THE IRISH IN IOWA

NEW MELLERAY ABBEY

Harlan, Edgar Rubey. A Narrative History of the People of Iowa.
Vol IV. Chicago: American Historical Society,  1931 pps. 430-431

  

p. 430

     NEW MELLERAY ABBEY. Within the borders of Iowa has existed for eighty years a community of the Trappist Monks, whose good works, whose austere and simple life, have been celebrated in literature and history for centuries. The Trappist Monks, now known as Reformed Cisterians of the Strict Observance, follow the rule of St. Benedict and devote themselves to the esthetic or contemplative life, in which prayer is the principal occupation, mingled with manual labor. The Trappists are also committed to the practice of silence, except as speech is necessary, and in their community life no general conversation is permitted. However, many of the stories regarding the Trappists are erroneous. They lead a cheerful, wholesome life, refraining from meat, but otherwise having a wholesome dietary, ample periods of sleep, and, as has been officially stated, their life is so tempered by thousands of peoples of both sexes, age and condition. The Trappist has better health and a longer life than the generality of mankind.
    The home of the Trappist Monks in Iowa is known as the New Melleray Abbey, located at Peosta, about twelve miles from Dubuque. When, on October 28, 1928, the new public chapel and guest house was dedicated, Archbishop James J. Keane in the course of his address described the founding of the community in a few brief sentences. "In 1849," he said, "when these great stretches of fertile land were little more than a wilderness, fifteen members of the Cisterian community of Mt. Melleray in Ireland embarked at Liverpool for Dubuque, then an outpost of civilization. They would, like Jacob, raise a 'holy place' in the wilderness. They landed at New Orleans on the forty-ninth day out, and after a brief rest, took passage on a river boat for the north. Scarcely had the boat weighed anchor when cholera broke out among the passengers and within a week claimed six of the band, already weakened by the sufferings and privations of the voyage. They were buried with all possible reverence on the banks of the river.
    "The survivors reached Dubuque in December, 1849. They had a second baptism of suffering during the winter which had already set in and was to try their spirit in the make-shift home, the best that could be offered them. In the spring they set to work to erect the temporary buildings which enabled them to lead the regular monastic life until 1875, when the stately monastic buildings then, and even now as much admired, replaced the old frame structures.
    "The monks brought with them the traditions and the spirit of a great institution- that of monasticism to which St. Benedict in the early part of the sixth century gave form and life and undying energy.
    "These traditions were revived and that spirit was renewed by the great reformers of monasticism, St. Robert De Rance and St. Bernard. Those who have looked into the history of the Church know something of the great service rendered to Christian religion and civilization by the monks.
    "The purpose of the guest house in this, as in other Trappist monasteries, is to provide accommodation for gentlemen, lay and cleric, who may desire to come aside for a little while from the pressure of business, home and social duties to attend to life's greatest interest-their immortal souls. This house of retreat has been long looked for, longed for, and very many rejoice in this morning that it is now equipped for the splendid service for which it was erected.
     "This public chapel will afford opportunity for those who desire to attend the monastic services so solemn and so inspiring. The community is today too limited in number, but we have every confidence that New Melleray will now draw large numbers of young men to that service of God in which it is engaged.
    "I am authorized to say that the guest house is now open to receive those who may desire to spend some days in quiet recollection and prayer, and that the good prior and his associates will meet with as cordial a welcome those who may wish to join them as the saintly bishop of pioneer days extended to the first members who laid the foundation of this home of peace, this shrine of spiritual life."

 


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