TWO Benedictine monks from the US have begun a €1m project to develop a monastery at a former country manor in Meath in total reliance on divine providence.
Dom Mark Kirby and Dom Benedict Anderson are following what they describe as “a call from God” to relocate from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to form a new community of monks at Silverstream in Stamullen.
The monks need to raise €600,000 to purchase the property, which dates from 1843, along with an additional €500,000 to renovate the house and adjoining church.
For the past two months, two aspiring monks, a 25-year-old from Oklahoma and a 31-year-old from Meath have been living alongside the monks with a view to joining the new community.
The monks spent their first winter in Ireland living in temporary cells as the main house has no functional heating. To date, they have spent almost €100,000 on renovation works, including the installation of a bookstore in the old gatehouse.
“All money comes from donors, people who come forward and offer to help. We generate barely enough income to pay the weekly grocery bill through the bookshop. But the local people have been extremely supportive and kind, bringing us bread, scones, eggs, and donations of vegetables,” Dom Kirby said.
His grandmother, Margaret Gilbride Kirby, emigrated to the US from Finisklin in Leitrim in 1912, a century before his arrival in Ireland last year.
Dom Andersen, who became a monk in June, explains divine providence as total reliance on God’s provision. “We don’t have any grand schemes as if this monastery is functioning through our own ingenuity. Far from that, we rely on God for everything. That’s the only explanation as to why two monks from America would drop everything and move to Ireland, because we believe that God has called us here. And we ask God everyday, ‘Please don’t leave us hanging!’”
Dom Andersen’s work in the monastery involves editing prayer books in Latin and English, much like the scribes in ancient Irish monasteries, but with a digital twist.
“My work in the monastery is desktop publishing and book design. I suppose that would make me and my Macintosh a kind of digital scriptorium,” he said.
Competent in social media, Dom Benedict set up the priory’s website, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.
The monks adhere to a rhythm of daily prayer, dating back to the 6th century including matins at daybreak (5am), lauds at 8am, and mass at 10am. Vespers is followed by supper, then compline (conclusion of daily prayers) and the monks maintain strict silence through the night until morning.
“The purpose of a monastery is to cause people to stop and say, if this place exists and these men are living the way they are, then there is a God and he is worth it all,” Dom Kirby said. A major part of the Benedictine ethos is centred on hospitality. During the interview, a woman appears at the door seeking advice following the sudden death of her great-grandson. The monastery regularly receives troubled visitors “out of the blue”.
“They come in distress, they may have lost their job or marriage, or a family member. They don’t know where to go and they come to us,” Dom Benedict said.
One of the monks’ aims is to establish Silverstream Priory as a place of retreat for members of the clergy.
“Today many [priests] experience loneliness, and a lack of support. They are looking for a place [of hospitality, silence, and prayer]. For priests it’s very comforting to come to a place [to experience] the sacred liturgy celebrated with beauty,” Dom Mark said.