In 1848 forty-three monks arrived in central Kentucky from the Abbey of Melleray, France; forty-four had left, one was lost at sea. Some trappist monks had been in the area from 1805-09. To-day, there are forty-five monks.
They arrived on 21 December 1848. They state themselves: the next day they prayed seven times, and every day they pray seven times, unto the end.
This praying, and singing is the reciting of the 'Office', the 'Hours'. This is the job of the monks. The canonical requirement of seven is found in the longest of the psalms. In two weeks they sing all the psalms, in addition to other hymns, there are readings, Benediction on Sunday evening, and of course — daily Mass.
Seven times a day I praise you for your just decrees.—Psalm cxviii. 164. (Grail edition)
Perhaps, the best known resident was the spiritual writer, Thomas Merton†1968, Father Louie. The success of his auto-biography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), was a Godsend to the monastery, in both financial support, and increase in numbers to more than 300. Merton was also a poet, and an artist. He wrote on inter-faith dialogue, social and racial justice, and peace issues. Not every one was happy with this, including the government. To-day, there are few monks there who wish to discuss Merton, “he’s just another monk”.
Merton had a difficult relationship with the new abbot, Dom Fox (1948-68). Merton had just made his final vows.
grave of Fr. Louis Merton (center), his abbot (left) R.D. James Fox; people brought chairs while praying/meditating
The current abbot is Fr. Elias Dietz. The last 'hour' [they last from about 15 to 50 minutes] is compline. At its end the abbot gives a night blessing of water to all the monks, and guests. Then begins 'the great silence', which ends at the beginning of the next prayer hour. I find this moment, the most endearing of the monk’s day.
night blessing, after compline, sunday evening 31 July 2011; the great silence has begun
I remember, being hauled out of the hall by the principal, my junior year in high school, and being scolded, with the words, “...you should be a trappist”. The Cistercians of the Strict Observance, O.C.S.O. — the Trappists are not that severe, at least in Kentucky. They talk to the guests. They encourage, but do not enforce silence. [I have been at work, and elsewhere, where the enforcement was much more severe, and mean-spirited—as well.] It is a pleasure not to hear mindless chatter. Some people, reflexively say polite terms in greeting and thanks; even this could be replaced with a smile and a gesture. The silence is supposed to increase the opportunity to hear God.