Adventures in Ministry

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It is a great joy and blessing to be a monk and a priest.  I enjoy the benefits of common prayer, community life, and I am able to take pastoral assignments, particularly on the weekend.  Several weeks ago, I saw on the calendar that I would be assigned for three weekend Masses at St. Gregory Barbarigo parish in Maryville, Missouri.  Saturday Mass at 5:00pm and Masses at 8:00 and 10:30am.  Maryville in late-September.  Immediately I thought of doing something I have wanted to do for a long time:  Bike to my parish assignment.

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I told Prior Daniel that I would not be needing a car for my weekend assignment.  He gave me a quizzical look.  “I’m biking,” I announced with great excitement.  One less car.

The forecast looked promising, showing sunny and 75 on Sunday, but 70 and scattered storms on Saturday.  However, when Saturday came around, it cleared up perfectly by the afternoon.  I knew that I would have to take a backpack for a change of clothes.  Cycling shorts, bike cleats, and a colorful jersey are simply not suitable ministry attire.  Plus, I planned to stay overnight in the rectory.  I packed my backpack with black slacks, a clergy shirt, black shoes, toiletries, Clif bars, and my homily.

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Seminarian Chris Davis, also an avid cyclist, agreed to ride with me into town.  We had made the trip several times before.  Chris said he had to pick up a few items at Wal-Mart anyhow.  We fought a terrible head-wind on the 18 mile trip to the church, rolling along the country roads and chatting as we pedaled.  It took right around one hour to get there, the wind was pretty brutal.  It was also a new experience carrying more weight on my back.  I arrived 25 minutes before I had to hear confessions, just enough time to get cleaned up.

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The weekend was fantastic, the people were kind and hospitable- God is good.  I was able to eat supper on Saturday and brunch on Sunday with parishioners.  I had spent the summer of 2012 serving in the parish when I was a deacon, so I got to know many of the parishioners.  I have returned several times since then, and it is always filled with great blessings.

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On Sunday after the last Mass, the parish had their annual carnival, “Family Fun Fest.” Many of the Northwest Missouri State football players were present to help with the games, which went over very well with the kids.  There was everything from a giant inflatable obstacle course to horse rides to food and beverages.  I visited with parishioners for a while, but knew I would have to get back on the road.  The wind was blowing strong again like yesterday, but this time it was a great tailwind!  I cruised down Highway 71 going about 25 mph.

Fr. Samuel, the President-Rector of Conception Seminary College and my monastic confrere, is also a fan of cycling.  He is a bit more of a “casual cyclist”, and he definitely enjoys getting outside on a beautiful day.  I told him I would meet him out on the road at 2:00 on Sunday afternoon.

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We headed to the nearby town of Barnard.  It is a 23 mile round trip from the Abbey, but since I came in from Maryville, my odometer ended up showing just over 40 miles for the afternoon.  It was a great weekend of ministry and exercise.  Indeed, God is good.

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Above:  The last hill, with the Abbey towers welcoming us home.

Alumni Reunion

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We welcomed back our alumni from Conception Seminary for the 2014 Alumni Reunion (Sept. 19-20).  Alumni and guests arrived Friday in time for Mass and the Alumni Award Presentation (presented to alumnus Vic LeBreton) in the Basilica.  Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OSB, presided at Eucharist with many alumni priests in attendance.  The prayers for Mass were taken from the Evangelization of Peoples, and Archbishop gave an excellent homily reflecting upon Pope Francis’ exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel.

Following Mass was the Social Hour in St. Michael Hall Plaza, where we had a beautiful evening to visit before heading into the Guest Dining room for the Banquet.

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Monastery Exterior

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The workers continue the demolition and construction of the monastery.  From the outside, one can observe the replacement of windows and window frames.  Where windows have been removed, some boards block the frame, but elsewhere the windows wells are left wide open for any bird or creature to find a new home.  The area around the monastery still has a lot of gravel, heavy machinery, and caution tape.

The monastic community, meanwhile, proceeds with life as usual.  We keep to our new living quarters in St. Joseph Hall, which have proved to be satisfactory.  I will post pictures from the progress of the inside of the monastery in the days ahead.

Things in the seminary are going well, as we are already several weeks into the semester.  Friday and Saturday is our Alumni Reunion, so be ready for pictures and updates from that event.

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Above and Below:  Ground dug out down to the foundation on the south side of the monastery near the Health Care Center.20140918-085044-31844415.jpg

Below:  Br. Jude examines one of the tunnels which is now exposed underneath the sidewalk.20140918-085047-31847097.jpg20140918-085048-31848380.jpgAbove:  The setting sun shines through the main monastery hallway and out to the back porch.

The Week Ends, the Week Begins

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We have had significantly cooler temperatures these past few days.  On Friday we had a high of only 54.  Saturday morning it was 36 degrees out, before warming up to 63. Fortunately the weekend was very sunny.  It made for excellent biking weather, and I spent every free moment on my bicycle, knowing that there may not be too many bike-friendly days ahead.  On Saturday I biked with Fr. Samuel (President-Rector), and on Sunday I biked with seminarian Chris Davis (Diocese of Salina).

I had Mass for the first time this semester at the Newman Center on the campus of Northwest Missouri State in Maryville.  This weekend assignment is one of many consecutive weekend mission assignments that I have from now through October.  However, it is very enjoyable to minister in different environments.

Today, in Kansas City, it is the Annual Priest and Seminarians Appreciation Day.  Each year there is a golf tournament, where teams play a four-man scramble.  This is the 23rd year for the event which began as a small golfing event, but has evolved into an entire day of activities, a Poker tournament, and concluding with a BBQ dinner.  I will join some of the monks in attending the evening dinner.  The forecast calls for scattered showers around noon, but it should clear up and be a pleasant day.  A lot of hard work goes into coordinating all of the events, and there should be another good turnout this year.

Tomorrow evening we have another volleyball practice.  The team is coming along well, but the tournament is almost one month away.  Despite many busy schedules, we continue to practice twice a week.  I am enjoying getting to know some of the new seminarians.

Fall Monastic Experience Weekend

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The monks of Conception Abbey are hosting a Monastic Experience weekend this fall.  Experience Benedictine monastic life at Conception Abbey from October 31st to November 2nd.  Men between the ages of 18-35, who are considering a vocation to religious life, are invited for a discernment retreat.  This weekend will be an excellent opportunity to draw closer to God through prayer, silence, and reading the Scriptures.  You will meet and spend time with the monastic community and grow in knowledge and understanding of monastic life and our practices.

I ask all our friends to pray that we have a successful weekend and that men who are discerning a call to the religious life will have the courage to follow God.  You may know a young man who would be a good candidate for this weekend, please consider passing along this information to him or notifying him of the experience.

Our life is filled with many blessings and we hope to share the joy of following Christ as Benedictine monks!

Contact:
Fr. Paul Sheller, O.S.B.
monks@conception.edu
660-944-2857

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Volleyball Practice

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I am coaching the Seminary volleyball team again this year in preparation for our Seminary Soccer and Volleyball Tournament, a.k.a. “The Thunder Cup”.  The tournament takes place the weekend of October 18-19 and we invite several other seminaries to travel to Conception, Missouri to compete.

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Last year, our volleyball team improved immensely on my leadership, but we fell to St. Meinrad Seminary (Indiana) in the Championship game.  This year we hope to avenge the loss.  It is a positive weekend to encourage seminarian fraternity and healthy competition.

We are practicing two to three evenings a week until the tournament in October.  Some of our returning starters graduated, so hopefully we can replace the talent.  I was pretty pleased with Monday evenings practice.  It was only our second practice, but I think we have a good shot at first place.

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140 Years of Friendship

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This evening, the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at Clyde, Missouri, invited the monks over to their monastery to celebrate 140 years since their founding.  The sisters’ community was founded in September 1874, while Conception Abbey was founded one year before in April 1873.

The monks joined the sisters for Vespers at 5:00pm, followed by a “picnic like” supper, themed to celebrate our Swiss roots.  Fr. Peter and Sr. Dawn provided the entertainment for the evening by a lively reading of the account of the sisters’ arrival to the United States from Switzerland.

Below:  The monks load up to caravan to Clyde (2 mile drive).

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Labor Day Weekend

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I was invited to help out with a Catholic young adult gathering at Lake Pomme de Terre, about four hours south of the monastery.  When I told people the name of the event, they just started laughing.  It was called “Nature’s Call.”  I’m sure the original campers had fun with coming up with the title.  However, Nature’s Call, a fantastic camp out, has been taking place for 20 years now.  It always occurs on Labor Day weekend.  It drew groups from Kansas City, Maryville, Jefferson City, Columbia, Missouri, and even from Oklahoma.

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I arrived in the area Saturday morning.  It is near Flemington, Missouri (a place I have never heard of before).  The directions were excellent, but it was still difficult to find, because it involved driving down a grass/dirt/gravel road, heading straight when the paved road forked to the left and right.  Fortunately, I knew a few of the people who were attending, and I called one of them for assistance.

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As I arrived, participants were setting up their tents, clothing lines, and hammocks.  It was a beautifully wooded area right on the lake.  I have to admit that I am not much of a camper or outdoorsman, but I like being outside.  It is just when it comes time to go to sleep, I prefer a bed and a strong roof over my head.  The four priests who attended were housed in simple cabins about a quarter-mile from the campsite.  We were available the entire weekend for Mass, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and spiritual direction.  Of course, we were able to relax, visit, and hang out with the young adults who attended the weekend gathering.

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It was interesting to see what everyone prepared for dinner.  Most simply cooked over a fire, but some had gas grills that they lugged up to the remote location.  One evening a couple guys were cooking steaks, and they said they had plenty for me.  I was not going to pass that up.

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During the day, we enjoyed the water.  I swam along the shore for exercise.  Others played Frisbee or bean bag toss.  On Sunday, there was the “greased pig competition.”  They divided the men into two teams in the water.  They greased a watermelon with lard and threw it in the water.  The two teams competed against each other in trying to advance the greased watermelon to the other teams goal.  If you got it across the goal line, you scored.  This event was definitely a first for me.  In the evenings, people played music on guitars and bongo drums and sat around the fire.

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Monday morning, around 4:30am, there was a severe thunderstorm that rolled through the area.  The rain came down in sheets and many people packed up early and headed home.  Some braved the weather and regarded it as another element of the camping experience.  Again, I was just thankful to have a roof over my head.

When I returned to the Abbey on Monday afternoon, we had our annual Labor Day Picnic.  The seminarians concluded their Day of Recollection (a day of silence and retreat) in order to join the monastic community for a picnic outside.  The weather was  perfect for such an event.  Everyone enjoyed the delicious food and visiting with one another.

 

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Below:  Labor Day evening, the sky was beautiful.20140902-135127-49887019.jpg

The Art of Lettering

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Br. Michael has been doing calligraphy for years. He has attended many workshops, taught classes on the art in the seminary, and giving calligraphy retreats. In early August, Br. Michael, had two calligraphy retreats- one for beginners and one for intermediate students. He weaved in the Benedictine practice of lectio divina into the lettering process.

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Br. Michael mixes colors for his illuminated letter.

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Br. Michael instructs his students on the proper way to letter.

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This particular illumination was made to adorn the monastic room of our Fr. Guerric.

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20140827-135613-50173484.jpg A closeup of Br. Michael’s illuminated letter.

Funeral for Br. George

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Today, the monks of Conception Abbey celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for our confrere, Br. George.
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Brother George Strohmeyer, O.S.B., monk of Conception Abbey, died Monday, 25 August 2014. He was 92 years old and had been a monk for 36 years.

He was born on 20 June 1922 near Benoit, Wisconsin, to Engelbert and Frances (Boehm) Strohmeyer. After military service and work in constructon, he entered Corpus Christi Abbey on 15 January 1978 at the age of 55. He was responsibility for the management and upkeep of the physical plant at Corpus Christi Abbey, also serving as tailor and bookkeeper for the community.

At the closing of Corpus Christi Abbey Brother George transferred his monastic vows to Conception Abbey on 18 April 2002. He resided in our Stephen’s Health Care Center, where his later years were spent in rosary making and in praying for the Church and the world.

Brother George was preceded in death by his brothers Leonard Strohmeyer and Lawrence Strohmeyer; sisters Cecilia Pezderic, Lucille Urinko, (both of Ashland WI), Agnes Watson (South St. Paul, MN), Ann Hause (Bruce, WI), and an infant sister Frances. He is survived by three sisters, Mrs. Clara Racine of New London WI, Mrs Deloris Suminski of Ashland WI, and Miss Alice Strohmeyer of Washburn WI; by numerous nieces and nephews; and by his monastic confreres.

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