December 20, 2013

The O Antiphons

Starting on December 17th we sing the O antiphons at Vespers through December 23rd.  We have a tradition at OLM to give short talks at chapter time each of these mornings.   Different sisters sign up to give a talk.  Yesterday Sr. Grace gave a talk on the Root of Jesse O antiphon.  It was so good that I decided to put it on the blog so that you wouldn't miss it.
We are having an ice storm in Iowa today.  It is impossible to walk outside!  I hear that snow is coming.

O Root of Jesse, you stand as a sign for the peoples; before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse.  Come, save us, and do not delay.

One of my favorite Mary Oliver poems is one entitled “Can you Imagine?”

“Can You Imagine?”

“For example, what the trees do
not only in lightning storms
or the watery dark of a summer’s night
or under the white nets of winter
but now, and now, and now – whenever
we’re not looking.  Surely you can’t imagine
they don’t dance, from the root up, wishing
to travel a little, not cramped so much as wanting
a better view, or more sun, or just as avidly
more shade – surely you can’t imagine they just
stand there loving every
minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings
of the years slowly and without a sound
thickening, and nothing different unless the wind,
and then only in its own mood, comes
to visit, surely you can’t imagine
patience, and happiness, like that.”

            I think of it sometimes when we have today’s antiphon, and think how hard it is to imagine that God chose to reveal his salvation in this way – in one man, rooted in one family in one nation. I mean can you imagine?  Surely you can’t imagine he didn’t want to travel a little, not cramped so much as wanting others to have a better view of him, or to tell more people about his Father’s mercy, or to get to someplace where his message would be better received –where he could live a long life healing and teaching.  Surely you can’t imagine that he wanted to pass from this earth leaving nothing behind but a small band of scared followers to spread the good news.      
            God rooted himself by his incarnation.  The all-powerful Word willed to be confined to a place, to a family, to a body.  God chose a particular human life, and a short one at that, and one many today would consider extremely confined (even sheltered)– no great career arc, no great romance, no children, never going beyond the bounds of his provincial little country.  He didn’t experience “everything” as people often say he did – not being a woman, not growing old.  Yet in that one limited life we see the gathering of the whole of human history and the whole of divinity.  This is the mystery.  And in sharing that life, all of human experience somehow is contained in Him.
            Can we imagine that this was his joy? That although he could have picked any number of other ways to manifest himself  in the world, he chose this way because it seemed the most beautiful to him?  That he delighted in how one limited life could open onto eternity?  Even harder, can we imagine that he delights in dwelling in the cramped spaces of our own being, for no matter how much room we make for him, it is not much space for the eternal Word.  That he wants to be rooted in us, that his growth in us might be our own.  That whatever our individual limitations are they don’t take away from his happiness, but are part of it.  That our historical particularities are part of what makes us appealing soil for the Word.  All we have to do is, being rooted in him, stand there loving every minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings slowly thickening, and the occasional wind, even when the tree we are rooted to is the cross.    

December 16, 2013

End of Candy Season

Today we had the last of candy production for the year.  Both of our coating lines were running to produce the last boxes of coated caramels for this year.  We all breathe a sigh of relief when this day come.  We've produced enough caramels to meet demand!  All the work is not over with yet.  We will be shipping for the rest of the week.  It has been a very good 'candy season'.  Sales were good, no major equipment breakdowns occurred and we are tired but happy.

December 14, 2013

Our Lady of Guadalupe

 On December 12th we celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  We decorate for it as it is a very special feast for the America's.  We pull out our statue of Juan Diego who saw the apparitions at Tepeyac and whose tilma now hangs in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe outside of Mexico City.  The tilma has on it the miraculous image of Our Lady.  We have a print of Our Lady of Guadalupe hanging in our cloister

December 10, 2013

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Yesterday we celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  A few years ago our Sr. Grace was preparing a Chapter talk for this feast.  In order to prepare for it she did this drawing which she shared with us when she gave the talk.  Someone suggested it become our next Christmas card; which it did.  

An article appeared in the Tablet by Richard John Neuhaus; the recently deceased theologian.  He had received the Christmas card.  He  commented that he had never seen Mary and Eve together and was quite taken by the drawing.  The Christmas card also contained a poem written by our Sr. Columba:
Her poem was noticed by the composer Frank La Rocca in California and he wrote asking permission to put the poem to music.  The piece was first performed in Glasgow, Scotland.  Listen:
We started selling the cards as Christmas cards and blank cards as their was a large request for them.  We even started making available matted prints because so many people asked for them.
The drawing and the poem fill us with hope, Advent hope.  It must be why it's so popular.

November 28, 2013


Flower arrangement under the altar.

Thanksgiving decorations for the refectory.
Happy Thanksgiving to all who view our blog!  One aspect of being a Cistercian with a vow of poverty is the need to be creative.  Sr. Myra grew the above gourds in her garden.  She carved out these and added a votive candle and shellacked them for our Thanksgiving table.  We celebrate Thanksgiving the way most Americans do with a few additions.  We had a beautiful feast day Mass and then went to work at candy ( a tradition of ours) followed by a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  In the afternoon we do something together as a community.  After Vespers we gather in the kitchen and pull out the leftovers and start eating again!  We then go back to Church and have Compline in the sanctuary.  We hope you had a great day too!

November 9, 2013

The Fall Harvest

Combiner cuts down the corn and removes the corn from the cob
Corn is poured into wagons

Harvested corn
Fields yet to be harvested

The weather in Iowa is cold and windy.  A perfect day to harvest the corn in our fields.  The crop this year is bountiful which is a real blessing as last years crop was very scant because of the drought.  It is beautiful to watch as the corn stalks disappear and the golden corn pours out into the wagons.  The deer are not far behind , gleaning any corn they can find.

Sr. Myra's popcorn

A much smaller harvest from our vegetable garden is popcorn.  The kernels are removed from the cob and are ready to pop!  It's great popcorn.

November 4, 2013

49th Anniversary of Foundation!

Srs. Mary Ann, Regina and Gail
Today, November 4th is the 49th anniversary of the foundation of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey.  Srs. Mary Ann, Regina , and Joan are the remaining foundresses at OLM.  Srs. Rosemary and Marjo have gone to our foundation in Norway.  Srs. Columba and Augustine have already gone home to God.  Srs. Lillian and Genevieve live as hermits off the property.  We are grateful to our foundresses for their love and perseverance over the last 49 years.  Today at dinner stories will be shared and planning will be done on how we will celebrate our 50th!

November 2, 2013

Today, on All Souls Day after Mass we processed out to our cemetery as the Church bell tolls.  We go there to pray, to remember our sisters who have passed into the New Life of Christ; our Srs. Columba and Augustine.  In our cloister we place pictures of our beloved deceased, our parents, siblings and friends and pray for them throughout the day.

October 31, 2013

Pumpkin Carving

Sr. Mary and her creation
Bearded Pumpkin
Srs. Chris, Kathleen, Ciaran and Grace
Sr. Grace poses with pumpkins

 We don't celebrate Halloween (All Hallows Eve) per say but if we have lots of pumpkins from our garden, as we did this year we get together to carve them.  We save the pumpkin seeds to cook and roast.  They are really, really good!  We do celebrate All Saints tomorrow and have a day off from candy production.  May you have a blessed All Saints Day tomorrow!

October 15, 2013

Glorious Autumn

We have had the nicest autumn with beautiful weather and lovely scenery.  The above pictures were taken this past Sunday.  In the top picture , in the background you can see the Julian Dubuque Bridge which crosses the Mississippi River from Illinois into Iowa.  To the left of the bridge is the city of Dubuque.  In the bottom picture you can see part our farm and woodlands and in the background the Mississippi River is visible.  The views are seen from our refectory.

Sr. Jeroma Day

Sr. Jeroma Day, BVM is one of our most faithful volunteers.  Sr. Jeroma is often manning our gift shop, selling candy and craft items and answering the abbey phone.  It is very likely that if you call the abbey her cheerful voice will greet you and direct your call for you.  Last Saturday she celebrated her 75th birthday.  The sisters went over to St. Benedict's, where our gift shop is located, to greet her with happy birthday wishes and to share cake and ice cream.  We are grateful to have such a cheerful, loyal and helpful volunteer!

October 2, 2013

Bountiful Harvest

We have had an amazing harvest this year.  Potato digging is in process.  It is a fun job that everyone enjoys.  We say it is like digging for gold.  We usually produce enough potatoes to supply us for the whole year.  Our tomato harvest has been plentiful too. We have put up lots of spaghetti sauce, salsa, both hot and mild and dried lots of sliced tomatoes to eat in the winter months.  Not to mention that we eat tomatoes for breakfast lunch and dinner.  They are so good.  God is good!

September 10, 2013

Beginning 'Candy Season'

On Labor Day we have the tradition of beginning what we call 'Candy Season'.  We start a heavier schedule of work in our candy factory to get ready for fall and Christmas sales.

We have a special Terce; the first of the 'little hours' of prayer that we pray in our chapel in the candy factory. Afterwards M.Rebecca went around to each room to bless it with holy water.

At the end of the week we united with all in fasting and prayer as requested by Pope Francis, praying especially for peace in Syria.

September 2, 2013

Our Visit to New Melleray Abbey

Last Thursday the community went over to New Melleray Abbey for a celebration to say goodbye to Abbot Brendan Freeman and to welcome our new Father Immediate, Fr. Mark Scott.

Sr. Grace (left) and Fr. Mark Scott (right)

We gathered in the infirmary common room and enjoyed a wonderful picnic meal, a gift of Madonna and Paul McAndrews.

After the meal, as is our tradition, we had a rousing game of volleyball even though the heat index was 102 degrees that day here in Iowa.

August 27, 2013

A Visit from Our New Archbishop

This past Sunday our new archbishop, Michael Jackels, came to the monastery for Mass and after stayed for a brunch so that the community could get to know him and he us. We had a lively exchange; telling each other about ourselves. 

We consider Archbishop Michael an honorary Trappist as at one time he seriously considered entering our monastery of Gethsemani in Kentucky. We feel blessed to have him leading the diocese of Dubuque.

August 22, 2013

Sister Anna and Our New Sculpture

Sr. Anna O'Meara made her first profession as a Cistercian nun on August 20th, the feast of St. Bernard.  Sr. Anna was a professor of scripture at Clark College here in Dubuque.

Sr. Anna

The environment for our Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey sculpture is now complete.  It is very beautiful and inviting with it's waterfalls and greenery.  We are grateful to our landscape designer Chris Frommelt (Ridge Road Nursery, Bellevue, Iowa) for her vision and execution of the site.

August 16, 2013

Sister Mary Becomes a Novice

Yesterday on the feast of the Assumption our postulant Mary Hastie received the habit of a Cistercian nun and became a novice. Mary has a great devotion to Saint Therese of Lisieux and took the name Sr. Mary Therese. Sr. Mary Therese is a native of North Central Iowa and worked in health care before entering Mississippi Abbey.

Sr. Kathleen (novice director), Sr. Mary Therese, and M. Rebecca

August 9, 2013

Visiting Norway

M. Rebecca and Sr. Grace are visiting our community of Tautra Mariakloster in Norway.  This is the first visit for both of them. OLM founded the abbey back in 1999.

M.Rebecca and Sr. Grace with the community of Tautra Mariakloster

August 1, 2013

Summer & Jam Making

We are having a very beautiful summer.  It started out hot, then rainy and now it is mild and oh so very comfortable. 

The berries and fruit trees seem to like it too.  We had an abundant crop of wild black raspberries this year which inspired Sr. Myra to make jam.  We also enjoyed pies and pancakes.  This week she is concentrating on peach jam.

July 22, 2013

Update on Our Sculpture Environment

The environment for the Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey sculpture is almost completed.  We are waiting on the lighting to be installed.

It features 3 small waterfalls and running water over the rock base of the sculpture.  It is landscaped with vinca and small bushes.

The rocks used are from our property or river rocks for the water features.  The sculpture can be accessed from either the front or back on rock paths. We are so happy to have such a beautiful space for all to enjoy as they enter the abbey church.

July 4, 2013

A Week of Special Classes

We have had a very interesting week of classes give by Tyler Sergent, a professor at Berea College in Kentucky. 

The classes were on William of Saint-Thierry on the Spiritual Life.  We studied William's life and way of thinking and aspects of the spiritual life as given in his writings.  William was a 12th century Cistercian monk, one of the Cistercian fathers. These classes are so helpful in opening up texts for us for further study and deeper understanding.

Berea College, Tyler informed us is a very unique place.  It is a very good liberal arts college that has been racially integrated since its beings in the 1800's.  Students do not pay tuition.  They are all required to study, work and give service to the Appalachian population that they live in.

June 27, 2013

Birthday Celebrations

Last week we celebrated Dom Brendan Freeman's 75th birthday.  Dom Brendan, abbot of New Melleray has been our Father Immediate for the past 30 years.  We wish him and his community well as he plans his sabbatical and the community of New Melleray prepares for their abbatial election in August.

On June 25th we celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Sr. Genevieve Durcan.  Sr. Genevieve is the blood sister of Sr. Rosemary, former prioress of our abbey in Norway.  Sr. Genevieve has been living as a hermit in Kentucky since the 1980's.  During the Mass she renewed her vows with M. Rebecca and Dom Brendan as witnesses.  We shared a festive meal with Sr. Genevieve and many of her family and friends.