Abbey Announcements

Our Lady of Dallas Welcomes Novices

On August 19, 2017, during first vespers of the solemnity of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Our Lady of Dallas welcomed two young men into the novitiate, Br. Christopher (Michael) Kalan and Br. Aelred (Collin) Backus.

Two young men present themselves for the novitiate.

After the community finished chanting the psalms of vespers, Fr. Ignatius, who is the novice master at Our Lady of Dallas, led the two young men from the pews into the sanctuary. Prostrating themselves before the abbot, they asked for “The mercy of God and of the Order.” The abbot replied, “Rise in the name of the Lord.” With this gesture, we enter monastic life by frankly confessing our neediness and our desire for God; and the first response of the monks who receive our petition is a word of consolation encouraging us to step forward with confidence in God’s grace, that is, to “rise” in his name.

Br. Christopher enters the novitiate after graduating with a degree in physics from the University of Dallas and engineering from Texas A&M University. His skills as a handyman have already made quite an impression among the monks. Br. Aelred is a graduate of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where he majored in philosophy and theology. Both men are now beginning the time of discernment toward the monastic life and the priesthood. In significant ways, the novice withdraws from his former way of life in order to dedicate himself more intensely to prayer, education, and human and spiritual growth. One of the ways in which the novice typically grows is precisely in his ability to discern the will of God. Like Samuel, we all need to be taught to perceive his voice, and so we need a community to teach us (cf. 1 Samuel 3:1-18).

Fr. Julius and Br. Aelred celebrate after investiture.

Br. Aelred is familiar with the ways in which our discernment can grow. When asked about his own discernment, he replied: “My attraction to the monastic life was initially rather immature because I did not yet have the foundation of a daily prayer life. It wasn’t until my sophomore year at college that I really began to explore the depths of God’s calling and the self-abandonment required for a response. When discernment was coupled with the daily attempts to be with God and develop a relationship with Him, I was able to know myself better and understand that God’s will for my life corresponds with my deepest desire, by now monastic life, so long as I pursue it selflessly.”

While still in college, Br. Aelred wrote a thesis about the Cistercian abbot and saint who is now his namesake, St. Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167). We are fortunate to have St. Aelred now as a patron, and to be reminded about what he taught by his writings and way of life. When asked about St. Aelred, Br. Aelred said, “I think his example is necessary in a monastic community. His emphasis is on community and affectionate fraternal love. As abbot, he loved and treated his monks as sons and provoked them to consider unity with Christ as the ultimate goal of every friendship.” Indeed, our goal at Our Lady of Dallas is to weld the two loves commanded by Jesus, namely, the love of God and neighbor (Mt 22:35-40; Mk 12:28-34), into a communal search for God in the monastic life.

Abbot Peter invests Br. Christopher with his habit.

Some legends about St. Christopher offer a similar lesson. St. Christopher was a tall man (much like Br. Christopher), who one day agreed to carry people across a dangerous river for God’s sake. One of the children he carried became heavier and heavier the further they went into the river, to the point where it seemed to St. Christopher that he was bearing “the weight of the whole world” on his shoulders. The child explained that he was God, the Creator and Redeemer, and that he was indeed bearing with him the weight of the world. So, St. Christopher bore his brothers’ burdens for God’s sake, and so helped them to arrive at salvation (cf. Gal 6:2). During the investiture, Abbot Peter said, “We hope that Br. Christopher, like his patron saint, will bear each of us on his shoulders as we cross through this life and that our sins and failings will not become too burdensome.”

Please pray for us as we grow as a community, and join us in praying for Br. Christopher and Br. Aelred, as we assist them in discerning the will of God and in learning the love that allows us to embrace his will totally.

Fifty Years of Priesthood

On Sunday, August 20, Fr. Bernard celebrated his fiftieth-year jubilee as a priest during the 9:00 mass. Just one week earlier he had flown home from Hungary, where he has been serving our motherhouse, the Abbey of Zirc, for almost two years. Since he is close to so many different communities on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Fr. Bernard has found several opportunities to celebrate his jubilee – seven, so far (Budafok, Kismaros, Zirc, Budapest, Stams, Székesfehérvár and finally Dallas).

Fr. Bernard and friends at Stams, Austria.

After finishing his theological studies, Fr. Bernard was ordained in Europe at the Jesuitenkirche in Innsbruck, Austria, which is exactly where his older brother, Fr. Henry Marton, had been ordained eighteen years earlier by the same bishop. Fr. Bernard celebrated his first mass as a priest at the Abbey of Stams, with the same preacher delivering the homily that preached at his brother’s first mass. Now fifty years later, Fr. Bernard returned to Stams to celebrate his jubilee. He observed that some things were the same, others different: “To be able to celebrate at the same altar, wearing the same vestments and signing the same visitor's book that I signed fifty years ago made the circle complete. I returned to my roots in many ways at this mass. With most of my family members now deceased, many of my adopted families from the US were present and sitting in the same pews that my original family occupied half a century ago. It was a gut-wrenching experience to look at them and feel their presence. Three of the original concelebrants were with me as well, and the rest I visited in the cemetery after the festivities.”

Fifty years is a long time, and so a jubilee easily inspires gratitude. After fifty years of priestly ministry, Fr. Bernard says that he is especially grateful for the gift of perseverance. As the first priest to be ordained as a member of the community at Our Lady of Dallas, his road was certainly not without its challenges. When asked about his long ministry, he responded, “I cherish all aspects of my vocation as a monk, teacher and priest.” We too pray with gratitude for Fr. Bernard and his ministry. May God give him every grace to complete his years of service, and especially now during his time at Zirc.

Art Exhibition at the University of Dallas

The Beatrice M. Haggerty Gallery at the University of Dallas invites you to Modern Sacred: The Saint John’s Bible and Selections from the Permanent Collection, an exhibition showcasing permanent collection highlights alongside the Heritage Edition Volume “Gospels and Acts” from The Saint John’s Bible, the first handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine monastery since the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. For more information on the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible visit saintjohnsbible.org. For more about Year of The Saint John's Bible at the University of Dallas visit here. 

St. John's Bible Image

All works in this exhibition are by artists who sought new forms, gestures, and materials to make manifest the Christian imagination. Modern Sacred offers a rare opportunity to examine how contemporary art explores, illuminates and represents the sacred. There will be opportunities for viewers to turn each page of the Heritage Edition of the Bible witnessing firsthand the beauty of traditional and contemporary print and illumination in action. Framed prints from other volumes of the Heritage Edition will also extend viewer’s knowledge and experience of this intricate combination of scripture and art. The project of The Saint John's Bible has been called "one of the extraordinary undertakings of our time," by Smithsonian Magazine. Select artists from the university’s permanent collection include several of the Art Department’s early founding faculty — Lyle Novinski, Heri Bert Bartscht and the Rev. Phillip Szeitz (all three professors emeritus) — as well as Cistercians Fr. Ignatius Peacher and Fr. Damian Szodenyi of Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, and well-known Californian artist, nun and educator Sister Mary Corita Kent. 

Abbey Renovations

Over the last year, the Abbey underwent several renovations to its buildings. Most of these were designed to increase our ability to engage the wider community. Thus, the lobby was expanded and the parlors were renovated and refurnished. An extension to the west wing was made in order to create a larger classroom with an independent entrance, and so to allow student guests to come and go freely without having to pass through the cloister.

Porch leading up to the renovated guest house.

Finally, a less academic space was created in the guest house (which also received several improvements of its own) to host less formal events like receptions, Bible studies, video presentations and seminars. This enhances the primary function of the guest house, which is to provide a place for families to stay overnight when visiting one of the monks.

Other renovations to the Abbey were made to assist the internal activities of the monks. The space for the library was expanded on the first floor. While all the books were off the shelves, improvements were made to the digital catalog and organization of the library. In addition, three new bedrooms were created on the second floor of the extension to the west wing (these bedrooms are therefore just above the new classroom). Finally, the most exciting renovation is undoubtedly the crypt built next to the church to house the deceased members of the Abbey.

Renovated library in the Abbey.

All these renovations were made possible by the generous community that surrounds and supports the Cistercian Abbey and School. A campaign was launched in 2014 with the goal of raising $10 M to meet the needs of the Abbey and School. Thanks to the support of many donors, we need less than $60K to meet our goal. Construction on the Abbey projects began in the spring of 2016 and is just now being finished. Work on the Science Building at the School was begun in earnest as soon as the boys were dismissed for the summer in 2017.

 

Coming Home

Abbot Peter blesses the new crypt.

Over the last year, the Abbey has undergone a series of renovations. Among these renovations was a crypt built adjacent to the church to hold the remains of ninety-six monks. It sits underneath the earth in a hill next to the church, but the ceiling touches the surface and so allows for a skylight to run along most of the ceiling of the crypt.

The crypt was blessed on Pentecost, Sunday June 4, 2017 during a mass for the Memorare Society, which is the planned giving society at Cistercian.

 

A skylight illumines the entire crypt.

For decades, deceased members of the Abbey were buried in a plot at Calvary Hill Cemetery in Dallas, Texas.  Now, all twenty-one deceased monks are back home, as it were. During July and August, their bodies were transferred two or three at a time into the new crypt. Each time a group of monks and associates from Calvary Hill Cemetery gathered to pray over the caskets before re-entombing them in the new crypt.

The story was covered by The Dallas Morning News in their piece A Brotherhood Made Whole. We are very grateful to the many generous donors who made this crypt into a reality.

Through the mercy of God may our brothers rest in peace with all the faithful departed.

Fr. Melchior Chladek

Fr. Melchior Chladek

Please remember in your prayers our beloved brother in Christ, Fr. Melchior Chladek, who passed away peacefully on Wednesday, June 14. A rosary will be offered for him on Friday, June 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the Abbey Church. The Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Saturday, June 24, at 10:00 a.m. in the Abbey Church, with an interment in the Abbey crypt afterward. A reception will follow in the Guest House.

Fr. Melchior’s obituary can be found here. He was the last survivor of the group of Hungarian Cistercians who founded the Cistercian Monastery Our Lady of Dallas. Let us pray for the repose of his soul, as we give thanks for his life and ministry.