School is Starting!
On Tuesday, August 19, Cistercian Preparatory School held its opening ceremonies for the 2014-2015 school year. On the vigil of the solemnity of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the most famous saint of the nine-hundred-year-old Cisterican Order and one of the most influential men of his day, the Cistercian community gathered together in the church of the abbey in order to open the year in prayer with a mass invoking the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This academic year is an exciting one for Cistercian. With the remodeling projects of the school now complete, the students, faculty and staff have the pleasure of working in the many beautiful buildings and natural spaces of the campus. The excited comments of several members of the community manifest how grateful everyone is to all those who donated their resources and labor to the realization of the ambitious goals of the Cistercian 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign.
This year sixteen monks will teach at the Preparatory School. Two of those are newly professed members Br. Francis and Br. Raphael. And this year Fr. John and Fr. Justin will study abroad in Cistercian monasteries in Rome and Heiligenkreuz, Austria. These two brothers seek to deepen their own formation, and they hope to carry back with them the special gifts of such a privileged opportunity in order to enrich the abbey and school community. Five monks will teach at the University of Dallas in the English, Theology and Philosophy departments.
Please remember all of us at Our Lady of Dallas in your prayers this year, as we strive to harvest and share the fruits of our life of prayer, study and fraternity with the community that surrounds us.
Ordination to the Priesthood
On Friday, August 15, 2014, the feast day of the Assumption of Mary, Br. Justin McNamara was ordained a priest. On Sunday, August 17, 2014, Fr. Justin celebrated his first mass in the abbey Church. Both events were followed by a reception in the abbey courtyard, which allowed the many family and friends of Fr. Justin and the Cistercian community to gather together to celebrate such a joyful and important moment.
Fr. Justin is the eleventh young monk to be ordained a priest at Our Lady of Dallas in only six years. The whole Cistercian community rejoices at the gift of such a peaceful young man among the new vocations at the abbey.
Among the young monks, Fr. Justin is the only one to have spent time in a diocesan seminary before he discerned that his vocation lay in monastic life. His ordination, in fact, is the fruit of several years of discernment and formation, four years in a seminary in Chicago and five here at Our Lady of Dallas. Altogether, Fr. Justin says he was concretely discerning the priesthood for over eleven years. Such a lengthy period of discernment makes him a testimony to God’s faithful guidance in every human life: “Even though I struggled from time to time throughout my years of formation, not knowing exactly when or how I was to become a priest, the call to the priesthood itself never subsided. After my conversion in 2003 and the encouragement of my pastor I simply tried to follow the call wherever I heard it leading. All that was left was to listen and live out my faith from day to day, trusting in God’s wisdom and love.”
During his formation at Our Lady of Dallas, Fr. Justin studied at the University of Dallas, where he completed graduate degrees in both theology and the humanities, and he taught religion and Latin at Cistercian Preparatory School. After several years of schooling in Dallas, he now heads to Heiligenkreuz, an ancient and thriving Cistercian monastery in Austria, where he will further his studies in theology, history, Latin and German.
When asked about his plans for Austria, Fr. Justin offered the following thoughts: “It is a blessing to be given the opportunity to travel abroad and experience the Church on a larger scale and in a foreign setting. My time in Heiligenkreuz has the immediate goal of firming up my German skills; but it also includes the chance to live with fellow Cistercians and to see how they respond to our Lord’s call to serve him daily in community and in their apostolate. But the greatest gift I hope to acquire and bring back with me is an ever-increasing appreciation of what is already here in Dallas, to see that the vows we profess and the ministry with which we are entrusted are meant to bear fruit.”
Fr. Justin’s brothers in the abbey and his students and friends at the school will certainly feel his absence in the coming months. All look forward to his safe return, when he will set the gifts of such a special formation at the service of those whom God will place in his life.
Temporary Profession of Vows
On Sunday, August 10, 2014, Br. Francis Gruber and Br. Raphael Schaner completed the novitiate and made their simple profession, promising “stability, the monastic way of life, and obedience” for three years at Our Lady of Dallas. We are very grateful to God, our Almighty Father, for having sent his Spirit upon these men, giving them courage and peace as they seek to follow his Son through this period of discernment. Please keep them in your prayers during this significant step forward in their vocations at Our Lady of Dallas!
Br. Francis Gruber is an alumnus of Cistercian Preparatory School (‘01) and a graduate of Texas A&M (Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, ‘05) and the University of Chicago (Masters in Humanities, ‘13). Before joining the novitiate, he spent some time volunteering for the Catholic Worker Movement in Houston. He is the sixth alumnus of the school to make temporary vows at Our Lady of Dallas. Br. Raphael Schaner was born and raised on a thriving family farm in the area of San Diego, California. He joined the novitiate after graduating from the University of Dallas (Bachelor of Arts in Theology, ‘10; Masters in Humanities, ‘13). He is now the tenth alumnus of the university to make temporary vows at Our Lady of Dallas.
The transition from novice to junior brother is always significant. When asked about what he looked forward to in the coming year, Br. Raphael said, “I most looked forward to ‘growing up’ into a junior brother and taking on all the responsibilities that are part of it, in particular committing myself to the abbey, teaching at Cistercian Preparatory School, lovingly living out the vows.” To the delight of many students, Br. Raphael will have a chance to take on such responsibilities as he teaches Latin this year at the school. In addition, he will begin studying for the priesthood as he takes courses in philosophy and theology at the University of Dallas. Br. Francis too will begin studying for the priesthood at the University of Dallas and teaching at the Cistercian Preparatory School. He will teach English Lab to the First Form and says he is “really looking forward to interacting with the students and wider Cistercian community through the university and school.”
The juniorate is a period of more focused discernment as the junior brother begins to participate in the main work of the abbey – teaching. In addition to his studies at the university and work in the school, he will have the opportunity to deepen his relationships with Christ and his brothers in the community through a life of prayer and fraternity. And over the next three years, he will discover, God willing, his reply to the tender exhortation of St. Benedict in the Prologue to his Rule: “Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen!”
Please keep Br. Francis and Br. Raphael and all the monks of the abbey in your prayers, that we might always discern and carry out the will of God for our community.
Solemn Profession of Vows & Ordination to the Diaconate
With joy and gratitude we announce that on March 2, 2014 Br. Justin McNamara made his Solemn Profession of Vows and that on the following Saturday, March 8, he was ordained a deacon by Bishop Kevin Farrell. Br. Justin is the eleventh young man to make his solemn profession at Our Lady of Dallas since the summer of 2008. He is scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood on August 15, 2014 at the Abbey by Bishop Farrell.
For three years Br. Justin has worked in the school, teaching both religion and Latin. At the same time, he has also attended courses at the University of Dallas furthering his background in classical languages and literature while earning master’s degrees in theology and humanities. To many, Br. Justin epitomizes stability -- in his work, in his studies and in life as a member of Our Lady of Dallas. Although he was the only novice in his class, he moved through his discernment with characteristic focus and peace. When asked about that process, Br. Justin responded: “My discernment was always brief. I knew I was called to each one of the steps along the way. Following a radical conversion in college, God’s voice seemed loud and clear: Come and be one of my priests. This invitation then became more specific while I was in the seminary as I sought to find a community that served God and others in a monastic way of life. The call came precisely when I needed it. When, very providentially, I discovered Our Lady of Dallas, little hesitation remained. I found where God had been calling me to be one of his priests. Profession of solemn vows was indeed the end of a ‘long period of time’ but the continuation of a plan well under way in my journey with God.”
In the fall of 2014, Br. Justin will travel to the Cistercian Monastery of Heiligenkreuz in Austria to broaden his understanding of the Cistercian tradition and to deepen his knowledge of Latin and German. He will be among several brothers who in recent years have spent time in Europe to further their studies. All have studied with the hope that their scholastic efforts in such enriching environments would bear fruit for the monastery and for the greater Cistercian community. When asked why Our Lady of Dallas supports and encourages such programs of study, Abbot Peter replied: “I see two great values in the monks’ studies abroad. First, they have the opportunity to experience the Cistercian Order beyond our one monastery. They see the variety of communities, their demographics, apostolates, and liturgy. This experience helps the monk understand and appreciate our own community. Second, even if the monk does not earn a degree, he will advance his study in theology at an institution other than the University of Dallas, all the while still living in a Cistercian monastery. Such well and broadly formed monks will certainly be able to serve the larger Dallas community in any number of ways.”
Br. Justin is supported by a growing family, many of whom attended his vows and ordination. As we give praise to God for the vocations Our Lady of Dallas has received in recent years, let us remember to pray with gratitude for the families that fostered these young men and assisted them in their efforts to follow his call. And let us ask him to raise up more men and women in the Church ready to work with the “Lord of the harvest” (Matthew 9:38), enjoying the happiness of a life dedicated to the contemplative union of prayer and to the loving service of their neighbor.
Passing of Fr. David Balas
Please remember our beloved brother, Fr. David Balas, a distinguished theologian and long-time professor at the University of Dallas, who passed away peacefully on Saturday, February 8, 2014. His obituary may be found here. Let us pray for the repose of his soul, as we give thanks for the edifying witness of his love for a monastic life filled with study, teaching and priestly ministry! A moving tribute to Fr. David was written by Randall B. Smith, a former student and professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. It can be accessed here.
Fr. Ignatius in the News
We are proud to relay that Fr. Ignatius was recently interviewed by the Dallas Morning News about his artwork. In the article, Fr. Ignatius offers some comments about the origin of his vocation and what motivates his art. The article can be found here, and samples of his artwork can be seen here on our website.
This summer several monks of Dallas were able to visit Cistercian monasteries in America and around the world. Such visits are a blessing for the community, as they offer the monks an opportunity to increase their friendship and solidarity within the Order, as well as a chance to witness the Cistercian vocation lived out in different contexts.
In June, Fr. Abbot Peter, Fr. Thomas and Fr. John visited the Cistercian house of St. Emery in Budapest, Hungary, where the Congregation of Zirc held a “congregational chapter,” or reunion of the congregation’s major superiors and their elected representatives. After a full day of discussion and exchange among the monks and nuns present at St. Emery, the three monks from Dallas went to spend the night at the Abbey of Zirc, which lies a little over one-hundred kilometers outside Budapest. There they had the opportunity to pray and recreate with the monks. They also saw a beautiful and new state-funded museum dedicated to the history of the Cistercian Order in Hungary, as well as the newly renovated façade of the abbey church.
In addition to their visit to Hungary, Fr. Peter, Fr. Thomas and Fr. John visited the Cistercian monks and nuns of Stams in Austria, Seligenthal in Germany and Pra’d Mill in Italy. In each place they enjoyed the exceptional hospitality of their confreres and enriched the connection between Our Lady of Dallas and the other monasteries of the Order.
In early August, Fr. Stephen had the chance to visit St. Joseph Monastery, a Vietnamese foundation far out in the desert near San Bernardino, California. The monastery, a daughter-house of Phuóc Son (Vietnam), was founded in 2008 at the invitation of the bishop of San Bernardino. Today it is home to eight monks, whose work includes offering retreats and some farming. Fr. Stephen enjoyed his time with the community and he was quite impressed by its setting: “It’s a monastery in a real desert, with all the mysterious beauty of the desert: a quiet but challenging life, peaceful but never lazy.”
This summer, St. Joseph Monastery hosted three young Vietnamese Cistercians who took a break from their studies in Rome to visit America. Being friends of several of the young monks of Dallas, these three brothers also came to Our Lady of Dallas to renew their friendships and to attend the ordination of Fr. John on August 10.
Please keep all monks and nuns of the Cistercian Order in your prayers, as they seek to offer their lives in prayer and love, for God and neighbor.
Passing of Fr. Pascal Kis-Horvath
Please remember in prayer our beloved brother in Christ, Fr. Pascal Kis-Horvath, who passed away peacefully on Saturday morning, August 10. A rosary will be recited on Tuesday, August 13, at 7:30 p.m. in the Abbey Church. The Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Wednesday, August 14, at 10:00 a.m. in the Abbey Church. Burial follows at Calvary Hill Cemetery.
Fr. Pascal’s obituary, beautifully written by Fr. Abbot Denis, may be found here.
Let us all pray for the repose of Fr. Pascal’s soul, even as we give thanks for his uniquely rich life and wonderful ministry.
May he rest in peace.
Passing of Fr. Matthew Kovacs
Please remember in your prayers our beloved brother in Christ, Fr. Matthew Kovacs, who passed away peacefully Thursday night during his sleep. A rosary will be recited on Monday, July 15, at 7:30 p.m. in the Abbey Church. The Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Tuesday, July 16, at 10:00 a.m. in the Abbey Church. Burial follows at Calvary Hill Cemetery. There will also be a reception in the Abbey courtyard immediately following the Mass. Should there be need, overflow parking for both events will be directed to the University of Dallas’ parking lot B at the corner of Tom Braniff and Northgate, with shuttle bus service provided.
Fr. Matthew’s obituary can be accessed here.
Let us all continue to pray for the repose of Fr. Matthew’s soul, even as we give thanks for this wonderful and vivacious teacher, priest, monk and man, who has touched countless lives in his 50 years at the School and through his other ministries.
May he rest in peace.
The new landscaping at Cistercian is transforming the front of the Abbey and will create a green barrier between the Abbey and the adjacent roadways. When David Hocker, a landscape architect and Prep School alumnus, was first asked to design a new landscape, he saw it as an opportunity to create a setting that would enhance the beauty of the limestone church and provide a sort of outside sanctuary for those coming to the Abbey. With the project almost complete, monks and visitors are already raving.
Using such native trees as mesquite, Eve’s necklace, and cedar elm, Hocker essentially defined three walls of an exterior room, letting the church’s façade serve as a fourth wall. On two sides of the “room,” benches made of 8’-15’ cedar beams provide a place for people to sit and chat or to reflect. The design includes a quiet Marian garden, in which of the Abbey’s statue of Mary is more easily seen and appreciated for its beauty. Finally, oversized, irregular limestone pavers, each huge block skillfully cut and fit into place, provide a terrace, where people can again gather after Mass.
Standing on this terrace beneath the beautiful cedar elm, one sees just how beautiful the church is, in addition to finding a quiet, beautiful space for reflection and conversation. Hocker recently commented that “the impact this project is having is invaluable, and long overdue for the Abbey community.”
CPS Class 2012 Gives Sedes Magistrorum
We are happy to report that the Cistercian Class of 2012 has enhanced the beauty of our campus with a wonderful gift to the abbey and school. In honor of Fr. Peter Verhalen, who retired as headmaster last year to take up the office of abbot, and in thanksgiving for every other headmaster of the school, the Class of 2012 commissioned the Sedes Magistrorum (“The Seat of the Teachers”). The Sedes is a beautiful bench, made from the same limestone as the abbey church and placed at “Observation Point,” a particularly beautiful outlook along the new Stations of the Cross trail.
Shane Macedonio, student council president from 2011-2012 and presently a freshman at Harvard, announced the gift to the Cistercian community during the closing ceremonies of last school year: “Our class has a unique opportunity as we graduated during a historical year for Cistercian. This year marks not only the fiftieth anniversary of the school, but also Fr. Peter’s last year as its headmaster, after sixteen years of tireless work and selfless dedication. To show our sincere appreciation for all you have done for us, Father Peter, in a way that honors all of those that have helped make Cistercian the school it is today, we dedicate to you the Sedes Magistrorum. This bench, made of the same stone as the Abbey chapel, has been commissioned in honor of all of the headmasters—Father Damien, Father Denis, Father Henry Father Bernard, our beloved Form Master, Father Paul and all future headmasters—whose names, alongside yours, will be etched into the stone. Like the Chapel, the bench will represent stability and permanence, as it will remain much longer than any of us.”
The bench will make an excellent addition to our campus, and it will stand for many years as a reminder of the many gifts the Cistercian community has been given. Located on one of the highest and most secluded places on campus, the bench will offer a quiet place for prayer and reflection upon the last fifty years, as well as a place to plan for the next.
On Thursday, April 12, 2012, Our Lady of Dallas celebrated the benediction of Fr. Abbot Peter Verhalen, who was elected and installed as the third abbot of the monastery on February 15. Abbot Peter is a native Texan, and he is the first American to be elected abbot of Our Lady of Dallas. Before graduating from the Cistercian Preparatory School in 1973, he spent a year enrolled at a Cistercian school in Schlierbach, Austria. Since entering Our Lady of Dallas in August, 1975, he has served the community in several capacities; besides being a teacher and a form master, Abbot Peter was also headmaster of the school for sixteen years and prior of the monastery for eighteen years. Needless to say, his roots in the Cistercian community and tradition are wide and deep.
The benediction of Abbot Peter was a very special moment for Cistercian. Undoubtedly one of the largest events ever celebrated in the Abbey Church, the day was marked in a special way by the presence of so many alumni and current students and their families. Almost a third of the pews had to be reserved for Abbot Peter’s former students and their families. To accommodate the remaining—and overflowing—congregation, a tent was erected on the lawn in front of the Abbey Church in which the mass and benediction could be viewed on live video. Everything was in fact captured on film and can still be viewed at the Cistercian You Tube site.
In addition to former and current students of Cistercian, we were also blessed by the presence of so many friends and supporters of the monastery, including those from the University of Dallas. Collegium Cantorum, under the direction of Marilyn Walker and Fr. Ralph, attended and sang at the mass. Their presence at our liturgies continues to be a tremendous gift to the community. Several priests from the surrounding dioceses also came and concelebrated at the mass, filling the sanctuary well beyond its normal capacity. In addition, we were honored by the presence of four bishops from the Dallas and Fort Worth dioceses: Bishop Kevin Farrell (Dallas) and his auxiliary bishops, Bishop Mark Seitz and Bishop Douglass Deshotel, and Bishop Kevin Vann (Fort Worth). Finally, several representatives of the Cistercian Order were in attendance from various monasteries around the globe: Abbot General Mauro, who is the head of the Cistercian Order (Rome), Archabbot Sixtus, who is the President of the Congregation of Zirc (Hungary), Abbot Raphael (Rougemont, Canada), Fr. Dominic (Chau Son Monastery, California), Fr. Anthony (St. Joseph Monastery, California), and Sister Anne Marie, who is the novice-mistress of Valley of Our Lady Monastery in Wisconsin. The presence of so many fellow Cistercians made a notable impression on many members of the community. Br. John remarked, “These days, during which we have had so many members of other monasteries as our guests, have really instilled in me a sense of solidarity with my fellow Cistercians. I now find myself often thinking and praying for the health and happiness of these other communities in our order. That feels very special.”
Bishop Farrell offered a beautiful homily on the vocation of the abbot, which can be found here. His homily, which included several thoughtful remarks on the Rule of St. Benedict, prompted Abbot Peter to joke to Bishop Farrell about the “Benedictine vocation” that he "appears" to have missed. Abbot General Mauro also gave a wonderful reflection, which can be found here.
Though Abbot Peter was officially the abbot of Our Lady of Dallas from the moment of his election and installation, his benediction is a necessary act of public prayer during which the community testifies to the grace of his election and, in union with the heads of the local Church, the Cistercian Order, and the faithful, asks for God’s blessing. During the rite Abbot Peter received the Rule of St. Benedict, with which he was charged to “guide and sustain” his brothers in the monastery. The Rule of St. Benedict is foundational for our Cistercian life and representative of the whole tradition of monastic life, our vast spiritual inheritance. He also received a special ring, a “seal of fidelity” and a sign of the love of a father, who is ever faithful to his sons and to the service of charity. Although he is not a bishop, he also received the pontifical insignia of the miter and crozier in recognition of his role as pastor of the monks of the monastery and of the ministry he and his community offers to the local Church beyond the walls of the monastery.
It is with great gratitude and trust in God’s Providence that the Cistercian community receives the election of Abbot Peter. Please pray for him and the rest of the monks, as they strive to grow in monastic life and to serve the community that surrounds them.
A Cistercian Sociological Study
We are always so happy to hear about the college successes of our alumni, and the recent achievements of Thomas Z. Horton ('11) ("Zach") are no exception. While in his first year at Princeton, Zach has produced a very impressive sociological study on the monastic community of Cistercian. Titled Hungarian-American Cistercians in Texas: An Immigrant Community in Transition, the study clearly represents the fruits of many, many hours of work. After spending a large amount of time conducting interviews, writing and analyzing surveys, and pouring through any other available resource, Zach has written a paper that seeks to understand the course of Cistercian's fifty-year history and the dynamics of the monastic community, with a particular focus on the way in which the different cultures (Hungarian and American) and generations relate to each other. The work is a timely gift, given this year's fiftieth-anniversary celebration of the Abbey and Preparatory School. It is also a very fun read, full of pictures and "insider" quotations from many of the monks. Enjoy!
New Abbot Elected at Our Lady of Dallas
We are pleased to announce that on Wednesday, February 15 the Cistercian Monastery elected Fr. Peter Verhalen as the new Abbot of the Cistercian Abbey Our Lady of Dallas. Fr. Abbot Peter was installed shortly after the election, and immediately assumed the full responsibilities of his office. Archabbot Sixtus, who arrived on Monday from the Abbey of Zirc in Hungary, presided at the election and installation.
Over the next several weeks, the Cistercian community will elect the Abbot's Council, and Fr. Abbot Peter will appoint various officers within the monastery as well as the Headmaster in the Prep School. In this interim period, Fr. Paul McCormick as Assistant Headmaster will carry extra responsibilities for the day-to-day operations of the School.
A formal, public Benediction of the new Abbot will be scheduled during the week after Easter on a date convenient for Abbot General Mauro from Rome, Archabbot Sixtus from Hungary, and Bishop Farrell of Dallas. Invitations to the Benediction will be sent out once the date and time are finalized.
Fr. Peter Verhalen (CPS '73) was born in Texas in 1955, and he entered Our Lady of Dallas in August 1975. He made his solemn profession in 1980 and was ordained to the priesthood in April of the same year. He was Form Master for Class 1989, 1997, and 2003. Besides fulfilling his duties as Headmaster, at the school Fr. Peter teaches Latin and Church History.
After the election Archabbot Sixtus spent several days with the community before returning to the Abbey of Zirc. He toured the school and spent a lot of time with some of the Hungarian-born fathers. Before he left he posed with Abbot Peter and Abbot Denis for a memorable "three abbot" photo shoot before the Abbey Church.
Please join Fr. Abbot Peter and the entire Cistercian community in expressing our profound gratitude to Fr. Abbot Denis for his 24 years of dedicated service, and for preparing the community for this next step.
And please continue to remember Fr. Abbot Peter and the entire Cistercian community in your prayers.