Regional Meeting, and General Chapter, in Assisi during September, and the Australian Church Plenary Council in Adelaide were postponed to 2021. “Stay at home” has definitely been the order of the day at Tarrawarra in 2020.
Three men have received the habit of our Order at Tarrawarra in recent months: Jason Blackburn on 24 May, and Moses Jeon and Piotr Stefanski on 9 September. Jason is a Victorian, born just “down the road” at Warragul. Moses? No, he was not born in Egypt and hidden in a basket in the reeds along the Nile, but in South Korea. Piotr? There are no prizes for guessing the “ski” is Polish, and you can get by pronouncing his given name as Peter. Their pre-monastic careers have spanned, amongst other things, correctional services, advertising, Aged Care management, and accountancy. The bursar will definitely welcome a fellow “bean counter”, and the infirmarian an Aged Care manager. We are anxiously holding our breath to detect whether the abbot has plans to resurrect the medieval institution of the monastic prison (for monks only). Welcome aboard, Jason, Moses and Piotr.
Picture: From left: Br Piotr, Br Jason & Br Moses
Dom Eugene Boyland
Dom Eugene Boyland
At long last, we have a biography of Eugene Boylan who was sent from Mt St Joseph Abbey, Roscrea to Australia on 11 September 1953 to search out a property for what became, in November 1954, Tarrawarra Abbey. Eugene died as Abbot of Roscrea, a road fatality, on 5 January 1964, so we can say, without exaggeration, this is a “long awaited” Life.
Dr Thomas J Morrissey published Dom Eugene Boylan: Trappist Monk, Scientist and Writer through Messenger Publications in 2019. Morrissey is a Jesuit priest, an educationalist, historian, and author of some fifteen historical works, mainly biographies.
Kevin Boylan (Fr Eugene) was born at the seaside town of Bray, Co Wicklow, in 1904. He entered Roscrea in 1931 at the age of twenty-seven, after a successful academic, and sporting, career at University College Dublin (1921-1926), and Vienna (1926-1929). “Vienna was in many ways a city of dreams to a musical family like the Boylans”, and Eugene reveled in this extra dimension. The blurb says: “Some say the jaw dropped feet not inches when the young Kevin Boylan announced his intention to join the Cistercians; in Dom Eugene Boylan jaw and mouth are re-united, as two worlds are joined in symbiosis: the world of man and of monk united by the greatest theme, God’s love”.
Perhaps his most successful spiritual book was This Tremendous Lover. Two university friends of one of our Tarrawarra community members were on a city train. One was reading This Tremendous Lover when the other suggested she should think about putting “a brown paper cover on it”. Oh, the relatively innocent days of the 1950s! The title obviously raised the possibility of suspicion of something salacious. In fact, it is a classic spiritual book, still in print, and its title was taken from a line of Francis Thompson’s religious poem, “The Hound of Heaven”.
Fr Morrissey acknowledges that he received very much assistance from the research of the late Fr Nivard Kinsella, who compiled much information from Eugene’s family and contemporaries. Nivard was another of the Tarrawarra founders.
Fr Nivard's Logbook
Fr Nivard's Logbook
Speaking of Fr Nivard Kinsella, the Logbook of his voyage to Australia with seven others of our founders on the S.S. Esperance Bay, 24 September – 31 October 1954, has also begun to see the light of day. Tjurunga, the Australasian Benedictine Review, published the first installment (Southampton to Aden) earlier this year. It was a diary primarily meant for his parents and extended family as a substitute for letters during the journey. Eventually the logbook made its way to the archives at our motherhouse, Mt St Joseph, and a copy was made available to the community here at Tarrawarra.
The voyage began at Southampton and touched at Malta, Port Said, Suez, Aden, Colombo and Perth before docking in Melbourne. Each brief period in port was grabbed with both hands. On board there was more than Mass on rough seas. Early in the voyage Nivard writes: “This afternoon I spent quite a while watching Br Munchin and Br Kevin playing shuffleboard – one would think they had spent half their lives on ocean liners”. Before long they were having “a sing-song with a few of the stewards on their deck”. Munchin also had the baker wrapped around his little finger, “with a goodly supply of cakes etc” coming their way. Salvador, a Maltese chap, adopted them, organised their hours in Malta, boasted of his island’s long Christian history and, in private, corrected the instructions given at the emergency drill: “He say they lower boats – no, no time, if ship sink you just tie on your life belt and jump over side – maybe you picked up, maybe not”. They witnessed a bit of table-rapping at which a sick man was supposedly cured. Munchin’s comment – on the ceremony and the Red Sea weather: “If Old Nick appears, he’ll be quite at home in this heat!” Nivard himself engaged in a series of conversations with two fundamentalist women, neither party converting the other in the event. They had a ball, and it’s a good read.
From Roscrea To Beagle Bay
From Roscrea To Beagle Bay
The launch of Val Noone’s From Roscrea to Beagle Bay: Dan O’Donovan, Priest and Hermit (39 pages, published by Mary Doyle and Val Noone, Fitzroy, 2020) took place at the Kildara Centre, Malvern, Melbourne, on 17 March. Fr David Tomlins and Br Bernard Redden were among the 25 or so who attended, a number well within the 50 allowed for public gatherings at that stage of the coronavirus story. Many apologies stemmed from caution regarding the possibility of infection. Chris Watson was M.C. for the occasion. The speakers were: Katharine Massam, historian, University of Divinity; and Margaret Hill, Fr Dan’s cousin. Dan and Val were both well served by the perspectives of Katharine and Margaret.
Dan was a member of the Tarrawarra community from 1962 to 1972. He had entered our motherhouse at Roscrea, Ireland in 1951. In 1960, with a view to being transferred to Tarrawarra to teach theology to the first generation of Australian monks, he was sent from Roscrea for studies at San Anselmo University, Rome. After obtaining a Licentiate (Master’s) in Theology, he arrived in Australia in October 1962. Fr Michael Casey and Fr David Tomlins were two of his students and were grateful for his post-Vatican 2 approaches via the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church.
Fr Dan has lived for nearly half a century in the Kimberley, in Australia’s northwest. He was attracted to service among the Indigenous population of the region, first as a monk at the Benedictine mission of Kulumburu, then as a parish priest in the Broome diocese. Dan is exceptional for his stints as a hermit, living adjacent to and in friendship with Indigenous communities – six years at Lombadina and twenty at Beagle Bay.
Over the years Dan has been active with a band of people devoted to studying, talking and writing about Indigenous life and culture and its interface with Christianity. “Above all, Dan is in awe of the leadership which is being given, in words, art, song and deeds, by Miriam-Rose Ungunmer-Baumann, an elder from Nauiyu (Daly River) and formerly principal of the Catholic school there. Dan has written about MiriamRose’s view of Aboriginal meditation, dadirri, and made links between it and some ancient Christian ways”.
Val’s friendship with Fr Dan reaches over many decades. He writes, in his introduction: “This booklet is a tribute to our friend… as he enters the third year of his retirement at Germanus Kent House, Broome”. The Swag, the quarterly magazine of the National Council of priests, concluded: “This little book makes good reading for all interested in a spirituality and pastoral practice embedded in the Australian context and in relationship with first Australians”.
Fr Michael Casey provided three Saturday afternoon power point Lenten Lectures in February-March. They were based around the gospels for the relevant Sundays of Lent and Easter, the themes being Temptation, Transfiguration, and Transformation. Forty-five were able to book for attendance, in addition to the community. The number was dictated by the capacity of our Dom Kevin Room, and the coronavirus regulations at the time. Those who attended were welcome to shared Vespers.
In the ancient monasteries of Europe – some of them going back more than a thousand years – it is not uncommon to find hidden treasures: documents and charters chronicling their beginnings, scores of manuscripts, some of them beautifully illuminated, and hundreds of books dating from the early years of printing.
At Tarrawarra, founded less than 70 years ago, we have no such treasure trove, but we do have a few books that had a long history before they came into our hands. Mostly they were given to us in the expectation that they would have a more certain future here than they would have if left at the mercy of compulsive throwers-out in the next generation.
First there is a copy of the Breeches Bible, so called because in the story of Adam and Eve they are said to have made not “loincloths” of fig leaves to conceal their shame, but “breeches” (Genesis 3:7). This copy dates from 1561-62 and was donated by Caroll Casey in late 2019. It measures 22 x 33 cm, comprises 432 pages in the Old Testament and 115 pages in the New Testament; the volume weighs 3.5 kg. The version is the protestant Geneva Bible, predating the King James Version by half a century. It includes the Apocrypha. There are introductions to each book, marginal notes and occasional illustrations.
The Rule of Saint Benedict, translated into Dutch was published in Brugge in 1625: (10 x 16.5 cm; 80 pages). It was given to the monastery in 1982 by Paulette (Bob) Muskens, a former librarian at Monash University, who had received it as a gift on her twenty-first birthday. Most of the text of the Rule is in Blackletter (Gothic) type, reverting to Roman for titles and quotations.
The two volumes of the complete works of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux were published in Basel in 1552 (24 x 36 cm; 1368 pages with 22 pages devoted to scriptural and topical indices.) They were donated to the monastery by Dr Wesley Jordan in 1994. He had acquired them after the holdings of Nashdom Abbey were dispersed. They comprise not only the authentic works of Saint Bernard, but also many of the writings mistakenly attributed to him. The text is printed in two columns with scriptural references identified in the margins and large woodblock capitals. We also have similar volumes from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The Chronicle of the Cistercian Order was published at Cologne in 1614 (9.5 X 15 cm; 328 pages). It arrived at Tarrawarra with the founders from Mount Saint Joseph Abbey, Roscrea. The author was Aubert le Mire (1573-1640), a historian trained at Leuven who wrote a number of other ecclesiastical treatises. Drawing from a variety of already-published sources, the author notes briefly a variety of events from the foundation of Cîteaux in 1098 until the year of its publication. The result is a sequential account of the first six centuries of Cistercian history.
Abbot De Rancé’s two-volume commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict, La Régle [sic] de saint Benoist, was published in Paris in 1689; (18.5 X 25.5 cm; 467 + 587 pages plus 2 large unpaginated indices). It had been given to the first Bishop of Adelaide, Christopher Reynolds (1834-1893), as it happened, a former Benedictine. It was presented to the monastery by Brian Andrews who had spotted it in a garage sale, clearing out the detritus of the long-deceased Bishop. It is an intelligent and uplifting work, though in many ways a product of the age in which it was written. Regrettably no English translation has yet been published.
These five titles together give some idea of the staples of our spiritual identity. Modern monks are formed by the Bible, the Rule of Saint Benedict, Saint Bernard and the other great Cistercian authors of that epoch, the Cistercian tradition and the reforming initiatives of the Abbot of La Trappe. Of course, mostly we rely on more modern editions of the classics than these.
Love of Reading: Homily For St Benedict
Love of Reading: Homily For St Benedict
by Fr Michael Casey
The celebrated Benedictine medievalist, Jean Leclercq, when he sought a phrase that might evoke the essential spirit of the Benedictine charism, decided on The Love of Learning and the Desire for God. Desire for God is, of course, common to all who undertake the spiritual pursuit. What makes followers of Saint Benedict distinctive is their “love of learning” – or perhaps translating l’amour des lettres differently, their love of reading.
Like his contemporary Cassiodorus Senator, Benedict established monasteries with libraries full of codices. Not, however, for the purpose of preserving ancient culture from the barbarism of marauding Goths, as with Cassiodorus. Benedict wanted manuscripts not only to be conserved but also to be read. Benedictine monks lived their whole lives with books. Monks were admonished to be happy to listen to holy readings (4:55). There were several long readings at Vigils, and shorter ones at the other Hours (9:8 etc.). There was reading during meals (38:1) and in the gap before Compline (42:3-7). Besides this, several hours daily were allocated to personal lectio divina (48:1-13), and even more during Lent (48:14-20) and on Sundays (48:22-23). Visitors were welcomed with a reading (53.9), and the Scriptures were used as a medicine for recalcitrant monks (28.3). And if there were especially fervent monks in the community they were to be encouraged to read more widely (73:2-5).
It should come as no surprise to us that books were important in the early days of the Cistercian reform. One of the first things that was done at the New Monastery was to establish a scriptorium that produced codices of great value and of considerable artistic merit. I have been privileged to hold some of these early volumes in my hands. There are several catalogues of monastic libraries extant and we can learn from them something about the breadth of reading in medieval houses; in most cases, monastic libraries held more books than universities. Hundreds of these manuscripts remain, but many more were vandalized under Joseph II in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and after the French Revolution.
The alternative to reading is acedia: hours spent meandering around, engaged in idle chatter. In his Statutes of 1148, Peter the Venerable complains that monks are spending too much time hanging around the cloisters, busy doing nothing. There were about 100 insurgencies among Cistercian laybrothers in the 13th century. They were mostly illiterate and when work was none they plotted revolution. The disorders in the Irish monasteries in 13th to 15th centuries were due mostly to the fact that the monks did not read Latin and there was a dearth of material in Irish. The lesson we can learn from history is that when a love for reading declines so too does everything else.
Nor is the love of reading unknown in this monastery. Let me give five local examples. If you ever wandered into the guesthouse during the reign of Fr Malachy, if he was not engaged with guests, you would usually find him in the art gallery with a book, often enough Cardinal Newman. Three days before he died Br Kevin Burke knocked on my door and presented me with what he called “me book” about which we had spoken many times. It was his personal collection of quotations from books he had read or heard read over the years of his monastic life. Copied out not once but twice, since he redid his work after he retired from the dairy. One hot night in the late 1970s I dropped in on Br Munchin to find him enthroned in his big chair reading the Council documents; he had reached the decree on the office of Bishops. I asked was it helpful. He said, “There is a lot of old nonsense in it, but if your keep reading you come across something good.” Fr Stephen, while he was undergoing chemotherapy and the outlook was pretty grim, fell back on a lifetime habit of reading to find some solace in working his way through the several volumes of Harold Macmillan’s autobiography. Br Joachim was an avid reader right up to the end, not only of books about the New Testament but also anything he could lay his hands on about World War II. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.
The invention of printing and the digital revolution have made reading matter ever more accessible. Whatever the form, a love of reading is important in monastic life. Reading is more than a means of keeping monks out of mischief, though it is that. Dom Kevin once remarked to me that when monks give up serious reading, they usually drift away from other components of monastic life. Reading does more than provide us with useful information, although it does that. The great advantage of serious and expansive reading is that it invites us to enter into a conversation with great minds and, by reflection, to bring what we have learned back into our own lives. While our minds are occupied with what we have been reading, our vision is enlarged and our lives are enriched.
Reading is a primary means of gaining spiritual literacy – the ability to understand what is happening interiorly and to put words to it. By monitoring our own responses to what we read, we begin to understand who we are and what lies deepest in our hearts. We begin to perceive the lineaments of our unique spiritual identity. Books serve as spiritual mirrors.
Spiritual literacy is another way of describing the functioning of conscience. It is no accident that we find a strong emphasis on conscience in the Western monastic tradition as well as the early development of moral theory based on intention – that is to say one that focuses on the interior or subjective component of acts more than on their external expression. Monks understood that an action is good not because it is listed as such in the books, but because it concords with the deepest aspirations of the heart. Embracing such an approach leads to a more generous living of the Gospel than simply following the rules.
Reading, reflection, spiritual literacy, conscience – these are the interior dynamics of the Benedictine tradition. It is the love of reading that feeds our desire for God and helps it to grow. It is evident that Saint Benedict himself possessed this love of reading, as did Saint Bernard, as did Abbot de Rancé. And so may we, if we have a care to.
Fr Jeremiah OFlynn
Fr Jeremiah OFlynn
3 May was a bi-centenary landmark for the Australian Catholic Church. On that day in 1820, Fr John Joseph Therry and Fr Philip Connolly, two Irish priests, arrived in Sydney Harbour on board the ship Janus. They were our first legal priests.
But did you know that the Cistercian (or by then, former Cistercian) Fr Jeremiah O’Flynn (1781- 1831) had arrived in Sydney as an “illegal” on the Duke of Wellington on 9 November 1817? He had no papers to flourish, so Governor Macquarie deported him on the David Shaw on 20 May 1818. Four hundred free Catholics, including men of the 48th Regiment, and some leading Protestants, had petitioned Macquarie that O’Flynn be allowed to remain - but in vain. Tarrawarra’s deceased friend, Tom Luscombe, wrote an historical novel, The Priest and the Governor (1970), about this colourful character and episode in our story.
Jeremiah had managed to set foot on Australian soil by promising (fingers crossed behind his back) the Governor not to carry out his functions as a priest until London gave the green light. The laity had kept the flame burning in the “domestic church” between the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 and 1817. But Jeremiah discerned there was much catch-up to be done. So he went bush and performed many baptisms and marriages as well as celebrating Mass secretly in private homes.
Vivienne Parsons wrote, in her article on Jeremiah O’Flynn in the Australian Dictionary of Biography: “Simple but impulsive, Jeremiah O’Flynn managed to conflict with authority wherever he went, yet his clash with the Colonial Office helped to publicise the needs of Catholics in New South Wales and to influence the British government in 1820 in allowing the first official Roman Catholic missionaries to be sent to Australia”. So, his brief “illicit” ministry providentially served as the prelude and catalyst to a new phase in Australian and Catholic history. Goodonya, mate!