NOTE: The following is the prepared text for an address given this past Sunday by Einsiedeln's Br. Thomas Fässler at Saint Meinrad's Monte Cassino Shrine. Each Sunday during May and October, pilgrimages in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary are held at the shrine, about a mile from the Archabbey. The services include hymns, a litany, rosary procession, and a short address on a Marian topic. The title of Br. Thomas' talk was "Einsiedeln: Life at a Marian Shrine." Having completed his year-long studies here, Br. Thomas will be returning to Einsiedeln in Switzerland in several days. Next school year, another monk from Einsiedeln--Br. Phillip--will join us. It has been a real pleasure having the former here, and we look forward to welcoming the latter. Quite appropriately, Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its motherhouse of Einsiedeln maintain strong ties through such exchanges. On a personal note, it is difficult for me to believe that it has been almost two years since I spent the summer in Switzerland. It was one of the most special times in my entire life. I am very grateful for the experience, and send fondest greetings and regards with Br. Thomas to all his confreres at Einsiedeln. -- Br. Francis
***Einsiedeln is situated in the German-speaking part of Switzerland close to Zurich. It is an internationally well-known Marian pilgrimage site with the famous Black Madonna called “Our Lady of Einsiedeln,” and the center of Swiss Catholicism. Einsiedenl attracts around 1 million pilgrims a year, operates two schools, employs more than 200 people, and a experiences a deep winter between November and April. These are just some facts about my monastery—the motherhouse of Saint Meinrad Archabbey—which I joined around six years ago.
All these facts shape our monastery and make it a unique place—as every monastery is unique. During the past year studying in the United States, I have had the enriching opportunity to visit other monastic communities. It has been very interesting to observe that all these different Benedictine communities follow the same rule—the 1,500-year-old Rule of Saint Benedict—but have many differences concerning the way it is lived. That is the reason why we always say that a Benedictine monk does not really join an order, but a monastery. And if someone has a call to a particular monastery, it does not mean that he would also be called to another place.
My community stands in a long tradition. Founded in 934, many generations of monks have lived before me at the same place, have sought God and served the people. Today, we still practice many customs which go back to the Middle Ages. Our history is very rich, as we become aware every night when we pray for deceased monks and benefactors who passed away during the last 1,078 years of our existence. We not only have a history, we also remember it!
There are a variety of jobs in our house. We serve several parishes, operate a high school, and a school of theology. We welcome and serve many pilgrims. We have a huge library, a big garden, publish our own journal, and much more. So, it is probable that during his lifetime, an monk of Einsideln will work in different jobs, using and developing different skills. I think that is one of the main reasons why my community is so lively and acts so youthful.
We also have an enriching variety in our community, since we have monks from the four different regions of Switzerland. The main language in our house is German, but one hears all four official languages in our community. Besides German, these are Italian, French, and Rumantsch—a very old language between Italian and Latin. Of course, to encounter different mentalities is an enriching experience, but it sometimes is also a challenge.
Our community also faces other challenges. First of all, we haven’t had any new vocations for almost five years. Therefore, the community is becoming smaller and smaller. When I joined the monastery six years ago, we had around 90 monks. Now, we are down to 62. Of course, it is sad, very sad, to see our community becoming smaller, even though I don’t think that we will all die off in the near future.
While we become few in number, the amount of work we must do does not lessen. Therefore, many of monks have to do an incredible amount of work—or we have to employ more people. The latter solution brings another challenge with it, which is apparent at the end of every month when we have to pay the salaries of all these people.
It is also very expensive to live in big, old monastery. Our carpenters, roofers, electricians, painters, blacksmiths, and plumbers always have enough to do! We also need bigger restoration projects. Right now, for example, we are trying to restore the huge square in front of the abbey church, which, next to the St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, is the biggest church square in Europe. Having just enough money from the revenues of our work to pay our daily bills, we would never have enough money to pay for these large projects ourselves. Therefore, we are always searching for sponsors who are willing to support us. It is very impressive to see how many people—even from America—are willing to help us for the sake of the people and in honor and glory of God.
With this help and, of course, with prayer to God and the Blessed Mother of His Son we are confident in handling all these challenges and that we will continue to chant in our beautiful church for many decades to come!
-- Br. Thomas Fässler, O.S.B.
* To learn more about Einsiedeln, check out the abbey's website (in German) by clicking here
** To learn more about Saint Meinrad's Monte Cassino Shrine and its history, click here