St. Hildegard of Bingen

Today is the feast day of the great Benedictine mystic, St. Hildegard of Bingen.  She is pictured here in this beautiful stained glass window of Benedictine women saints.  She is on the left.  The window is in the monastery of the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia in Bristow.

Saints Hildegard, Walburga, Scholastica, Mechtild, and Gertrude

Saints Hildegard, Walburga, Scholastica, Mechtild, and Gertrude

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The Adventures of Henry Thoreau

Earlier this week we finished the biography of Dietrich Bonhoffer, Pastor, Martyr,Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.  We have since begun to read Michale Sims’s The Adventures of Henry Thoreau:  A Young Man’s Unlikely Path to Walden Pond.

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Order of Saint Benedict of New Hampshire

On August 1, 1889, 125 years ago today, the New Hampshire state legislature established the Order of Saint Benedict of New Hampshire as a charitable corporation for the purposes of educating the young and establishing churches.  From its very beginning, the Order of Saint Benedict of New Hampshire was made up of two components:  Saint Anselm College and the monastery (at first Saint Anselm Priory, and since 1927, Saint Anselm Abbey).

Even though the monastery and the college did business as two separate entities, they in fact constituted one legal corporation, from its founding in 1889 until 2009.  In 2009, to establish a new governing structure for the college, the abbey and the college were established as two separate legal corporations.

If you are interested in legal minutiae, you might find it interesting that the abbey was separated off from the college in 2009 as a new and separate legal body.  Thus, the college is now the older legal body, dating from 1889, and the abbey only from 2009.

If you are interested in really minute legal minutiae, you might find it further interesting to note, that the 1889 corporation was renamed Saint Anselm College.  The new abbey corporation became Saint Anselm Abbey.  And upon the separation of the two corporations, the college released the original name of the Order of Saint Benedict of New Hampshire to the abbey corporation.  This way no rogue band of Benedictine monks can establish themselves in the granite state with the venerable and original name with which the college and monastery were founded.

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Abbot Mark’s remarks on the 125th anniversary

Abbot Mark Cooper, O.S.B. made the following remarks at a small ceremony outside Alumni Hall earlier today for the 125th founding of the college.

Welcome to all as we offer thanks for all that has been, all that has made Saint Anselm College what it is, and as we celebrate exactly 125 years of existence of this school, this place, that means so much, and in so many varying ways, to our students, our alums, all of us co-workers, and to our many friends and supporters.

Just over 25 years ago, as we neared our 100th birthday, we placed this statue of Saint Anselm here on this quad. As workers were preparing the site, they uncovered a large pile of bricks, and noticed right away that those bricks were blackened and charred. They were bricks from the original building that burned down in the 1890s. (We guessed that it was easier to cover them over than to carry them away.) Many of those bricks are still there, buried and silent, partly forming the rise upon which the figure of Saint Anselm stands.

I suppose one could say those bricks are a reminder of all that can go wrong with the plans of mortals. I prefer to think that they are a witness of all that can go well when one trusts not in his or her own strength, but in the grace, and power, and wisdom of the Lord who created us…the Lord who watches over our works, and who guides us steadily forward toward ultimate union with Him, even amidst the collapse, at times, of our own efforts.

How astounded would be the founders of this school who started with nothing, ….. we might even say after the fire, less than nothing. Imagine them today, able to see what has transpired on this campus. The oldest living person in the world today was born only 5 years after the fire that occurred here in the early 1890s. In a bit more than one very long lifetime, the transformation has been miraculous. How the founders would marvel at what has taken place. It would be close to impossible for them to comprehend.

We give thanks for their steadfast efforts as we celebrate what has happened on this hilltop. But part of what we do today is to reflect on our own work here. To understand that while our circumstances, our tools, our problems and issues, may be very different from those faced by the original founders, our work, at its heart, is the same.

Saint Anselm, the man, is perhaps most associated with the phrase: fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding. The founders came here as men of faith, men of the Church, they came here seeking understanding and a way to provide better understanding to others. It was their task, within the context of the faith, to educate and inspire, assist and nurture, ….. not just the minds, but the hearts and souls of all who would come here. It was all to be done guided by what they held to be true, their faith that there was never any other place to look for guidance than the Creator, the One who makes all things new. In that faith they never wavered, which is exactly why we stand here today.

It is true, that while not the day-to-day items, the essence of our work today is the same as those original few men of 125 years ago. Within the faith upon which this institution rests, we are to promote understanding and knowledge, not just with those of the same faith, but with all who come here. We invite all to examine and explore all that our faith teaches so that they may come to their own beliefs about the world, both this world and the world hereafter.

As we celebrate today all that has transpired over 125 years, let us take up our work in faith and in hope for all that will be, for all the young men and women who will come here seeking both faith and understanding. May God bless Saint Anselm College, and all of us who celebrate this day, now and always.


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Mass for the 125th Founding Anniversary

Abbot Mark Cooper, OSB, abbot of Saint Anselm’s and Chancellor of the College gave the following homily this morning at mass, in honor of the anniversary of the founding of the monastery and college on August 1, 1889.

“If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor.” So wrote the psalmist 3,000 years ago. If ever we turn away from the Lord, we are on our own, what we build is limited to just what our own abilities can create, limited too, to just our thoughts, to just our vision.

If, instead, we turn to the Lord what we might then build is unlimited, for it is informed not by our thoughts but by the Lord’s. Not by our vision but by God’s.

The founders of Saint Anselm College placed their hopes and dreams in the hands of God. They struggled, they worked, they may even have been brought to tears as they witnessed their very first building burn to the ground, the building they had hoped would house and make possible the beginnings of their work and of their dreams. But they did not turn back, they did not retreat. Rather, day after day, year after year they turned to God in prayer to entrust to Him the work of their hands, and hearts, and minds. How much we owe them!

Immediately after fire burned the original building, what must those first monks have been thinking? Did they feel a bit like Jeremiah who did as he was told by the Lord, who recited the very words that God gave him to say, only to be shouted at by those who could not bear his words, those who wanted to put him to death? Did they feel like Jesus in his native place where there was exhibited so little faith in him that he could not work a single miracle there? It must have seemed to those first monks that God’s plans did not include a Benedictine school on this hilltop. We can only guess how the early founders must have felt. What we know is that placing all their hope in God they moved forward.

And because they moved forward we are here today, 125 years later celebrating all that came from the seeds of hope cast here so long ago.

May we, for our own lives, draw from their example the lesson of steadfast faith. It was a lesson known to Jeremiah who understood that whatever may come, even in the most difficult of times, one need only remember what is vital and certain, that it is life to turn to God and to remain by His side. Jesus too, in his darkest hour knew that his only task was to give Himself over totally to the Father.

The founders of Saint Anselm College understood this too, and giving themselves to God in work and prayer, built a foundation upon which rests this school dedicated to serving the minds, and hearts, and souls of the over 25,000 young men and women who came here to learn how to distinguish truth, and how to pursue wisdom, not just while they were here at Saint Anselm, but for all the days of their lives.

I would guess that almost every one of those 25,000 students of the last 125 years, at one time or another, walked through the doors of our Alumni Hall, the very doors still there today open to all and beckoning all to choose the true source of wisdom, Christ, and to remain steadfast today, and tomorrow, and every day, that their lives may tend ever more to the blessing that is eternal life.

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The Rite of Solemn Monastic Profession

There are several elements to the rite of solemn monastic profession.  The rite itself takes place at mass.  It begins following the homily and ends just before the offertory.  The abbot presides.  I’m including photos of Brother Stephen’s recent ceremony to illustrate the various elements.

Homily and Instruction

Homily and Instruction

Abbot Mark delivers the homily and instruction

Litany of the Saints


Bro. Stephen lies prostrate as the cantor sings the Litany of the Saints


Bro. Stephen reads out the solemn vow formula in the presence of Abbot Mark and the monastic community

Bro. Stephen reads out the solemn vows formula in the presence of Abbot Mark and the monastic community



“Uphold me Lord according to your promise and I shall live. Let my hope in you not be in vain.”

Brother Stephen sings the words of the Suscipe three times.  This is followed by the Abbot’s prayer of consecration.

The Cuculla


Abbot Mark vests Bro. Stephen in the cuculla, the sign of solemn monastic profession.

The Sign of Peace

Bro. Stephen receives the sign of peace from each member of the monastic community (pictured here is Father Benet).

Bro. Stephen receives the sign of peace from each member of the monastic community (pictured here is Father Benet).

The Eucharist

After the conclusion of the rite of solemn monastic profession, the Abbot celebrates the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

After the conclusion of the rite of solemn monastic profession, the Abbot celebrates the Liturgy of the Eucharist.


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Brother Stephen’s Solemn Profession

At mass on July 12, 2014 Brother Stephen Lawson, OSB professed his solemn vows to the monastic community of Saint Anselm Abbey.  On this occasion he received the distinctive black robe associated with solemn vows, referred to as a cuculla (sometimes also referred to as a cowl).  In the group photo below, Brother Isaac is also wearing a cuculla, whereas the other monks are wearing mass vestments, as the photo was  taken at the conclusion of mass, and they are all ordained members of the clergy.  They would wear their cucullas on solemn occasions other than mass.

Solemn Vows Brother Stephen

Front: Brother Stephen and Brother Isaac (Stephen’s Junior Master);
Back: Father Peter (Subprior), Abbot Mark, Bishop Joseph (Novice Master), Father Mathias (Prior)


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