This is the periodic journal of the prior of Conception Abbey, Fr. Daniel Petsche.

Prior's Journal - July 2016

Growing up on an Iowa farm allowed me to notice some things about nature. There are patterns that are life-giving. Birds know it, animals know it, plants know it. It happens right in front of us. On a hot summer afternoon, the cattle come as a group following their leader and look for shade and come to the pond where they drink and maybe stand in the water patiently cooling and waiting.

The water source is the magnet for so many living things. Birds swoop in low and drink from the bubbling brook almost hidden by steeply eroded banks and weeds and maybe some water willow trees. The roots find the water. There is very little sound other than the moving brook, or "crick" as we called it, and maybe a meadowlark on a fence post nearby with its personal solo song, unheard with no applause and lost to the soft breeze for the most part.

Monks have patterns too. Monks have patterns within patterns. The daily routine of prayer, meals, work, community sharing, solitude, and quiet become the outer garments of our life. But there are patterns within. A hunger and thirst lead us to the waters just as much as the things of nature around us. We are about the business and work of the day, but we know we must return to the sources lest the blazing sun, or the winter gale dry us out or freeze and suspend life as we know it is meant to be. The day's schedule guides us as it has for over 1500 years of monastic history and yet the personal patterns of the best place to drink dictate to us even more forcefully than any formal regulations. We listen to the quiet call of the source, and it moves us. Sometimes there's a meadow lark.

But there are patterns within patterns. It becomes part of an echo always asking for an answer. It's the echo of being called by someone to be someone. There is no herd instinct here; it is all about becoming the person we are meant to be and shaped by a persistent call of love. The monk, anyone for that matter, anyone who stops to listen to the whisper of a summer breeze moving through the grasses, becomes part of a procession, humble and simple, moving toward a much-needed source. The source is not so much something as Someone. The words could be close or far away, in any and all languages, but always encouraging and inviting: "Come to me, all you who hunger and thirst, and I will give you rest." Our personal patterns tell us how and where to rest and perhaps to listen.

Prior's Journal: Spring 2016

Do you remember the old movie technique to show the passage of time? The camera would zoom in on a spiral-bound monthly calendar, and the wind (probably from a fan) would rapidly flip the pages of the months. The passage of time in fast action! 

I feel as though I’ve been caught up in one of those calendar page flipping scenes as I realize how long it has been since I put some thoughts together for the Prior’s Journal. I can defend my absence by saying that my notion of a journal is a periodic written reflection rather than a daily duty to chronicle current events. 

Someone looking back over the flipped pages of the calendar cannot help but realize that the transitions and changes are inevitable and yet can be given meaning through our own choices. Our monastic community has had the joy and the sadness of seeing candidates come and go. Our Benedictine DNA disposes us to invite people to come to our home, share our work and our prayer and share our ordinary humble lives as much as possible. 

The invitation is our natural outreach to share our monastic life. The depth and permanence of a person’s response to the invitation is always a personal choice.  

The death of a confrere takes the coming and going to a deeper level. The death of our Fr. Timothy Schoen in recent days reminds us in a forceful way that so much of what we take for granted can be taken away without warning. Our traditional practice at the time of the wake is to display a picture collage of the monk in various settings. It has a visual impact showing the passage of time from the early days of his presence and activities among us and leads us to the present. We miss his gifts and talents as an excellent organist and musician. We also feel we’re missing part of who we have become as a community, a monastic family, a union of like-minded, but very different, people seeking to know and serve the Lord and His people. Our cemetery is not only a revered resting place for those who played such a vital and formative part of our community through the past 143 years, but it is also a place to remind us that receiving and giving away is part of who we are. 

There is joy and gratitude in the unexpected gift. There is also a deeper joy and a deeper gratitude when those gifts somehow having become a part of our best self can be passed on in freedom and hope. 

Our movement with the People of God through Lent toward the pinnacle of the Paschal Mystery is surely that daily breathing in and breathing out of the Holy Spirit of God. The process is transformative even though we may not feel or sense that we are different. And yet our desire to move beyond our sins, our weaknesses, our blindness, our smallness of mind and heart is the driving force coming from a merciful and loving God. This holy longing is a gift and reason enough for celebration here and now without waiting lest some of the bright surprise be lost.  

Prior's Journal: Summer 2015

Monastic life is like breathing in and breathing out, always a regular methodic exchange no matter what might be going on, and this past summer was no exception.

As the renovation of our monastery began to wind down and excitement began to build the daily flow of monastic life continued to breathe in and out. We approached the return from our year long exile in St. Joseph’s Hall with great anticipation. As the weeks wound down to the actual moving days in the middle of June all the monks at home were given the opportunity, according to seniority, to submit their choice of room to the abbot. This was an important step. Although most of the monks had eagerly watched the completion of the over-all renovation, the personal interest peaked with actually choosing our rooms. This is where we claim our own privacy and our own space. The word referring to a monk’s living space is usually translated as “cell” in the Holy Rule and emphasizes that his personal space is a holy space and very much connected to the other “cells” of the community. Taking possession of that space, arranging it to suit one’s own needs and preferences, was an important homecoming.

Getting used to the different floor plans, the different look, feel, and sound is a gradual process. We breathe in and breathe out and learn the new rhythms. Learning to deal with the new is a personal challenge, allowing it to contribute to the deepest values of our life. There are a number of small things still to be completed and put in place but even that can remind us of the “unfinished” part of our lives. We reserve that word “finished” to the very last moments of life. 

After the official blessing of our renovated home which was attended by our neighbors, the Benedictine sisters of Clyde and representatives of several other area religious communities, we began a series of Open House events. Visitors were given tours and could get a first hand look at our renovated common rooms including our refectory, chapter room, and the radical renovation of the basement area. We are very pleased with the work and grateful of the many artisans and designers who helped to make our home beautiful, simple, and in good taste and function. We will always be grateful in our prayers for our many friends and benefactors whose contributions made all of this possible.

The Lord continues to bless us in ways other than brick and mortar. We had the joy of seeing one of our young men complete his novitiate year, make simple vows, and receive the name of Br. Luke. Likewise we have welcomed a new novice beginning his novitiate year with another postulant on his heels preparing for his next step. We breathe a sigh of gratitude for this but also for the arrival of a new and larger enrollment in our Seminary College for the fall term – 107 seminarians! 

The close of summer and approaching of autumn allow us to take another deep breath and prepare for what lies ahead. It is the Spirit of the Lord which energizes us giving thanks for the past, celebrating the goodness of the present, and moving into the future with confidence and trust.

Prior's Journal: 2015 Easter Season

Easter lilies have long been a popular but subtle symbol of Easter. They are a sure sign that the long season of Lent is coming to an end and that Easter is near. Our Easter lilies start arriving from the local florist during Holy Week, most of them are just about ready to burst into bloom. Br. Blaise and his helpers unpack the boxes and store the lilies in a cool place on one of the lower levels. All of the lilies combined produce an unmistakable and almost mystical aroma that shouts out “Happy Easter” to anyone fortunate enough to walk past. 

In a way, this welcoming and familiar aroma of Easter describes the mystery and mystique of this special time of the year. Smells, whether it is Easter lilies or the rich smell of incense lingering after solemn liturgies, help direct our attention to what is most important in our lives. It reminds us that in the time we have here in this life we are praising and thanking God in the name of all of God’s people – this is what we do.

Everything that happens, both the good and the bad, fits into the broad scheme of things.  The death of our eighty nine year old community member, Fr. Francis, on the 30 of March reminded us to look deeply at the real meaning of life and death. Easter is all about seeing the big picture. Every person, no matter what their age, achievements, or health is someone chosen by God and dignified by that choice. The big picture of Easter reminds us that the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead changes everything. Even the most common and even unnoticed events become part of the fulfillment of the Kingdom with the Risen Christ as the center.

Easter often acts as an energizer as we approach the final weeks of the school year, look forward to the community retreat, and the beginning of summer. Completions and new beginnings become the alternating inhaling and exhaling of the Spirit of the Risen Lord, in the small ways hardly noticed and in moments that almost take our breath away.

A big and new beginning will be our return to life in our renovated monastery building. After a year’s exile in St. Joseph’s Hall there will be much to celebrate as we make the move in the middle of June. We can again claim our own personal space from which we hope to continue our work of prayer, hospitality, and service to the entire Church. We have extensive plans for inviting groups of people to come and join us for special receptions and tours at different times through the summer and fall.

The summer will provide a time for a variety of activities here at home but also throughout the Midwest and beyond. Throughout it all, it’s always nice to come home.

Prior's Journal: November - Advent 2014

November has to be one of the most significant months of the year. Why would I say that? Do you remember a time when you’ve worked very hard at something and finally there is the time of completion, or the harvest, or the moment when you turned it in and said “Well, here it is, it’s the best I can do.” Sometimes it’s a time of being measured or evaluated by others, but more often than not, it’s a very private moment of completion, perhaps only known to you alone.

As monks following the lead of St. Benedict we are constantly being reminded that our days are meant to be fruitful in the deepest sense of the word. Benedict talks about inviting his monks to enter the “school of the Lord’s service.” It’s a lifetime of formation and a lifetime of watching and listening for what the Lord is calling us toward. Sometimes we may see very little progress as far as moving to spiritual maturity and holiness and yet there is a sense of being called to do our best each day in the company of our monastic brothers and in relationship with all our friends seeking God in the smallness of our lives. It is all based on invitation and response, never being forced by any kind of external powers.

November begins with the feast of All Saints followed the next day by the Commemoration of All Souls. Benedict told us to keep death daily before our eyes and certainly the beginning of November makes death very obvious. As we ponder the process of dying, a life-long process, we come to the notion of completion in many different forms. It’s a lifetime of learning, a lifetime of emotional, physical and spiritual response to the gift of creative moments. Some of those moments have passed us by because of our lack of attention, but some have been honored and appreciated and have borne fruit allowing for a personal harvest.

November comes to a close with the celebration of those fruits of the harvest, not only the harvest from the land but also the harvest associated with our own mind and heart. In particular our celebration of Thanksgiving Day can move beyond the image of the big family dinner and football games. For those who choose to give it thought and meaning it can truly point to God’s gifts to us and our ability to produce a harvest of whatever kind.

At Conception Abbey our recognition of the year’s jubilarians takes place at the Thanksgiving Day Eucharist and meal. This year we honored Frs. Donald, Anthony, Kenneth, and Timothy. We celebrated their completions already accomplished and we thank them for their example of faithfulness as they find new completions and harvests.

After the harvest the end of November becomes a launching pad for the new liturgical year. It leads us through the four weeks of Advent preparing us for the feast of Christmas. This year the abbey has been involved with #GivingTuesday, December 2, to promote social awareness in networking with charitable outreach of all kinds. We can all give to complete the circle of respect and gratitude for our gifted abundance. 

Prior's Journal: February - July, 2014

Sometimes “gaps” are good! My written thoughts submitted to this Prior’s Journal might seem to be sporadic leaving certain gaps from time to time. These gaps, however, do provide some distance and perspective allowing us to observe special events in a wider context.

For example, the season of Lent and Easter was late this spring but it was fortunate timing in that it allowed for the natural signs of spring to announce the end of a long and hard winter. Rather than celebrate Easter and the promise of new life in the midst of a lingering winter, we had flowers and blooming trees ready to acknowledge the old and ever new announcement that “Christ has indeed Risen!” The Feast of Easter ushered in a long list of important events which spoke of new life, new beginnings, and new hopes.

The end of the school year came quickly after Easter and by mid May there was a big push to get everything completed. Twenty-five seminarians graduated and moved on to their next phase of discerning their vocations. They were dealing with the “newness” of Easter in their own way.

Those of us who call Conception our home experienced “newness” in the whole experience of moving out of the monastery building to temporary quarters in St. Joseph’s Hall. We trust the construction estimate that our exile “in a foreign land” will only last 12– 14 months. Judging from the present experience the move was quite smooth and the monks have become familiar and comfortable with their new surroundings. The return of the seminarians in August will mean yet another adjustment as we relinquish the use of the large seminary dining room and convert the former book bindery room in the library to our monastic dining room.

Laying aside the old and taking up the new is something we can observe on a daily basis. The former building containing the meat and fruit coolers as well as maintenance shops south of the monastery has been removed. Footings and walls for the new building have begun to outline the space which will serve as a new location for cooling equipment, maintenance offices and supplies as well as a garage for our cars.

For safety reasons the monastery building is off limits for monks during the demolition and construction phases. The first phase of the demolition involves asbestos removal and stripping out of all equipment and facilities which will be updated in the renovation. When workmen recently found a 1918 edition of a Springfield, MO newspaper stuffed in one of the walls history came to live in a very physical way.

We have been blessed and are grateful for the timely rains without destructive storms. All of this and more tends to fill in the “gaps” of our lives giving us much to ponder for now and for the days to come.

Prior's Journal: October 2013 - February 2014

If you were to compare a monastic community to a piece of colored fabric you would be dealing with a whole spectrum of things. Not only would you have all the colors of the rainbow, but also the fascination of seeing how all those colors blend together, supported by the underlying fibers of the material. 

The months which have passed since my last entry in the Prior’s Journal have been colorful with the celebration of seven Jubilees at Thanksgiving, the lively community discussions about the renovation of the monastery building, and then of course Christmas break and all that goes with it.

Coming together to share common joys, gratitude, and challenges of community does bring out the various colors of the monastic fabric. The brilliance of the colors is often enhanced by the achievements and talents of individuals, especially appreciated at the time of the jubilees. These seven men who have reached special mile markers in our community share their unique colors and contributions to the overall picture. We salute Br. Jacob (25 years professed), Fr. Benedict (25 years ordained) and Abbot Marcel as well as Frs. Reginald, Quentin, Xavier, and Joel (50 years of priesthood). Each of these men brings their own paint brush and their unique talents and years of experience to celebrate different and beautiful colors. The passage of years helps us to realize what particular piece each one has brought to the whole picture.

On December 17, our Fr. Joachim Schieber finished his long sojourn of 93 years and rested with the Lord. His death closed out a lifetime of dedicated academic and pastoral ministry. In life, Fr. Joachim painted with broad and determined strokes according to the colors and patterns which emerged from his own personality. His many relatives and friends were happy to remember the many blessings and experiences they shared with Fr. Joachim and how they enhanced their lives.

Post-Christmas break had the relaxed feeling of family, re-organizing again, after frantic preparations for a special event, in our case, Christmas.

Throughout these times the solid undergirding of the fibers of the monastic fabric could be seen and felt.  No matter how hectic it might have been to take care of guest groups, or cover for absent brethren in the various weekly duties in the monastery, the core structures of the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist were always there as a sign of stability and permanence. The fibers of the monastic cloth make it strong and flexible.  Indeed the monastic cloth becomes a kind of safety support system which catches us when we fall and turns us around to re-committing to progress forward.

Prior's Journal: August - October, 2013

The view from my second story window in the monastery is partially blocked by a beautiful maple tree. This tree is in the marvelous process of changing from deep summer green to the golden red of autumn. I only have to glance to the side of my desk to see the gradual changes taking place on a daily basis. If I had to guess I would say that this tree is about 50 years old. I remember it being planted by one of our brothers when I was a novice or perhaps when I was in my first year of profession. I remember that it was a tall sturdy sapling, and at that time we had to take special care to keep the ball of roots and soil from falling apart as we planted it. Now, this fully mature and majestic tree, which has withstood severe storms and droughts over the years, as well as the horrific hailstorm of 2011, is a beautiful tribute to the early care and high expectations of those who planted it.

The autumn cycle of seasons reminds us that so often there is a hidden beauty in the things around us, much like this maple tree. The inner beauty is only waiting for the right conditions for it to emerge. This thought is especially striking as we remember the drought conditions of the later part of the summer. It’s amazing that most farmers are harvesting at least average crops and even the apple harvest is much better than what had been expected. Br. Anselm reports that even though we had lost several of our honey bee colonies last winter we have still had a good harvest of honey. Perhaps we need to practice looking at our world with optimism rather than pessimism. The Lord provides for us if we’re willing to accept all things as a gift, a gift to be shared in some way.

The school year continues to march forward as our seminarians discover their own gifts along with their inner values and hopes. Those of us who have the privilege of being spiritual directors never cease to be amazed at the way God has touched their lives and continues to do so. The mysteries of God continue to unfold in their lives as well as our own.

Our Annual Alumni Reunion, at the end of September, was another joyful moment to give thanks for all the years of ministry and service, and for our ordained and lay alumni. As always, there were some at the reunion whose last visit was some thirty or forty years ago. We were so happy to welcome them back as they visited some of the people and places that had meant so much to them during their time here. The evening truly ended with a “big bang” as a group of alumni arranged for a professionally staged forty-five minute display of magnificent fireworks on the football field. We as well as our neighbors enjoyed the burst of color and sound of celebration. Fireworks or not, life is never complete without a celebration of some kind!

Prior's Journal: June - July, 2013

“Extreme makeover” might be the operative words for much of our summer activity around here. With the roar of bulldozers and backhoes much of the east and southern part of the campus have been transformed. The old underground reservoir on the hill south of the east soccer field was declared beyond repair and therefore was given a decent burial. Much of the hill itself was given a different slope toward the soccer field as well as the area just south of Maria Laach Lake. But the new look didn’t stop there. Gone are the old tennis courts and old volley ball area as the whole area was given an eastern slope. But wait, still more! A new tennis court area was built just east of the JFK Building (now called the Blessed John Paul II Rec Center, JPII for short). A new access road has been constructed to the south door of Marian Hall. With the help of our oblates many of our flower beds were given special attention and are wonderful places of beauty and reflection.

Various sidewalks around the campus have been replaced as a result of damages caused by the heavy equipment used to repair our copper roofs over the past two years. What possibilities for roller-bladers!!

The summer continues to be busy as retreatants and visitors of all kinds come and go. St. Benedict was so insightful in the Holy Rule reminding monks that guests are never lacking in the monastery. It is our joy and our blessing to welcome them as if they were the person of Christ himself. We were pleased to have Swiss Br. Kuno Rust OSB of Engelberg, our Motherhouse in Switzerland, staying with us for a month this summer. He came to perfect his English in preparation for teaching mathematics in English at Engelberg. We were happy to give him a taste of “Americana” during his stay which included attending a local tractor pull!

Many of our monks were busy giving retreats in various parts of the country this summer. It’s good that we can maintain this important outreach for the Church.

This summer was a time to bid farewell to our confrere Fr. Augustine Dreiling who died on Friday, June 21, 2013. We pray that this soft-spoken monk and long-time pastor will now know the blessings of peace in the Kingdom of God.

We look to the return of the seminarians as another school year begins in a few weeks. The cycle of work and prayer is never really the same from year to year, it’s always charged with new challenges and consolations of the Spirit. With hope and joy we move forward. Peace.

Prior's Journal: April, May and June 2013

As I look at the heading above I’m amazed at how quickly the pages of the calendar have flipped. It makes me wonder if perhaps someone set a fan behind the calendar. Even though the time has passed so quickly many events and experiences deserve to be noted and appreciated. Taking time to appreciate the moment can go a long way in finding rich meaning even though the quickly passing days tend to blend into one another. You’ve probably seen the popular slogan that says "life is not to be measured by how many breaths you take, but by how many moments take your breath away!"

In looking back certainly some of those breathless moments filled with meaning took place in the power of the Holy Week liturgies. Even though we see them, listen to them, and participate in them each year, there is always the element of the new and different simply because we are different from last year. I wonder if we’ll ever begin to fully grasp the importance of the Mystery of the Incarnation in which Jesus took on our human nature so that his life, death and resurrection could truly touch us.

After the students made their grand exodus immediately following the conclusion of the Easter Vigil the monks were able to savor the quiet for at least a week before their return. The conclusion of the school year was not long in coming after Easter break especially as those final days were filled with examinations, evaluations and for some wonder –where they would be going next year for their theological studies. Although some make the discernment that they are not called to the priesthood, we usually see about 85% of our graduating class (including pre-theology) continuing toward a school of theology of their bishop’s choice. It’s always a joy to see the personal development that takes place in our seminarians as they begin and finish their formation process here. The vocation to the priesthood is always an emerging mystery which takes shape only with time and sometimes personal struggles.

The end of the school year and graduation always lead us into our week of community retreat. This year, Fr. Luke Dysinger OSB of St. Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo, California led us through a series of reflections on the documents of Vatican II and the Rule of St. Benedict. The highlight of the retreat came with the ordination of Br. Macario to the transitional diaconate on Wed, May 15th and on May 16th the priesthood ordinations of Br. Victor and Br. Paul. It was a time of joy and gratitude for everyone but especially for their families and friends who came long distances to be with them. Our former abbot, Archbishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque was the ordaining prelate. Since then he has retired and has decided to live with us as a monk in his former community. A great joy for us!

The month of June finds us grateful for the good rains which have us off to a good start. We’ve been spared from the destructive storms and tornadoes which have caused so much havoc around the country. At long last we have finally finished the major task of replacing large portions of our copper roofs here on campus due to the damaging hail storm of summer 2011. Back on the ground we see much activity with monks coming and going this summer as they give retreats and attend various workshops as well as take their vacations with their families. We look forward to a good summer and pray that the rains will be abundant and timely for our local farmers. Peace.

Prior's Journal: January - Easter 2013

The "clockworks" of old fashioned watches have always fascinated me. Sometimes it’s mesmerizing to examine the innards of a ticking clock and notice how all the wheels, sprockets and springs have a wonderful order and precision. The delicate hair spring (we’re talking old technology here!) is contrasted by the robust strength of the mainspring. Keeping a balance between the different forces is what keeps the clock ticking. In some sense we can see our life passing from season to season as the ticking of our personal clocks. The hours on our clock could represent the large blocks of time such as the succession of major phases in our life and the minutes and even seconds could represent the significant and even ordinary events of our daily lives.

The challenge, it seems to me, is to give appropriate meaning and celebrate the hours, the minutes and the seconds of our personal clock. Unless we do this we simply become part of a mechanical movement of time driven by forces beyond our control. We’ve all used the expression, "where has the time gone?" Besides being an expression of surprise, is that question a challenging question about how we have used, and appreciated our time? Someone might be tempted to say, "Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had the capacity to truly remember and savor the memory of each significant event in our lives?" To try to do that would of course run the risk of overloading our memory circuits! Some might point out that there is a place and necessary function for forgetting as well. Perhaps that suggests the delicate balance between choosing to try to remember all that is good, constructive, and beautiful but also choosing to try to forget whatever is destructive and has no place and function for a healthy balance.

One of the characteristics of monastic life is that daily regularity which helps the monk to find a constructive rhythm between prayer and work. That regularity becomes the overall structure for the "hours" of the day but as in the case of everyone no matter what their vocation, we need to lift up and celebrate the events that make up the minutes and seconds of the time in between the hours.

Our winter months of January and February marked with short days and long nights were for the most part ordinary and yet for each of us they contained highlights very much worth remembering. The second semester of the school year got off to a good start. The seminarians soon found their academic rhythm again after the break. For the strong of heart and constitution there was the annual Polar Bear Plunge in late February. After chopping a hole in the ice of Lake Placid it was (for some) an invigorating plunge to be rewarded with a commemorative t-shirt! As always meeting our donors and loyal supporters during this period of time provided some lasting and grateful memories, particularly at the annual fund-raising events in Kansas City (Support Our Seminarians) and in St. Joseph (Partnering for Future Priests).

At the time of this writing we are moving into the final weeks of lent preparing for Holy Week and the celebration of the Sacred Triduum culminating in Easter. All that has gone before can heighten our appreciation of these sacred days, hours and passing moments. We celebrate the victory of life over death, and the gift of hope and meaning.

Prior's Journal: September - December 2012

French writer Jean-Baptiste Karr (d. 1890) once said: "The more things change, the more they stay the same." While we can search for the meaning of that line in many different ways, most often we find that it’s the foundational values that stand secure and solid no matter how the storm winds blow around us. The activities of the past couple of weeks remind us that life moves forward at a fast pace but we have to keep our eyes focused on what is stable and lasting. Politically, economically, socially, and personally we’re challenged to hang on to what is truly lasting. Most often our values are expressed in our relationships with others. The people in our lives, whether they are long time friends or new friends, call us to those foundations.

Renewing and celebrating relationships was certainly an important part of our annual Alumni Reunion Sept 21-22. We had a good number of alumni and friends who returned to celebrate the memories of the past and see the changes of the present time. Our guest speaker, Dr. Anthony Cernera former President of Sacred Heart University at Fairfield, CT provided a stimulating presentation challenging all of us to consider the demographic changes and attitudes which have an impact on Catholic education and certainly seminary formation programs. The Eucharist followed with alumnus Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, WI as principal concelebrant. The Distinguished Alumni Service Award was presented to alumnus Thomas Carney. Tom and his wife Ampara have worked closely with diocesan programs in ministering to the needs of the Hispanic community. Making personal contact with our alumni provides a wide view of the many ways the Conception formation experience has launched people into their personal vocations.

The month of November provides us with many reminders that all of us go through transitions as part of our human experience. We again remembered our departed loved ones with the celebration of All Saints and All Souls day. Our Hispanic students were able to share their religious culture of remembering the dead by constructing a beautiful altar called the altar for the dead just outside the side church entrance in St. Joseph’s hallway.

The month of November is also of course a special time for remembering with gratitude the passage of years. Our Thanksgiving week is filled with community meetings as most of our monks on mission come home during those days. The high point of course is Thanksgiving Day itself when we especially recognize those who have had special anniversaries during the preceding year. There were seven jubilarians marking anniversaries ranging from sixty years to twenty-five years. I would refer the reader to check out the Fall/Winter 2012 edition of Tower Topics to get the full story on each of the jubilarians.

As it always does, the celebration of Advent ushers in a very special time of preparation at the monastery. All the liturgical signs and symbols of Advent become the familiar guides and signposts pointing to the "mystery of Christ’s coming in history, mystery, and grace" as the ancient Fathers of the Church have reminded us. During the great waiting time of Advent there is also a great deal of departures and arrivals. The students focus on final exams and the great count-down to the day they leave for Christmas break. Guests and retreatants are never lacking for us as St. Benedict pointed out so many centuries ago. The high point of course arrives with Christmas Eve and Midnight Mass. Due to the good weather many people were able to be with us filling the basilica for that special liturgy which again was a live radio broadcast to the surrounding area. The peace and quiet that comes after all the solemnities and celebrations of Christmas and New Years is much appreciated. Although the liturgy holds a high priority in our lives as monks, we like anyone else, appreciate when "normalcy" can return after all the festivities! Blessings and peace to all who might be reading this!

Prior's Journal: August 2012

If you’re from the Midwest, one can never think of August without the image of hot and dry weather and the crops soldiering on to maturity no matter what. This has certainly been the case this summer, although the severe heat and drought took its toll on the corn and soybeans. We’ll know the true extent of it at the time of harvest. It might be a commentary on our life sometimes. No matter what the difficulties there is always the possibility of producing fruit of some kind.

Besides the usual hot weather the month of August also provides some special feast days and special events. August 15, the feast of the assumption, is a summer feast which also marks the beginning of that wonderful year called the Novitiate for our young men entering the community. On August 14 two of our postulants, Jonathan Pund and Stephen Watson, were presented by Br. Bernard, the Novice Master, to the abbot as they asked to begin their novitiate year. With their being clothed with the tunic and short scapular they were taking another important step toward full commitment to our community life.

We had the joy of seeing two of our young monks make that solemn lifelong commitment in final profession of vows on Aug 19. Br. Maximilian Burkhart and Br. Placid Dale made their solemn profession of vows before the assembled community of monks and seminarians as well as a good number of family and friends. These are always much graced public occasions when supported by the grace of God our brothers can openly proclaim that their commitment is "for keeps". Solemn Profession is usually scheduled to take place after the arrival of all the seminarians. Solemn Profession is always a special experience with all its drama and symbolism. It’s all about permanent commitment, something that all people, especially the young, must come to appreciate in one way or another.

The end of the summer means everyone is geared up to embrace the new school year which promises to be both challenging and joyful. We’re blessed with a beginning fall enrollment of 111 students. We hope and pray that they persevere toward true discernment and full commitment to God’s will in whatever vocation that might be. If they do, it’s a win-win situation for all of us.

Prior's Journal: July 2012

How can we begin these thoughts about July without reference to the drought? Every day throughout the month the effects of the drought were visible. We could see signs of stress on the crops, except for the weeds, the livestock, as farm ponds lowered, and of course on the people. We monks for the most part had the luxury of air conditioning in the gathering places of our house and in the seminary buildings. The Abbey Guest Department mercifully offered a floor of rooms in St. Benedict’s Guesthouse for monks who need air conditioning in order to sleep.

At the time of this writing we of course do not know how long this record-breaking heat and the drought will continue. We think about all the people here and around the world that face these life-threatening conditions and lack sufficient and useable water on a daily basis. Perhaps if there is any good that can come from this dire situation it might be a greater awareness of the hardships of others. Certainly it brings home the need to respect and conserve our natural resources which are limited and meant for the good of all and for future generations.

The month of July was a time of much coming and going as monks took their leave for home visits, vacations, summer courses and preaching retreats. One of the challenges of being prior is to schedule enough road-worthy vehicles for our men. This year I came up with a kind of primitive spreadsheet which mapped out who needed cars and for how long. With almost every car scheduled, any loss of a car due to mechanical failure or some suicidal deer meant some major reshuffling. It’s hard to imagine the times not too long ago, when I first arrived as a freshman in high school, there were but three cars on campus, one for the abbot, one for the business manager (then called procurator) and one for the school. Of course the main transportation in those days were the old reliable Wabash and Chicago Great Western railroads located in nearby Conception Junction just two miles down the road. When you have to, you make due, right?

The rather amazing work of scaffolding and reroofing of various buildings continues in spite of the heat. The copper on the roof shines like a brand new penny. When the temperatures reach 100 or more you can imagine the challenge of handling the copper with that kind of heat. Due to the heat most of the workers only work half of the day.

We pray for and remember the people who suffer far more than we do and that the drought will end soon. Peace to you all.

Prior's Journal: June - July 2012

Spring moving into summer is a special time of the year with a parade of activities. We saw the parade of students leaving at the end of the school year which ushered us into a very special week of retreat and ordinations here at the abbey.

Almost everyone was home for the retreat conducted by Fr. Raymond Studzinski OSB of St. Meinrad’s Archabbey. We enjoyed Fr. Raymond’s thoughtful and practical conferences which stirred up the embers of prayer and commitment. This was very good preparation for the ordination liturgies in which two of our men, Br. Paul & Br. Victor were ordained as transitional deacons and the following day, Br. Guerric was ordained to the priesthood. It was a wonderful celebration for their families and their fellow monks as they took on more responsibility leading into a future of priestly service.

The parade continued as several of the monks including, Br. Paul, Br. Victor, and Br. Macario began their summer assignments in various parishes and CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) programs throughout the Midwest, namely, Maryville, Wichita, and Kansas City, MO.

The comings and goings continued as various monks took on retreat assignments around the country as well as continuing education programs. If you combine this with people leaving for vacations hither and yon you can understand that our numbers have fluctuated wildly. It’s fortunate that our summer schedule allows for cafeteria style supper which doesn’t require setting dishes for the exact number or people expected for the meal.

One of the summer challenges for the prior besides juggling available personnel for covering weekend duties at home as well as parish assignments is organizing the use of the abbey cars. There are times when all the cars are needed for various trips and inevitably it’s the exact time when a car decides to get sick or die and needs to go to the car hospital. The other fly in the anointment happens when someone hits a deer, or as some claim, it’s the deer who hits the car! Either way, it’s bad for both the deer and the car! Our mechanic, Kevin, is busy with the usual car maintenance, as well as the unusual.

Construction has been on-going in spite of the blistering heat this summer. Several buildings are getting a new copper roof on the north and western exposures due to last summer’s severe hail storm. Our abbey towers now sport metal scaffolding all the way to the roof. It was amazing to see the high scaffolding going up and amazing to see the ease with which the workers walked the narrow planks. This will be the "scaffold" look through the summer until the roof of each can be replaced.

The current "hot" topic is the heat wave which has lingered since the end of June through the early part of July. The lack of rain has many of the local farmers concerned as they wonder about their crop. Did you hear that it WAS SO HOT that local chicken farmers are feeding chipped ice to the chickens to keep them from laying hard boiled eggs??" Before you call "fowl" we’ll just drop the subject! Peace.

Prior's Journal: April - May 2012

The season of Easter has a power all its own. Perhaps think of the Easter Season as a fifty day celebration. We need that much time just to reflect on that central mystery of the Lord’s resurrection. It’s a mystery so profound that unless we ponder it we just don’t "get it."

As always the beauty and power of Holy Week makes a deep impression. For some of our seminarians it was their first time to experience Holy Week at Conception Abbey. I am sure that their first impression of the full-bodied power of Word and Symbol will long be remembered. Even those of us who have reached the esteemed ranks of old-timers can still be moved with new insights about the Paschal Mystery as it is played out during the Holy Triduum. Who could not be impressed at the opening of the 4:30 am Easter Vigil as the new fire leaped up driving back the darkness in the cool crisp early morning air? Following the flame of the Easter Candle into the darkness of the basilica reminded us once again that the power of the Resurrection overcomes all forms of death and darkness for those who believe. The full scope of the Scripture readings and sung responses reached its fulfillment in the sign of the Eucharist and the Easter proclamation of "Alleluia, He is Risen!"

With the liturgical celebration of Easter behind them the students didn’t waste any time in their own Exodus to join their families for the Easter break! As always the monks enjoyed those days of peace and slower pace. Our custom is to have a special "break time" gathering in the afternoons during Easter week. It’s a good chance to relax with one another and enjoy the various refreshments and snacks which had collected during lent.

Soon enough the students were returning for the final short weeks of the school year. The general focus quickly changed to finishing coursework and assignments while also looking towards the summer and what lies ahead.

The campus also saw a flurry of activity this spring as there were at least three construction projects in process dealing with roof repair, parking lot construction around the new guest house and the landscaping. This came to a wonderful conclusion with the dedication of St. Gabriel’s Guesthouse on May 6. We all celebrated the completion of this wonderful and important facility. We hope to begin taking retreat groups and guests by the middle of June when all the furnishings are in place.

The commencement ceremonies and final Mass for Graduation took place on May 13 which brought another school year to an end. The cycle of growth and formation continues, not just for the seminarians but for all of us. It’s a cycle that has a focus thanks to the power of Easter. Easter provides meaning and on-going hope in all we do.

Prior's Journal: January - March 2012

The new year brought its usual challenges of getting used to the new date for one thing, but also continuing to adjust to the new translation of the Mass texts. It is somewhat humbling to have to admit that most of us are still quite dependent upon reading out of the Roman Missal to keep our place with the new text. Likewise the concelebrants need the handout cards for their participation. In some ways all this might remind us that we need many supports as we plunge into another year of grace and challenge.

Certainly a big support for our seminary was the annual SOS benefit auction and banquet in Kansas City on January 27. Each year a number of the monks as well as seminary faculty attend this event to meet and mingle with our many friends and benefactors. In addition the seminarians from both the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City, KS also attend. The Serra Clubs on both sides of the state line do a great deal each year to help make this a successful fundraiser not only for Conception Seminary College but for the seminary funds of both dioceses as well.

The beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday on February 22nd marked a change in liturgical landscape. We join with everyone around the world looking toward Easter and the Paschal Mystery. The symbol of ashes on the forehead is a powerful symbol calling us to the good works of Lent through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Ash Wednesday itself is also a day of recollection for the monks with a special reading of the Rule and a conference by the Abbot. Fridays throughout Lent continue as days of silence, fasting and recollection.

There’s never a dull moment in our guest department, they handle the steady stream of individuals, retreat and tour groups who spend time here in prayer and reflection. In addition to the retreat groups, deacon candidates and their wives spend a weekend here each month as they complete their academic requirements leading to diaconate ordination.

All of this activity causes us to watch with special interest as the guest house reaches its final completion. St. Gabriel’s Guest House as it will be called will be a wonderful addition to our guest facilities. The dedication date is set for May 6, 2012 at 2:00PM. The guest department staff now has the fun part of picking out and installing the furnishings of the building. For those who always wanted to be an interior designer, this phase of the project, "building the nest," should be a special delight! I’m sure it will be a very beautiful and restful place to stay.

The health report of the community shows that almost everyone is doing fine. Our Fr. Francis Stuart is currently spending some time in Pine View Manor in Stanberry, MO in order to get regular physical therapy to restore the use of his legs. It will then be possible for him to return to our infirmary for regular care.

May we all look forward to the joy and grace of Holy Week and Easter!

Prior's Journal: December 2011 - January 2012

The Christmas season arching from the Feast of the Nativity to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is filled with many comings and goings. There is of course the coming of the Christ Child, the Holy Family’s refugee flight into Egypt, and the homecoming again when the danger was over.

The comings and goings at the Abbey are also a part of the Christmas season. We were happy to have our four student monks’ home from St. Meinrad’s and St. Vincent’s for the holidays, namely Brs. Guerric, Paul, Victor, and Macario. They and all the monks at home were heavily involved with the liturgy and activities of the season. A very big job requiring all hands possible is the decorating of the house and church. Again it was done to perfection and much appreciated. I am told that it takes two hours just to light all the vigil lights in the church before Christmas Midnight Mass.

We had a grand crowd of people come for the Christmas Midnight Mass which was again broadcast live on the radio by KAAN Radio in Bethany. Stuart Johnson of Bethany has been engineering this radio broadcast for almost thirty years and so knows the ins and outs of the basilica helping him to set up his antenna.

Coming to the Abbey for Christmas Eve Mass has become a standing tradition for a great number of families over the years. We always have local young people act as Mass Servers for that liturgy. We were glad that the weather was not a factor keeping people away this year. It’s good to meet and greet our friends in the guest dining room after the Mass before everyone heads off at last to bed.

The unusually mild temperatures through the latter part of December and the Christmas Season not only made for easy travelling for our guests and visitors, but it also helped our construction project. Due to the good weather the construction crews on the Guest House were able to make good progress not only on the outside but on the inside as well. The rooms are beginning to take shape along with the conference rooms, lounges, and storage rooms. We look forward to experiencing the geo-thermal system of heating and cooling. At last our deep Missouri clay will have a good and productive purpose!

As the Christmas Season comes to an end our student monks have returned to school and our visiting monk, Br. John McKenzie OSB from Norcia, Italy, along with our seminarians have returned to Conception for the spring semester. Six seminary students discerned that they needed to drop out in the fall semester, but we have five new students transferring to the seminary this spring semester so our enrollment is still stable. It is truly a blessing to see our enrollment remain at near our maximum capacity. Our students are also of high quality and are sincerely seeking to know and respond to their vocation.

We have much to suggest that 2012 will be a good year, a year of blessings to carry us through those challenges which are also sure to come. All in the Lord’s hands.


Prior's Journal: November - December, 2011


November comes upon us with the gift of memories. The feast of All Saints on Nov 1st and All Souls on Nov 2nd turn our focus to the many people who have gone before us. Those we name as saints are often people of former times and yet their heroic lives of virtue continue to speak to us. We depend upon their example and intercession to assist us in difficult times. Our own departed loved ones continue to be a part of our lives as we remember them and try to make sense out of the things that happen.

Inclement weather at the time prevented our usual liturgical procession in prayer through the cemetery on All Souls Day. Praying for the dead is something we monks do often. Daily we remember our deceased monks, friends, and benefactors at Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours.

On Nov 6 we remembered our long time friends who have supported us with financial help through the years with a special Donor Appreciation Dinner. Without these generous and loyal friends much of our ongoing capital improvements would probably not happen. Sharing a meal together and honoring these good friends is surely a blessing to be celebrated with great and lasting gratitude.

Gratitude was certainly the theme which came to the fore during the entire Thanksgiving week. It was good to have most of the monks on mission here those days. Those who were missing were Brs. Paul, Macario, Victor and Guerric. These four young monks have been in theological studies at St. Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad, IN and St. Vincent Archabbey of Latrobe, PA and will come home for the Christmas break.

Tuesday of Thanksgiving Week was devoted to a day long workshop by Fr. Michael Joncas who teaches theology at St. Paul’s Seminary, in St. Paul, MN. He spoke about the new translation of the Roman Missal, its background and its present form. He also helped the priests learn the new tones for the orations and the Preface of the Mass.

Wednesday of Thanksgiving Week was taken up by chapter meetings as well as a conference to the whole community given by the abbot in the afternoon. Our traditional night before Thanksgiving party honored and teased our six jubilarians: Fr. Richard Cleary, Fr. Hugh Tasch (60 years of monastic profession of vows); Archbishop Jerome Hanus (50 years of monastic profession of vows); Fr. Francis Stuart and Fr. Rene Guesnier (50 years of priesthood), and Br. Jude Person (25 years of monastic profession of vows).

These jubilarians and the whole community gathered with Abbot Gregory as celebrant for the Thanksgiving Eucharist on Thursday at 10:00am. The banquet meal which followed seemed to be a fitting way to recognize our community and individual blessings.

Nov 27 was the Beginning of the Advent Season which was very special this year since it marked the first time for using the new translation from revised Roman Missal. We have found that following the transition is going quite smoothly for the most part, although old habits kick in now and then without warning. That’s the story of human nature isn’t it?


This month started tentatively with overcast skies for the most part and days cold enough to reach for the heavier winter coats when venturing outside. It was amazing to see the roofers and brick masons working on the guest house braving the cold winds to try to get the job completed. It turned out that the roofers were successful with the temporary covering (the copper will wait until the spring) but the masons had to close up shop for a while as it was too cold to lay bricks. They are finished except for one side of the building.

There is a noticeable picking up of the pace around campus as students, faculty, and monks are working on their "to do" lists before finals and heading out for Christmas. The Advent season is meant to apply the brakes to some extent and get people to think about the "reason for the season." We hope that this indeed takes place at least on the inside where it counts the most.

May these days be filled with peace and blessings for all people of good will.


Prior's Journal: July - August 2011

We can all connect with summer sounds as they speak of different personal experiences. Think of the sound of a riding lawn mower off in the distance, or as it becomes more invasive right under your window. Mowing grass is like getting a hair cut, you know when you need it and when it’s finished there’s a freshness and neatness about it all. Think of the sound of locusts in the trees, especially at dusk as the sun is going down in the still of the evening. It could be the evening prayer of some of God’s creatures, doing what they’ve always done, but calling us to hear, to remember, and be grateful. For us in the country we even get to hear the conversation of coyotes in the darkness now and then. Because sound travels easily on a calm summer evening those four legged family units even at a distance may sound like they’re just outside your window.

Although summer provides some of the leisure necessary to enjoy these pleasant summer sounds, it also gives way to a great deal of activity. A good number of our monks took on summer assignments this year such as directing retreats or attending summer classes. Several also planned their vacations with families and friends. Leaving the remaining remnant of monks in the choir stalls feeling the responsibility of carrying on the apostolate of prayer and remembering our absent brethren. During those weeks of extreme heat we all very much appreciated the air-conditioned comfort of the basilica. How well we remember the "old days" when a very distinctive sound of summer was the hurricane sound of many large fans blowing over the choir to keep it somewhat bearable. As you might guess, the question of fans or no fans, and their position, was an on-going debate back then.

The beginning construction of our new guest house continues to be a point of community interest as the new building begins to take shape. This year our summer has also included the sounds of heavy earth moving equipment as they began forming the base foundation of clay and fill dirt. There was a kind of respectful dance among these lumbering giants as another team of earth movers and bulldozers joined them. Taking turns slicing off the clay from the same nearby hill these additional machines worked to complete the renovation of the small pond we call Maria Laach. This pond east of St. Maur Hall was completely dredged, and repairs were made to the leak in the dam. The moat around the island was cleaned out, and a sealing coat of clay was laid down across the bottom of the pond. Construction sounds have continued into these late summer days as concrete transport trucks bring their revolving loads of wet concrete to the new guest house site to be pumped into its final resting place, in the walls and floors of the new building for untold decades to come.

Major Wind/Hail Storm: Just as this Prior’s Journal piece was about to be posted on the website, we had a "Wind Event" with a very special and ominous sound! At 7:30 pm on Thurs., August 25th winds in excess of 70 miles per hour, rain, and hail covered a large area, from the Iowa state line south along the corridor between Maryville and Conception and on south including the St. Joseph area. We had marble-sized and some golf ball sized hail which riddled most windows on the north sides of our buildings. A whole set of 25-30 foot windows on the north side of St. Joseph’s hall (Library windows) had just been installed a few days before. Fortunately their double pane strength allowed them to withstand the hail without damage, but the older upper story windows in the student rooms were ruined. We lost power, water, and phone service (after the phone system’s batteries failed) from Thursday evening until mid morning on Saturday. At one point 40,000 people in the whole area were without power. The sisters at Clyde Convent had even more property damage than we did, including some priceless Austrian stained glass windows on their Sorrowful Mother Chapel. We can be so grateful that in spite of extensive property damage there were no serious personal injuries. The newly arrived first year students spent their first two nights here without power. Welcome to the rigors of seminary life!


Prior's Journal: March - June 2011

The coming of spring and summer is measured not only by the emergence of plants, grasses, flowers, bushes and trees but also new vigor in the monastery. House cleaning with fresh breezes blowing through the windows takes on a whole new feeling of preparing for wonderful things.

The coming of Easter and the end of the school year followed by the community retreat all serve to remind us that something new is about to come along. The celebration of Easter in all its splendor, no matter what the weather might be is one of those perennial signs that new life is possible. Even though we had no baptisms here at the abbey, we rejoice in the newly baptized who have brought special joy and hope to our neighboring parishes. I’m sure our seminarians who left immediately after the Easter celebration found that their own parishes were alive with a special dimension of the new life of Easter.

Our graduation and commencement events brought yet another school year to a close as our young men further discern what their individual vocations might be, either to continue toward pastoral ministry in the priesthood or recommitment to living their faith as a lay person.

A good number of us had the privilege of representing Conception Abbey and Conception Seminary College at over thirty ordinations conferring the Order of Diaconate or the Order of Priesthood on our alumni. It is always heartening to hear our sponsoring bishops express their appreciation on these occasions for the role Conception has had in the on-going formation of their newly ordained deacons and priests.

This summer will mark the beginning of another ambitious construction project as we hope to have ground-breaking ceremonies on June 20 for our new guest house. After a great deal of study and conversation with our loyal and generous donors we launched a capital campaign in 2009 which focuses on three areas of renovation - our health care center, the construction of a new guest facility, and eventually the renovation of our monastery. God’s blessings through our generous and loyal friends have brought us to the point where the monastic community could vote in favor of going ahead with the construction of the Guest House. If we are blessed with favorable weather and no major delays we hope to complete the guest house in ten to twelve months. This will certainly be an improvement for our guests and retreatants concerning location of the building and convenience in their living quarters.

At the time of writing this Prior’s Journal we are looking forward to the abbot’s return from his four week visit and teaching commitment in Italy. His emails have spoken of many rich and sometimes challenging experiences throughout his travels. One can never have too many second languages!

As the summer gets off to a good start we pray that our challenges will be manageable and our surprises will be blessings to be enjoyed and lived to the full.

Prior's Journal: February and Mid March 2011

Long winter moves toward spring:

Monastic life is a lot like a revolving melody. Remember when you get a particular tune stuck in your head and it just seems to go round and round forever. Our ordinary monastic day is our melody of praise and doing the ordinary work that goes along with our community life. We can become so familiar with it that it becomes almost second nature but it’s like a familiar melody line which never becomes stale because it’s supported by harmonic chords and a solid rhythm which provides a certain amount of stability and direction. Far from becoming boring the ordinary repetition of the schedules and interaction within the community provides a very important and enriching structure.

I think of this when we see the weeks and months passing by as we flip the pages of the calendar. Much of January and February was conditioned by the changes brought on by Old Man Winter which certainly provided a wealth of topics for table conversation.

The passage of time and the waiting for spring, which seemed to be tantalizingly close at times, was a great preparation for the official arrival of Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent on March 9. We continue to follow the practice of each of us meeting with the abbot before Ash Wednesday to discuss how we plan to use the Lenten season to prepare for Easter. The three things we choose for our Lenten effort make up what is called our "Bona Opera" which St. Benedict describes in the Holy Rule. The late date of Easter this year can assure us that the glories of spring will help us to celebrate the full meaning of Easter as the coming of new life and hope.

Comings and goings:

We’ve had a good number of monks involved in giving preached retreats and private directed retreats both here at the abbey and away. No matter how much "self-help" material might be out there (a stroll down the aisle of a book store shows you that there is truly a LOT out there) it is always amazing that people still see the need for making a retreat. Perhaps it’s a hunger for spiritual refreshment which comes from sharing the faith and wisdom of another through the power of prayer and dialogue in a peaceful environment. Our guest department continues to be extremely busy as they arrange for visitors, individual retreatants and retreat groups. There are some weekends when every guest room is reserved. It’s quite a challenge for the housekeeping crew to keep the rooms ready for the next group.

Revised Grail Psalms:

Abbot Gregory has been especially busy these months as his schedule takes him around the country attending meetings, workshops, giving retreats, and giving lectures about the new translation of the Revised Grail Psalms. There seems to be a lot of interest in praying the psalms in a translation that lends itself to private meditation as well as community recitation with or without music. We at Conception are very gratified that Abbot Gregory’s scholarly work with valuable contributions from others in our community has made a significant contribution to the prayer life of the English speaking Church around the world. That’s a wonderful legacy, isn’t it?

Prior's Journal: November - December 2010

Our monastic community, as any monastic community, takes special care to celebrate the memories of the past. In a world which sometimes moves too quickly we monks tend to remember and document as much as we can careful to chronicle the significant events of life. In the first years of our community it was Abbot Frowin’s diary which captured the significant happenings, the blessings and the losses of the every day experience. Now and then excerpts of that diary are read at meals which gives us a snapshot of what happened in those difficult days. Various monks over the years have taken up the work of keeping a written history updated on a regular basis. Sometimes death and change of assignments tend to disrupt the regular recording of daily events. Today of course the possibility of people writing a blog has taken over as the electronic diary in many cases. Fr. Kenneth’s blog is a good example of that. No matter what method is used for recording history the fact that we can recall it gives us reason to celebrate and rejoice in the Lord for the good things that have happened. On the other hand the ability to remember helps us through the hard times and gives us reason for a lively hope.

Thanksgiving in the monastery:

We continued our tradition again this year of remembering the many years of service of those celebrating their jubilees on Thanksgiving Day. Six of our monks marked special anniversaries of their monastic profession: Fr. Anthony marked 70 years of profession, Br. Blaise and Frs. Quentin, Allan, and Isaac marked 50 years of profession, and Fr. Timothy celebrated 25 years of vowed life. Abbot Gregory pointed out our gratitude for those many years of witness of vowed monastic life. Each monk brings a special combination of skills and gifts to community life and everyone is the beneficiary. For more information about Conception Abbey's 2010 Jubilarians click here.

This time of remembering and giving thanks followed four days of what is officially called the monastic visitation. Every four years in our congregation a visitation team arrives to listen to the concerns and observations of each monk in our community. It provides good feedback to both the community and the Abbot in their final report about how we’re doing. This year the team was made up of Abbot Justin Duvall of St. Meinrad’s Abbey, Fr. Matthew Clark of St. Joseph’s Abbey and Fr. Charles Reichenbacher of Marmion Abbey. The report was quite positive so we can feel relieved!

Advent, the season of waiting and preparing:

We finished the Thanksgiving events and gathering with a day of recollection leading us into the First Sunday of Advent. With the help of the Abbot’s opening conference on the meaning of John the Baptist and the meaning of Advent, we entered once again this season of hope and lasting values which are often lost in the secular world. Various monks have been appointed by the Abbot to give the weekly conference dealing with the theme of John the Baptist during Advent.

At the time of this journal entry the seminarians are busy cramming for their final exams which will unlock the flood gates allowing them to stream to their homes for the Christmas-New Years break. It’s always amusing to note that a raging blizzard is never enough to prevent them from venturing out on the roads to head for home, but even the threat of some snowflakes on the day of their return makes them pause, call the seminary, and wonder if it is safe to start out!! Human nature, twas ever thus!

We look forward to some days of peace and quiet around the monastery as Advent eventually leads us to the full celebration of the Solemnity of Christmas and the beautiful liturgical days in the following week. The blizzard of Christmas 2009 allowed only twelve people to be with us at Midnight Mass. We hope the weather will cooperate this year and the basilica will be filled as in years past for these beautiful liturgies.

May the Blessings of Christmas be abundant for all who are reading this.


Prior's Journal: August - October, 2010

We’ve transitioned into the beginning of fall and the school year very well. In the monastery that means people continue with their work and responsibilities relying on past procedures and also adapting to the new things on the horizon. I’m always impressed with those people who are the steady rocks in the community. They are the ones who can be counted on to be there day after day whether in choir at prayer or at their work assignment and getting the job done. So often those people who labor long and faithfully behind the scenes are truly the ones who make good things happen. We often take them for granted and that’s a shame. They need to be acknowledged, something we males in a predominantly male environment often forget to do.

It’s wonderful to see that we have another large enrollment in the seminary college. We’ve been blessed not only with good numbers again, but high quality seminarians who are serious about the process of formation and building community through prayer and hard work. The open house in St. Michael’s Hall on Sept 29 (Feast of St. Michael and all the Angels) provided us with the chance to accept their hospitality as we toured their residence floors. There is certainly a wide variety of talents and interests and housekeeping styles! Our competent formation, academic and administration staff surely provides a valuable learning environment for them.

Memories of good formation was certainly the focus front and center for the Alumni Reunion, Sept 24-25, 2010. Although the numbers were down a bit from last year, the enthusiasm and volume level of greetings among long time friends was certainly high. It was wonderful to see particular classes make special efforts to return as a group and walk down memory lane. There were some who had not been back to visit for almost fifty years. The sharing of stories and catching up on their careers and accomplishments provided some wonderful exchanges. Having Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake Diocese as our guest lecturer speaking about the Church’s stand on the immigration issues was both inspiring and very informative. Bishop Arthur Tafoya, retired bishop of Pueblo, CO honored us by celebrating the Eucharist and preaching the homily. We in turn were able to honor him by presenting him with the Conception Seminary Alumni Distinguished Service Award. Our alumni who make a positive difference in the world are our best and most effective outreach of our life and work.

The communities of Conception Abbey and Clyde Convent have been involved with making a positive difference in our immediate area through an economic development initiative of the Tri-C area. This includes the towns of Conception, Conception Junction, and Clyde. Using the organizational resources of the Public Square Community Building group, we are looking at future possibilities for re-vitalizing the economic and social base of our area. By networking with our neighbors its exciting to be part of a positive movement into the future. Celebrating hope is what we’re all about no matter who and where we are.

Prior's Journal: July 4-Aug. 4, 2010

Stage 2: Last Month I was saying that the summer often falls into two stages. The first stage takes us up through July 4 and from then on it’s all downhill as the second stage slides right into the opening of the school year.

This certainly has been the case this summer. The construction projects, the road improvements, and the handicap accessible ramp construction march forward whether or not there are enough "sidewalk supervisors" to make sure it's done right. Our numbers of monks have been down due to summer studies, workshops, retreats, and of course vacations. Our summer meals are simply served cafeteria style which means fewer waiters are needed. There are of course a number of positions and house responsibilities which must be covered. This means that those lucky ones who are here and available get asked frequently and "get" to help out as needed.

International Priests Program: Br Macario helped me out by describing our summer educational program for diocesan foreign-born priests who were with us.

"Conception Seminary College’s LCCIP (Language, Culture, and the Church, for International Priests) came to a successful close last Friday (July 30). We had 13 international priests. They came from the Philippines, Africa, India, and Latin America. They are now priests in U.S. dioceses. The month long program focuses on two aspects: accent reduction and American sacramental ministry. The morning class sessions were devoted to language. The first session was accent reduction and the second session was a mix of tongue twisters, American idioms, and Rosetta Stone. The afternoons were workshops that focused on ministering the sacraments in the U.S. In the evenings the priests enjoyed socials in the Alumni Union with other participants and with some monks. The director of the LCCIP program was Sr. Maria Armijo, SFCC. She was also one of the instructors for the morning classes as well as Br. Elias, Br. Macario, and Br. Anselm."

Retreats: Retreat groups continue to come for first time as well as repeated visits to the abbey. It is always good to see people finding peace and quiet time for prayer alone or along with the monks during their stay with us.

Parking Lot facelift: One of the logistic challenges of the summer continues to be the need to empty parking lots of all cars from time to time in order to reseal and recondition as well as mark the parking spots. We got that accomplished this summer along with the major project of replacing the service road down around the carpenter shop with a new concrete pavement road. I had predicted that it would be a skate boarder’s delight, but it turns out that the new road has a roughened finish which will be helpful when dealing with snow and ice next winter but it might be less than a smooth ride for the eager skateboarder.

Prior's Journal: May 24-July 4, 2010

Summer, 2010 – Stage 1: From past experience it seems that the "good old summertime" is usually divided by Stage 1 and Stage 2 with the first stage leading up to the celebration of the 4th of July and the second stage being all downhill and brings us into immediate preparations for the new school year.

Stage 1 certainly got off to a wet start as the spring rains continued to swing through on a weekly basis. A good number of local farmers had to replant areas which were lost to flooding. The race to get everything planted with the first drying days finally came along made for long periods in the fields. It’s always amazing to me to see how the big modern equipment can cover so much ground in a relatively short amount of time. My early memories of farm field work meant two row planters and two row cultivators. That made for a lot of tractor reflection time as you went go back and forth across the fields day after day! (There were no air conditioned cabs in those days. There were no tractor radios either, but you could sing out loud if you wanted to and there were no complaints from the occasional hawk or the rabbits!)

The weeks after the retreat at the abbey saw a good number of the monks attending deaconate and priesthood ordinations around the country as our alumni finished their theology training leading to ordination. It’s always a sense of satisfaction to see our alumni persevere and begin their pastoral work for the people of God. We hope and pray that the seminary formation which began here will continue to serve them well as they labor for the Lord’s harvest.

Summer Construction begins: Several projects in spite of the June rains have gotten off the ground. The chairlift at the outside library steps will be replaced by a handicap ramp. Sorry roller bladers, the hairpin turn halfway down may be too much even for the best of you! The natural speed bumps and chuck holes in our campus road will soon be phased out. The basilica parking lot is in the process of being patched, sealed, and marked. The road leading from the fish pond and around to the garage parking lot will be completely removed to its base and replaced with cement pavement. Now, this might be a roller bladers delight! St. Michael’s laundry room area is also getting a facelift and expansion. New washing machines will be added to handle the increased student population.

Monks hither and yon: The combination of giving retreats, going to workshop, and taking vacation time has meant a lot of fluctuation in the ranks of monks at choir and the Eucharist. It’s always a challenge to see who is here and available for the different responsibilities around the house. Sometimes it comes down to finding a sub for a sub!

As always, flexibility is the key. This is a pretty good rule for life in general, right?

Fourth of July Fizzles: Although the 4th of July is usually pretty low key around here, the rains throughout the day made it even lower key. Our prayers in gratitude for the gift of freedom were offered at Mass and were perhaps our best celebration this year.

Prior's Journal: May 9-24, 2010

Graduation: Ending and beginnings

Graduation. May 16, 2010 marked the end of another good year for our seminarians. As happens each year some of our twenty-five graduates have discerned that they are not called to the ordained priesthood and will be dropping out of seminary formation. The majority of the class, however, have indicated to their bishops that they are eager to pursue theological studies either in this country or in Rome. We always feel that we have been successful in working for the good of the Church when we have truly helped our seminarians to make a very positive and prayerful discernment concerning their vocation.

Community Retreat:

Again our community gathered for our annual retreat which extended from May 17- May 21. The retreat conferences were given by Fr. Ronald Witherup PSS who is the Superior General of the Sulpician Order. This religious order specializes in providing initial and ongoing formation to diocesan priests throughout the country and around the world. Fr. Ron is a well-known and published New Testament Scripture scholar who brought his expertise in the writings of St. Paul to examine the connections between the thought of St. Paul and St. Benedict in the Holy Rule. He seemed to feel very much at home while he was with us and we appreciated his scholarship and his spirituality. There was some concern whether he would arrive in time for the retreat since his flight from Paris was threatened to be delayed or cancelled due to the volcanic ash in the atmosphere. The abbot had to have a Plan B in place in case of a last minute cancellation. We are glad that Plan B was not necessary.

Summer activities:

With the students gone a variety of maintenance projects swing into full operation around the campus. The construction of new sidewalks and a handicap ramp next to the library entrance shows good progress. A major project of replacing and paving the entrance road from the basilica parking lot to the garage area will be a welcome improvement. It will, however, remove the great challenge of trying to dodge the large potholes in the present road!

Abbey guard dog:

We have hulking form in white fur keeping watch during these summer nights. This past year the CMC Brothers at St. Scholastica’s House acquired a white "puppy" which they and everyone one campus came to know as Bandit. This is no ordinary puppy and at eight months of age is now well on his way to his full statue as a Great Pyrenees Sheep dog. Since the brothers decided not to take it with them for the summer we have inherited, for the time being, this "still in training" watch dog. So if you hear an occasional deep throated "Woof, Woof" during the night, its just Bandit letting us know that he is indeed on duty.

Prior's Journal: April 10-May 9, 2010

"Mystagogia" is one of those fifty cent words that gets thrown around a lot after Easter. It either causes people to have a bland look wondering if they heard it correctly or it brings a smile to the newly baptized who recognize what it means. It’s an ancient Greek term for the period and the process of allowing those recently baptized or received into the Church to ponder and savor the joy of their new relationship with the Lord and the People of God. Even though we had no Easter baptisms here at the abbey, the liturgy continues that wonderful theme of rejoicing in the gift of the Resurrection and new life. The presence of the Easter environment in the basilica along with the stately Paschal Candle lift our minds and hearts in gratitude for the gift of Christian life through our baptisms whenever that might have taken place.

This is always a beautiful time of the year as Easter, baptisms in many parishes, and new life in nature combine to celebrate the creative work of God. The long wait of winter gives way to the promises of spring. The local farmers are hoping for some good drying days to get the rest of the crops planted. Some of the early corn has already come up.

Abbey Trails: All trails led to Conception Abbey again this year for our annual physical fitness program and social gathering. April 17 dawned as a perfect day for running and walking which of course delighted the 213 participants. Some of our friends have made this an annual outing over the years. It’s always nice to meet new friends as you run or walk the beautiful grounds of the abbey. The hearty and healthy breakfast afterwards and the health fair in gym were again much appreciated. The proceeds from the event go toward the maintenance of the year round wellness program which is open to the people of our area.

Year’s End: As this column is being written the seminarians have counted down the days before the final papers are due, the coming of the final exams, graduation day, and of course the summer break. Students and faculty alike need a good break at this time of the year. The final Eucharist of the year and graduation will be May 16. We extend our best wishes to those who are graduating and moving on either to further theological studies and the priesthood or to their vocation as dedicated laity. A good number of the monks associated with the seminary will represent the seminary at various ordinations to the priesthood and deaconate during the month of May and June.

LCCIP: Again this summer we’ll host a special program called Language, Culture, and Church for International Priests. This extension of our regular program during the school year for non-English speaking students is designed for priests who are already functioning in this country but still need assistance with their English pronunciation, and a better understanding of the American culture and Church. It has proven to be a very popular program not only for the sponsoring bishops but the participants themselves. See more about our LCCIP program here.

Beautiful landscape: The flowering trees and bushes set against the emerald green of freshly mown lawn make for a beautiful and relaxing scene. We invite you to come see us when you can. You’re always welcome!

Prior's Journal: March 21-April 10, 2010

Holy Week Reflections: Mountain roads are great for the view. Sometimes you can go to the same scenic overlook you’ve visited many times before, but it’s a different view with every visit. I think that is often the way it is with Holy Week although of course its far more than simply being a sight seer! Except for Palm Sunday, the weather was certainly more cooperative this year. As people entered into the powerful liturgies of the Triduum they could ponder what they heard and saw with a quiet walk outdoors. The long wait and preparation during lent brought us to the point of sharpened awareness and a deep hunger for the message meant for us this year.

The liturgy of Holy Thursday spoke to us through the emotions of joy and gratitude in the intimate setting of being with the Lord around the table. This carried over into the awesome experience of reflecting on the Lord washing the feast of his disciples. But the image of total service was then extended to the agonizing limit of death on the Cross

What a contrast going from the full-throated joy of the agape meal to the somber and controlled sorrow of the Passion of Christ and the veneration of the Cross of Jesus on Good Friday. Again the power of symbolism allowed us to go beyond the limitations of words. Venerating the cross as the precious instrument of our salvation allowed us to approach with our own full component of sorrow, gratitude, reverence, and commitment.

One can wonder and also hope that those who are currently suffering the hardships of being homeless due to earthquakes, war, and violence might have someone to stand with them as they participate in the Cross of Christ. The cry of desperation from the Cross continues from the time of Jesus to our own times. Who but our Father in heaven hears them, unless we also stand at the foot of the Cross?

The Easter Vigil as always was the high point of the Sacred Triduum. Gathering in the dark to witness the lighting and blessing of the new fire reached its full meaning when the flame was transferred to the Paschal Candle. We followed the Light of Christ into the dark church as countless others have done through the centuries. We walked through history into the present. The entire liturgy brought us back and forth from the past to the present. The Word of God became ever more clear and focused in the person of Christ who has declared again that He would be with us through the power of his Spirit.

The scene was quite familiar and yet as always different due to the passage of time, people’s experiences, and the working of grace. We’re always happy to have a number of retreatants who join the seminarians and monks for these powerful liturgies. When the sun has arisen on Easter morning and everyone has enjoyed an early morning breakfast we know deep down that Easter has truly happened for another year. It’s the same place but the scene is different!

Prior's Journal: January 29-March 21, 2010

Have you ever crossed a mountain stream by stepping on the rocks? It’s always a matter of keeping your balance as you keep looking ahead to the next rock which might be large or small, close or a big step away. That is certainly the way life is. It’s never a measured pace with absolute regularity. How dull that would be! We’re always pausing, stepping out, measuring the next step, deciding whether it’s a wise step or not.

The weeks since I’ve last written some thoughts for this column seem to have been filled with all kinds of big and little steps for the community and for me. The consistency of monastic life could be considered the flowing mountain stream which each of us has to navigate, always pushing forward to reach the head waters, the source of it all.

The season of Lent in which we now find ourselves leading us to the climax of Holy Week has reminded us for some five weeks that our spiritual journey is never the same and is always changing in its challenges and opportunities. Early on in Lent we were most grateful for the three presentations given to us by Fr. Paul Turner of our diocese who spoke from his experience and widely respected expertise dealing with the theology and reasons behind the new changes we’ll find in the new Roman Missal. This new translation will eventually be used in the celebration of the Eucharist.

During this season of Lent the monastic community is giving special attention to the meaning and implications of monastic culture. Perhaps a bit like picking out the solid rocks in negotiating a mountain stream, naming and embracing the essential aspects of monastic culture help us to appreciate the current and coming challenges and opportunities of our life. At two week intervals Abbot Gregory and two other monks, Frs. Xavier and Daniel have in turn presented reflections about monastic culture which the community discussed in small groups each following week.

As always the pace and range of commitments for pastoral ministry both in the Abbey Guest Center through retreats here and away continues to challenging. Several of us have been involved with giving parish missions which is a very rewarding experience. My time at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish at Hitchcock, TX proved to be a wonderful and grace-filled experience. I left Missouri in a blizzard expecting to find welcome warm temperatures in south Texas, but to my surprise the cool temperatures (cold by Texas standards!) followed me through out the five days!

Coming to the threshold of Holy Week finds us again preparing for the great Paschal Mystery. No matter how many times we have approached this high point of the liturgical year there is always a new dimension to be noted and pondered. May this be a time of blessing for all of us.

Prior’s Journal: September – October, 2011

"Try to remember… Oh, try to remember, the times of September…" the haunting lyrics and melody from the old musical The Fantasticks capture some of the beauty but also the blurring activities of the fall season. Through it all there seems to be connecting threads of activity throughout the months of September and October here at the abbey and the college seminary.

The Seminary Program moves forward: It’s always rather amazing to see the various pieces of our three-fold formation program coming together into a seamless garment of care and challenge for the young men who come here looking to join the priesthood. Some of the returning seminarians have the advantage of seminary experience behind them; others come with many questions about what lies ahead of them as they plunge into this new lifestyle. It’s heartening to see the enthusiasm and dedication these young men bring to the work of discerning whether God might be calling them to priestly ministry. The challenge for the whole formation staff, namely, academic formation, spiritual formation, and character formation, is to guide, support and even challenge that enthusiasm toward a mature and lasting response to the movements of grace in these young men. These young men learn that the work load is heavy and balancing one’s time between work, leisure, and prayer is always a challenge. The seminary administration, faculty and staff take their mission and responsibility very seriously with an eye toward bringing the best out of the seminarians, but also encouraging them for their future ministry. As it so often happens, those in charge may not know the immediate impact of their time and effort, but every now and then grateful alumni will express deep and lasting appreciation which makes it all worthwhile.

Construction and the "new look": With a new building for our new guest house going up right in front of our eyes, it soon becomes a focus for monks and students alike. The in-house entertainment from one day to the next is to try to guess how the various spaces will be used. The recent installation of the metal stairs gives a good reference point for the rest of the building. The steel roof girders also give more shape to the building. With good weather we hope that construction can march forward at a good pace.

Alumni Reunion and a walk down memory lane: The annual alumni reunion, Sept 23-24, hosted seventy-two returning alumni. Some of the alumni returned for the first time in forty years! They found quite a mixture of the old and the new. Re-connecting with friends and faculty represented the "old" and touring the new and re-modeled buildings provided the "new." Comments from alumni representing their graduating class at the banquet were very inspirational for seminarians and monks alike.

Using the new translation of the Psalms: After a tremendous amount of work in formatting, proof-reading, and printing the new books for the monastic Liturgy of the Hours has been completed. We began to pray the Psalms in September according to our new Revised Grail translation and also new psalm tones. Old habits die hard and therefore it requires extra attention and focus to deal with new wording and new music. In time and with practice we can enter into a deeper spirit of prayer which the Psalms provide for us in their ancient richness and scope of feelings.

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