Closure of the Monastery of Fujimi (Japan)

Dom Roman Paur, Prior of Fujimi
September 2016


FujimiIn December 2014, the monastic chapter of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota (USA), voted to close Trinity Benedictine Monastery in Fujimi, its dependent priory in Japan. The priory was established in Tokyo in 1947, and then moved to the small city of Fujimi in the Nagano Prefecture in 1999.

In 1931 monks from the abbey of Beuron came to Japan and founded the first Benedictine monastery in the country. It had to be closed in 1940, but two of the monks, Fathers Hildebrand Yaiser and Joseph Schmerbach, remained behind. Shortly after the war they traveled to the United States in search of a monastery willing to support a Benedictine presence in Japan. Saint John’s responded positively to their request, and a priory/parish was established in the Meguro ward of Tokyo. The work of the monks in Meguro was primarily pastoral, serving a rapidly increasing post-war Catholic population of converts.    

The Benedictine community in Tokyo was always small. Although some Japanese did express an interest in monastic life and joined the community, only two made solemn vows and persevered. In the mid-1990s, the community, with the encouragement and support of its motherhouse in Minnesota, decided to turn the parish over to the Tokyo Archdiocese and to establish a free-standing monastery.  It was hoped that a more contemplative form of monastic life would attract Japanese men considering a monastic vocation. Land was purchased in Fujimi, a small city in the mountainous area about 200 km west of Tokyo, and a Japanese architect was commissioned to design the monastic complex.

The community moved from Tokyo to Fujimi in the summer of 1999. Over the course of the next 16 years there were, in fact, a good number of men who expressed an interest in joining the community. Seven of them completed the novitiate and made simple vows. However, only one (and he from China) professed solemn vows. In November 2014 the five solemnly professed monks at the Fujimi community voted unanimously to petition the monastic chapter of Saint John’s Abbey to close the monastery.
Closing a monastery is a multi-faceted challenge for everyone involved: the monks themselves, the faithful whom they serve, the local church, their non-Christian neighbors and friends, and the public at large. Some of the major issues that required our attention were

1. Whether or not to close: Beginning in June 2014 the community had a series of discussions about its future and concluded that it could not survive. The reasons included

• the advanced age of several of the monks;
• the inability of the motherhouse to continue sending monks to Japan;
• the absence of a Japanese-speaking monk for longer term leadership and formation;
• the unlikelihood of attracting Japanese vocations.

The initial challenge during these discussions was to recognize that hopeful dreams had to give way to historical facts and a realistic
assessment of the future. Once there was consensus in this area, the rest of the process became smoother and less painful. Coming to such a consensus, however, took time and demanded that the viewpoint of each monk be expressed, heard, and respected. Early on it was recognized that others needed to be involved in making the decision to close. In our case, the members of an advisory board and the oblates of the monastery were informed and asked for their opinion. We had to find ways to respond to their expressions of regret and resistance as we explained the painful facts to them and the conclusion to which they pointed.

2. The impact of the decision on each monk: The decision to close the monastery can have a traumatic impact on some members of the community. It is crucial that the feelings of individual monks be respected in community discussions and also in one-on-one conversations with the superior about planning for and deciding on the future of each member of the community.

3. Developing a flexible timeline for specific decisions and actions: In order to attend to all the details involved in closing a monastery and to reassure the community that progress is being made, it is important to draw up an agenda with a schedule for the completion of each task. Such tasks include

• communicating with individuals (e.g., the local Ordinary, close friends and supporters of the monastery), the local community, and the general public about the decision to close and the timeline for doing so;
• informing oblates, donors, and frequent guests of the monastery directly and through community publications;
• phasing down pastoral, sacramental, and other ministries;
• having the property evaluated by respected appraisers;
• promoting the sale of the property to other religious institutions and, if necessary, to the public at large;
• meeting legal requirements of public notice of sale, property liens, and mortgages;
• confirming that property lines are accurate;
• itemizing valuable objects such as books, furniture, art and artifacts, and determining how they are to be disposed of.

Inevitably, important but unanticipated issues will arise and will have to be attended to.

Fujimi24. Documenting important decisions, authorizations, and records: There will very likely be legal requirements (civil and canonical) to furnish appropriate documentation of such actions as

• resolving to close the monastery and dissolve the tax-exempt corporation;
• authorizing the local superior to initiate the closing process and to alienate property;
• selling or distributing moveable goods;
• clearing all legal claims (liens) on the property;
• deconsecrating the church;
• informing civil authorities and recording transactions as appropriate, etc.

5. Disposing of moveable properties: This is not a simple task and can be quite tedious and even painful. Moveable properties include such items as books, furniture, art and artifacts, vestments, liturgical vessels, worship aids, etc.

It will also be necessary to review documents of all kinds to determine which should be preserved in the archives. Financial and insurance records should be catalogued and made easily accessible.  Architectural, engineering, and construction drawings, mechanical operations, warranties, and the like, should also be preserved for future owners of the property.

6. Preparing and Disposing of real estate: There are especially important decisions to be made about the property and the buildings. Are there specific maintenance requirements? Do electrical or heating and cooling systems need to be upgraded? Are the buildings in need of a thorough cleaning? Is there work to be done on the grounds? Should the future use of the monastic land and buildings be restricted to religious purposes—Catholic, Christian, other—or can they be sold to the highest bidder without consideration for their future use? Can the property be donated to support a specific cause or purpose? Who benefits from the sale of the property? How should the money from the sale of the property be used? How is the disposal of the real estate managed and by whom? Who is responsible for making these decisions?

7. Community meetings: The importance of regular meetings of the community for updates and clarification cannot be overemphasized. Such meetings are necessary to communicate information and to involve the community in continuing decision making, as well as to minimize rumors, discouragement, and alienation. It is also important that individual monks have regular discussions with their superiors regarding plans for their future.

8. Finale: Monasteries have a special place in the hearts of many.  For that reason, carefully planned farewell liturgies and other events are important to honor the blessings the monastic community has received from and given to the individuals and communities who have been associated with it throughout its history. Such celebrations can also help promote acceptance and closure.  

9. Learning: Closing a monastery is likely an entirely new and challenging experience for all the monks. There may well be a sense of urgency to get the task done and over with as soon as the decision to close has been made. However, it is especially important to provide the time needed for everyone in the community to work though the range of emotions that accompanies the closing of a monastery, and also to allow for and encourage input from such constituents as advisory councils, oblates, parishioners (if a parish or parishes are involved), donors, and neighbors.  These people can
provide important and helpful information for considering other options or for preparing themselves and the public for the decision to close.
Being alert to canonical and civil requirements including, for example, a property alienation tax to be paid to the Vatican, can forestall legal obstacles that might otherwise complicate the process of closing.

Finally, the role of the superior is a demanding one. He must be patient but persistent, flexible but firm, capable of absorbing frustration without becoming resentful, willing to allow sufficient time for discussion and decision making, considerate of confreres with other ideas, capable of organizing and implementing the sequence of required actions, focused on the goal, and effective in communicating clearly, in detail, and in a timely fashion the actions that have been taken and those that still await implementation.


As of this writing (early September 2016) the canonical and civil corporation that was Trinity Benedictine Monastery has been dissolved. On August 11, the local bishop, Raphael Masahiro Umemura of the Yokohama Diocese, celebrated a closing liturgy at which about 120 friends of the monastery participated. Abbot John Klassen of Saint John’s concelebrated and offered closing words of gratitude and farewell. On the following Sunday, August 14, the community went to Saint Anselm’s church in Meguro for a final liturgy and reception at its former parish, following which Abbot John and three of the community traveled to Saint John’s. The Japanese member of the community and I returned to Fujimi to attend to the final details of selling the land and buildings and disposing of the remaining property of the monastery. The monastery will be purchased by the Fujimi Kogen Hospital.