Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB,
President of the AIM
The Council of the AIM met in November 2015 at the Abbey of Fischingen in Switzerland. This was an opportunity for the AIM to pay tribute to Father Leo Müller former prior of the monastery, for many years member of the Council of the AIM and still devoted to the our interests. We received a warm welcome, and the witness of the community was altogether a tonic. The current prior, Dom Gregor Brazerol, replaces Fr Leo on the Council. The community makes an interesting example of monastic life in Europe, a good illustration of the theme of this issue on monasteries and their administration.
The community was founded in 1138 to provide a shelter for pilgrims on the way to the Abbey of Einsiedeln. At the beginning of the thirteenth century it was a very big monastery. In the sixteenth century there remained only five monks, who finally joined the Protestant reform. The abbey was re-founded in the seventeenth century and then flourished until it was dissolved by the secular powers in 1848. When in 1973 the article of the Swiss constitution which forbade the foundation of new religious houses or the re-foundation of former religious houses was abolished, the Benedictines returned to Fischingen, sent by the Abbey of Einsiedeln, and there opened a priory, of which the abbey church remained also the parish church. Fischingen belongs to the Swiss Congregation.
Since 1973 the community has remained small, some ten monks. It rents part of the old monastic buildings, of which the rest has been transformed into a hostel which is open to both individuals and seminars of all kinds, not only religious. The community provides the Divine Office and is in charge of the parish. We had the opportunity to take part in the Sunday Eucharist, which happened to be celebrated for friends of the monastery and their families, a noble celebration. There is no doubt of the spiritual influence of the community, and it was inspiring to see such a group so active, despite its small numbers, and yet living a very simple life. It must be said that the framework of their life is both beautiful and compelling.
The focus of this issue of the Bulletin is on the administration of monasteries, including the financial dimension. The administration of a monastery is of course a function of the life of a community as a whole, whether new or old. It depends on the history of a group and the personalities involved. Whatever the context, the ability of a community to live consists in a good balance between a healthy autonomy and a generous sharing of life. This requires a solid formation on the part of the members of the community and the acquisition of competence in all the spheres necessary to avoid permanent dependence on the charity of others as a result of incompetence. Of course a generous sharing between between richer and poorer communities will always be necessary, and indeed remains part of the Christian ideal, but it must never become a pretext for carelessness and incompetence or inefficiency in running the affairs of the monastery.
Nevertheless, what exactly is this competence? Without doubt, modern society provides tools of administration, and it is important to know them, for they can help notably. But it is equally important to draw on spiritual resources, especially those which St Benedict offers in his Rule, and to use them as guidelines for the whole administration of communities. In this day and age it is important to develop modules of practical formation, built on these foundations and the contributions of our various cultures in the field of human, economic and structural administration. When travelling around monasteries, or merely receiving news of them, one comes across many problematic situations which seem insoluble, either in the sphere of the exercise of authority or in the relationship of obedience, community life, money, chastity. This can occur even in the most ordinary daily life, at the heart of the liturgy, or in the relationship to guests, to the Church or to the local population.
In this issue of the Bulletin, therefore, we are engaging in a renewed reading of St Benedict as a fresh look at all the dimensions of life which touch on a healthy approach to the administration of individuals and communities. Fr Ezekiel Agaté of Agbang (Togo) gives a check-list of elements which seem to him important for the good administration of communities, echoing the conclusions of his master in this subject at Lille (France). Fr Peter Eghwrudjakpor of Ewu Ishan (Nigeria) gives the witness of his own monastery, which gives an example in the matter of autonomy and solidarity. Mother Adelaida Ygrubay, of the Tutzing Congregation in the Philippines, presents the complex administration of the communities in that country of which she is in charge. In a wholly different context, Mother Pascale Barreau, abbess of Chantelle in France, outlines the remarkable story of the cosmetics enterprise run by that community and its implications for the organisation of the life of the monastery.
In addition, as a dialogue with different sectors of our society, two specialists in management present to us their experiences with monasteries. Monastic news gathers together several experiences of formation, notably those given to French-speaking and English-speaking formators, and also the offering of the Abbey of St John’s Collegeville and several sessions of the IFHIM at Quebec. We also give an account of the Conference of the CIB held in France in September 2015. Some reflections on a journey to monasteries of the USA by Fathers Jean-Pierre Longeat and Mark Butlin in the name of the AIM give a very concrete impression of communities in various places.