Tuesday, February 22, 2005

No monks in Manhattan?

We had a lively discussion at table this evening about whether any Roman Catholic male monastic orders have foundations in New York City generally and Manhattan in particular. The answer, according to the authoritative Official Catholic Directory, is no. This raises what is, to my mind, an interesting question: why aren't there any monks in Manhattan? A facile answer would be to suggest that the values of monasticism lend themselves to bucolic rural living; one could easily argue that the spirit of solitude and contemplation characteristic of the monastic vocation can be better lived in the quiet of the country than amid the distraction and noise of the urban jungle. However, there's plenty of evidence to contradict the thesis that monks don't belong in big cities. There are, it seems, plenty of urban Benedictines. The English Benedictine Congregation has two foundations in major American cities: St. Anselm's Abbey in Washington, D.C. and St. Louis Abbey in the Missouri metropolis of the same name. Chicago is home to the Benedictine Monastery of the Holy Cross and Detroit has two Benedictine parishes, Holy Family and St. Scholastica. One can even find Benedictines in Cleveland and Richmond. There may not be any Benedictines in New York City, but right across the river in New Jersey one finds Newark Abbey, which has charge of a prep school and parish in one of America's most challenging urban areas. Looking at Europe, one finds urban Benedictine foundations in major cities like Paris, Rome and London (home to both Ealing Abbey and the Priory of Christ the King, Cockfosters). One can also find communities of monks in cities as diverse as Bahia, Manila and Nairobi. Then there's Hagia Maria Sion Abbey in Jerusalem, which actually came up in a dream I had during the Long Retreat. Though the college towns of Oxford and Berkeley hardly fit most definitions of "major cities," the former is home to St. Benet's Hall and the latter, intriguingly enough, includes a monastery of Camaldolese Hermits. At this point, skeptical readers may point out that essentially all the examples I've offered involve the Order of Saint Benedict. Now, I'll admit that I've yet to come across any urban Trappists (though the non-Trappist or "non-reformed" Cistercians do live and work in cities - see, for example, their community in Dallas). It may well be that some monastic orders are more open to adapting to urban life than others. That said, my initial question remains unanswered. Since there are urban monks (or, one might better say, urban Benedictines) all over the world, how is it that monasticism has never taken root in a city many think of as "the capital of the world"? I have no explanation. At the very least, however, I hope readers have enjoyed the smorgasbord of sundry links served up in this post. AMDG.


At February 23, 2005 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal? Aren't they based in Harlem?

I am woefully ignorant of NYC geography, so maybe Harlem isn't considered part of Manhattan. Or maybe they're not based there.

Just a thought...

At February 24, 2005 10:21 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

There are a lot of Franciscans in Manhattan, including the Friars of the Renewal, but none of them are monks - they're friars. Friars belong to the tradition of mendicant religious life, which despite some external similarities is much different from monastic life. However, it's easy to get friars and monks mixed up. Some groups of Franciscans - particularly the Capuchins, of which the Friars of the Renewal are a reform - have a more contemplative and semi-monastic cast to them than others. It doesn't help that the media uses terms like "friar" and "monk" almost interchangeably; if I had a dollar for every time I read an article describing, say, Archbishop Sean O'Malley not as a friar but as a "Capuchin monk," I'd have enough money to endow a Jesuit high school.

At February 25, 2005 1:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info, Joe.

I guess I should have taken the "Friars" part of their name as a hint, huh?



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