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OSB and MSP: One family, spanning generations

The following story appeared in the November 4 Idaho Catholic Register.

A Mass celebrated by Bishop Peter Christensen at St. Jerome’s Parish in Jerome. From left are Edgar Ortíz, José Flores, Carlos Elias Galdamez, Father Jesús Cruz, Sergio Armando Rodríguez, Father Abraham Ávila, Father Boniface Lautz, Father Adrián Vázquez (pastor at St. Jerome’s), Bishop Peter Christensen, Deacon Luis Ruíz, Father Moisés Urzúa and Geovany Emmanuel González. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)

By Vero Gutierrez

Staff Writer

JEROME – This summer marked the first anniversary of the arrival of the Missionary Servants of the Word (MSP) at the Ascension Monastery near Jerome.

They share the Monastery with the Benedictine monks who have been there for the last 50 years. During this time, both communities have grown to appreciate each other’s ministry. The monastery now sports some exterior and interior changes with the help of new tenants.

The two communities celebrated together on Sunday, Oct. 30, which is the MSP’s patronal Feast of Christ the Missionary. Bishop Peter Christensen presided at Mass and attended a social gathering afterward.

During the Mass, the Bishop thanked the Missionary Servants of the Word for “going forth to evangelize, to bring the Good News to the world.” And he expressed appreciation to the Benedictines as well for “staying present to create a stable community life with others.”

Quoting Romans 10, the Bishop said of both the Missionary Servants of the Word and the Benedictines: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news. How beautiful is your mission when the faith is proclaimed and heard as the word of Christ.

Your words will be heard because they will be empowered by the very Word of Christ, anointed words given by His Spirit.”

ON SEPTEMBER 18, 2021, the Missionary Servants of the Word, headquartered in Mexico, arrived at the Monastery of the Ascension, which is about six miles east of Jerome. They were invited by Bishop Peter Christensen to establish a house of formation to allow future priests of the order to study philosophy.

The Benedictines, being a community of older monks who are no longer receiving new members, needed to entrust the care of the Monastery to a new community. The plan is that the MSP community will preserve this building, so that the building’s mission to be a center of study, prayer and evangelization, can continue for many years to come.

The year has been one of challenges, as both communities seek to adapt to their new surroundings and staying focused on their distinctive missions – the Benedictines with a more monastic, contemplative life and the Missionary Servants of the Word with their focus on evangelization throughout the Diocese.

Despite the challenges, both communities have agreed that this time together has been a great blessing as they take care of each other and integrate more and more as one family in God.

“We are two different communities, one of senior monks and the other with priests, young seminarians and young lay missionaries, but we are both united by love for Christ, prayer and service,” said Father Boniface Lautz, OSB, the prior of the Benedictine community.

“The arrival of the MSPs has been a great blessing for the Benedictine community,” Father Lautz said. “One of our great concerns was what will happen to the monastery in the future. Now, we feel great peace knowing that with the arrival of the MSP, the monastery will continue to function as a center for evangelization and catechesis. Also, it is a blessing for us to know that manual work – painting, cleaning, carpentry – has a privileged place in the formation process for the MSP. That is a great help to keep the monastery running.”

In his column in the recent issue of the Desert Chronicle, the newsletter for the Benedictines, Father Boniface told of some of the improvements at the Monastery with the help of the Missionaries. They re-framed and refinished the outdoor Stations of the Cross, which now extend along a cleared pathway from the monastery cemetery to 100 South Road, the main road nearest the monastery.

IT HAS BEEN a gratifying experience to be with the Benedictine brothers” said Father Abraham, superior of the MSP. “They, like the Diocese, have not only opened the doors of their monastery to us, but they have given us their friendship and trust. We are very grateful because they have been very respectful of our spirituality and have supported us in everything.”

Father Abraham, the new superior, added, “We hope to continue living together in this way. The Benedictines have edified us a lot with their testimony and way of living, with the fraternity that exists among them and their constant prayer.”

Father Abraham is a new arrival as superior for the MSP monastery and rector for the seminary, succeeding Father Benito Rojas, MSP, who was transferred by his superiors to serve a parish in Palmdale, California.

In his newsletter, Father Bonafice paid tribute to Father Rojas who, he wrote,

“broke new ground and helped build some solid foundations.”

Bishop Peter Christensen, in back, celebrates with the faithful who support the work of the Missionary Servants of the Word as well as the Order of St. Benedict, both housed at the Monastery of the Ascension near Jerome. Members of both religious orders gathered with Bishop Peter and Father Adrian Vazquez to celebrate their first anniversary of the two communities in ministry together. (ICR photos/Vero Gutiérrez)

Father Rojas said the “wisdom of the monks and the youth of the seminarians combined to make a good team to witness to the world the apostolate of the monastery. The physical work of building some things and repairing others has been part of the formation of our seminarians. We do it because the monks have made us feel at home.”

“We had a great welcome from the Benedictine monks, they offered us a very evangelical fraternity and hospitality,” Father Rojas said. “We experienced understanding and support in every way. We live as a family. We have been able to integrate better and better. The experience they have transmitted to us through their spirituality and wisdom has helped us a lot. For the seminarians, spending time with them has been very healthy, because it allows them to project themselves into the future. For the monks, spending time with the young people helps them rekindle their enthusiasm despite the difficulties of advanced age.”

Father Boniface as prior for the Bendictines and Father Rojas, as superior for MSP, have had a “profound dialogue,” according to Father Rojas.

“I can say that I had advice, support and also his good example and testimony. They have been like our older brothers, mutually learning with us. We are deeply grateful to the monks. We love them as part of our family, and we always pray for each one of them for their physical and spiritual health.”

WITH THE ARRIVAL of the missionaries, there are more retreats and more people coming to the monastery. The Oblates, lay people who share in the spiritual life with the Benedictine monks, are grateful that the monastery has many visitors again.

During one celebration last year following World Mission Sunday, the Benedictine and MSP communities expected about 70 people to attend, but 140 arrived. “We had some complications, but it was a time of great joy to see the people overflowing the chapel and into the dining room,” Father Rojas said.

Bishop Peter blesses lay members of the Missionary Servants of the Word. (ICR photos/Vero Gutiérrez)

Father Moisés Urzúa and Father Jesús Cruz, who, with Father Abraham, are the three MSP priests living at the monastery, have also helped build and grow this community, with the mission they carry out by offering Bible studies and preparing lay people to evangelize other lay people around various parishes in the eastern deanery, which includes the Idaho Falls and Pocatello areas.

“The monastery is a very appropriate place for a life of recollection,” said Father Jesús Cruz. “It has helped me a lot in my personal life and our mission. Coexistence with the monks has been good. They have always been very kind and attentive, showing a lot of brotherhood.”

Although each religious community has its own agendas, there are activities that they share, including lunch every day and a social gathering with dinner once each month. On every Monday morning they celebrate Mass together and a social time in the kitchen afterward.

“Lu Ann (the chef at the monastery) strives to learn to cook Mexican style tortillas and salsa,” Father Cruz said. “We feel very grateful to her for that.”

Father Moisés Urzúa said he has been nervous when he is called upon to celebrate Mass, “with my not-so-fluent English, but I feel happy because they are very kind and they give me the opportunity to share these very special moments of my ministry with them, as priests and as men of prayer.”

The Missionary Servants of the Word and the Benedictines have different charisms, but the Christian foundation is there. “We all pray, we have Eucharist, and we pray the Liturgy of the Hours. We complement each other very well,” Father Rojas said.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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