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Two communities meet ‘in the middle of a miracle’

The following story appeared in the September 10 Idaho Catholic Register.

In the back row from left are Brother Selby Coffman, Father Hugh Feiss, OSB; Father Kenneth Hein,OSB; Father Boniface Lautz, OSB; Bishop Peter, Father Benito Rojas, MSP; Father Moisés Urzúa, MSP; Brother Tobiah Urrutia, Father Jesús Cruz Hernández, MSP; and Brother Sylvester Sonnen.

In the front row from left are seminarians Sergio Armando Rodríguez, Car-los Elias Galdamez, Sergio Rafael Valencia, Jonathan Chichipan and Geovany Emanuel González. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)

By Gene Fadness


JEROME – During a quiet and private Mass on Saturday, Sept. 18, a new era for the Monastery of the Ascension officially began.

It was an event – despite its huge import for the Diocese of Boise – that all those involved wanted to observe not with fanfare, but with prayer and Mass.

Gathered in the small chapel at the monastery near Jerome for a Mass with Bishop Peter Christensen were the Benedictine monks who have served at the monastery for nearly half a century and the priests and seminarians from the Missionary Servants of the Word who will now live in community with them. All are preparing for a day in about three years when the Missionary Servants of the Word will assume operations of the monastery.

In his homily, Bishop Peter said he could relate to the uncertainty felt by the disciples when Jesus reveals to them for the second time his upcoming Passion (Mark 9: 30-37). Jesus notes in the account that the disciples were arguing among themselves along the way and there was no doubt uncertainty about the future. Jesus took the opportunity to pull the disciples away from distraction and from argument to teach them something important.

“Today we find ourselves like them in this small gathering, during this time when two communities come together, away from all the distractions,” Bishop Peter said. “This is not an easy thing to do, but both communities have found the correct way to do it.”

Not easy is seeing on the horizon the likely end of the ministry of the monks from the Order of St. Benedict who have been a treasured presence in the Magic Valley and throughout the Diocese since their creation in 1965 when they ministered to students at the College of Southern Idaho and later relocated to the present-day monastery in Jerome in 1980. However, bringing hope to this scenario is the arrival of the Missionary Servants of the Word, who will carry on much of the same work as the Benedictines, assuring the continuing presence of a religious order in the Magic Valley.

“Father Boniface and I have talked about what would happen, about the future of the Ascension monastery and of the brothers who live here since I arrived in this diocese six years ago,” Bishop Peter said, referring to Father Boniface Lautz, OSB, Prior of the monastery. “It has been a constant journey of searching and work.”

“Who knows what will come about as we move forward,” the Bishop said. “We will not be walking blindly, but we will be taking steps of faith, as it is many times in the lives of Catholics as we abandon ourselves to the care of God.”

“At this moment I feel we are in the middle of a miracle,” Bishop Peter said. “What will happen from now on as two communities come together to walk together? This will be quite a journey.”

“This Mass,” he told both com-munities who assembled together, “is offered for you to put your ministry in the hands of the Father.”

Not unlike many religious orders who have seen those choosing the monastic life decrease in number, the Benedictines at the Monastery of the Ascension realized the day would come when there would not be enough monks to sustain the monastery’s presence.

According to a statement provided by Ascension Monastery (see adjoining story), the Benedictines began searching for a “religious community to whom we could deed the monastery buildings and the land on which they sit.”

With Bishop Peter’s help, the Benedictines began a dialogue with the Missionary Servants of the Word earlier this year about the Mexican-based order eventually assuming operation of the monastery. Two priests from the order (who are identified as MSP after the Spanish iteration of their name, “Misioneros Servidores de la Palabra”) have been based for the past year in Idaho Falls, conducting retreats and Bible studies throughout eastern and south-central Idaho.

It seems fitting that the Missionary Servants of the Word would establish a home here given the area’s heavy LDS influence. It was the work of the Mormon missionaries abroad that inspired Luigi Butera Vullo to found a religious order with the primary charism of educating people in the Bible so that they, too, could become missionaries.

The work of the Missionary Servants of the Word is not unlike the education and retreat opportunities that the Benedictines have been providing in Idaho for many years, but with an increased emphasis on teaching the lay people to be evangelizers, said Father Benito Rojas, MSP. Father Rojas will serve as the rector for the seminarians who will study philosophy at the Jerome monastery.

Currently, there are three priests from the Missionary Servants of the Word who will be based in Jerome, along with five seminarians. They hope to have one more priest join them soon and eventually up to about 10 seminarians. All of the priests and seminarians will be involved in providing retreats and Bible studies at the monastery as well as to both Spanish and English parishes who invite them.

The Benedictines will also continue to offer daily and Sunday Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, spiritual direction and Confession.

“From our perspective, it is the same vision for both communities,” Father Rojas said. “In the end, this monastery will remain a center of spirituality for everyone who wants to meet God.”

Father Boniface Lautz, OSB, Prior of the Monastery of the Ascension, with an icon of the Virgin Mary he received as a gift from the Missionary Servants of the Word. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)

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