Trappistine/Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey
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563-582-2595 ext.114 Sr. Myra Hill
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Patron Saints/Famous Saints of the Community
St. Bernard, St. Maria Gabriella
Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey is a monastery of Cistercian (Trappist) nuns. A community of 22 Roman Catholic women, we try to follow Jesus Christ through a life of prayer, silence, simplicity, and ordinary work.
Our rule of life, after the Gospel, is the Rule of St Benedict. Our order is wholly ordered to contemplation.
Our monastery is situated on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River south of Dubuque, Iowa. We earn our living through the Trappistine Creamy Caramels we produce in a workshop on our property and sell by mail. The 630 acres of land God has committed to our stewardship includes over 350 acres of managed woodlands and a 200-acre organic farm.
Seven times a day we gather in the abbey church to sing God's praise. Our liturgies are open to the public. Four small guest houses are available for individuals or very small groups of any religious tradition wishing to make a private retreat in our beautiful, peaceful setting.
On October 18, 1964, 13 young sisters left Mt St Mary Abbey in Wrentham Massachusetts to found a new monastery in Dubuque, Iowa. The community at Wrentham was bursting at the seams with the great vocation influx of the 1950's, and by 1960 a building designed for 60 sisters was accommodating more than 70. To Mother Angela, the abbess, this seemed a clear call from the Lord to start a new monastery.
Originally, our foundation was intended for Argentina. The monks of Spencer, MA had made a foundation there in 1958 and hoped to have a sister house. However, the project fell through (one of our women's houses in Italy did make a foundation in Argentina in the late 1970's), and M. Angela asked the American abbots for possible sites here in the States.
With the approval of Archbishop Byrne, Dom Philip, abbot of New Melleray, and his brothers invited us to Dubuque - the beginning of a happy relationship between our two monasteries. Dr. Joseph O'Donnell donated a property in Clinton for a Trappistine monastery; when the property proved unsuitable, he made a gift of the sale for purchasing other land. In 1962 an undeveloped piece of land along the Mississippi River was bought, and the next year and a half spent consulting with architects.
Then in July 1964 the Stampfer family's Hickory Hill property south of Dubuque was put up for sale. Fr Jim Kerndt, who succeeded Dom Philip as superior of New Melleray, recommended it as the site for the new foundation, and the property was purchased. Hickory Hill had a large private home which was renovated to make a temporary monastery for the sisters; there were also several smaller houses which have served for 40 years as guest houses and chaplain's house. Three barns and a corn crib were to prove invaluable when we began farming.
The Rule of St Benedict says the abbot is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery. When a monastery is founded the new superior, at the head of her new community, is a presented with a special cross to lead the group to the chosen site. Our foundation cross still hangs in our cloister.
For centuries it was customary for the founding group to number 13, in imitation of Jesus and his 12 apostles. Mother Angela had picked Sr Columba Guare to be superior of our foundation even before the Argentina plan was dropped, and in August-September of 1964 she selected the remaining 12 founders. Three of these, who were not yet in final vows, would leave in the early years of our history; two others are now in our daughter house in Norway; two are living away from community; four have gone home to Jesus, and two are still here at Mississippi: Srs Gail, and Joan - much honored and revered by the rest of us!
Seven times a day we celebrate the Divine Office, the 'Work of God.' Each service (such as Morning Prayer) sanctifies a particular time of day. The Offices vary in length from about 15 minutes to 50 minutes. Each service includes a hymn, the chanting of psalms, and a Scripture reading.
Monastic life alternates between work and prayer, going back and forth between them in a rhythm that gives our day balance and focus. When the bell rings we lay aside whatever we are doing and come together to sing God's praises. Monks can be as distracted as anyone else, and the practice of stopping at regular times to pray helps us remember who we are and what we want to be about. But above all we pray because God is worthy of our praise and adoration at all times.
Our life aims toward constant prayer. Even outside the liturgy, we try to bring our minds continually back to God. Each sister spends at least an hour each day in personal prayer. This may take many forms: centering prayer, dialogue with Jesus, the Rosary, quiet adoration and praise, pondering Scripture, interceding for people's needs. There are as many ways of praying as there are people, and our prayer changes to reflect what is happening in our life.
Much of our prayer can be a struggle against boredom or distractions. We have to surrender ourselves, even the deepest parts of our mind and spirit, to God, and all that is unredeemed in us prefers our own pleasure and our own way. Over the years Christ helps us little by little to a fuller letting go so God may be all in all.
"Holy Reading," or lectio divina, is the slow, prayerful reading of a sacred text, principally the Bible. Christian monastics have always spent time daily pondering the Word of God. At Mississippi Abbey each sister spends at least 30 minutes daily reading Scripture.
The goal of lectio is not gaining information, but a re-formation of our way of thinking. As we read a passage, meditate on it, memorize a few words to repeat during the day, our hope is that our way of thinking will become Christ's way of thinking, that our way of acting will start to be patterned on the Gospel, that our love for Jesus will grow.
The Eucharist is the heart of Christian prayer, and for centuries Catholic monastics have celebrated Mass daily. It is a commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who loved us so much that he gave his own body and blood for our redemption. In the Eucharist the Word of God is proclaimed, and bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, given to us to eat and drink. We experience the Eucharist as something so profound, and so filled with love, that it goes beyond the power of words to express. Just as prayer is to our spirits what breath is to our body, so the Eucharist is in every way the deepest nourishment of our souls, food and drink indeed. Above all, it is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where we hope one day to eat and drink with our Lord and all his saints. And as we drink, our thirst for heaven is "not quenched but kindled."
The first generation of Christians experienced such profound gratitude toward God for their new life in Christ that they named this meal in which his body and blood are consumed the "Eucharist" from the Greek eucharistein, "to thank." As we celebrate God's love our minds are turned away from the sadness and complaining to which the human heart is so prone, toward living with a deep spirit of constant gratitude for all God's gifts, especially for the love he has poured out for us in Christ Jesus.
So precious is this mystery that some of the bread consecrated during the Mass (the "Blessed Sacrament") is kept in a tabernacle, a box fixed in a prominent location in our church, to be with us all the day. Whenever we enter our church we are conscious of the presence of Christ who has given himself to us in every way possible, even to becoming our food, and we are filled with reverence and awe.
Exposition and Benediction
During the Middle Ages a practice arose of sometimes taking the wafer of consecrated bread out of the tabernacle, placing it in a vessel designed to make it visible to as many people as possible, and leaving it "exposed" to view for a while hence the name of this devotion, "Exposition." Those present at Exposition join together in silently adoring Christ present in the consecrated bread. When a priest is present, at the end of Exposition he may bless those present, taking the vessel with the Sacrament in both hands and making the sign of the cross over the people with it. This is called "Benediction" from the Latin word benedicere, "to bless".
The Benedictine Way
The virtue of obedience is directed at helping each sister go beyond her own selfishness and self-will and grow in willingness to be of generous service to the community. It is not an attitude of "go-along, get-along," but a radical surrender of oneself, above all to God, but on a daily basis to whatever God puts in my life. It is also a kind of radical non-violence, refraining as much as possible from setting my will and preferences in opposition to those of others, which is the root of all violence.
"Trappist" means "silent" to many people, and although we no longer observe the almost total absence of speech practiced in recent centuries, we still maintain an atmosphere of silence in which we can be attentive to God at every moment, and grow in self-knowledge. At certain times of the day (evening and early morning) we refrain from all communication with each other, verbal or non-verbal, to free one another for prayer.
The most essential monastic virtue, humility is a willingness to learn the truth about myself (however unpleasant). The truly humble Christian is not an insecure doormat, but a person whose whole security is Jesus Christ. She does not pretend to have all the answers, but is always willing to learn. She puts love into action by not putting herself above others and by making what is good for the other person a higher priority than her own good.