In The Beginning
by Roger Mercurio, C. P.
“In the beginning” of the new Holy Cross Province there were five houses. Only four were “large” houses, namely Holy Cross in Cincinnati, Sacred Heart in Louisville, Mother of Good Counsel in St. Louis, and St. Francis Hieronymo is St. Paul, Kansas. The fifth was a small remodeled “mission house,” a new foundation in Chicago. There was no uniform name for the building in which Passionists lived. The house in Cincinnati was popularly always called “Holy Cross Monastery.” But the house in Louisville was always known as the “Sacred Heart Retreat.”
“In the beginning” all the American monasteries were very much alike. In other words all were constructed in such a way as to allow the religious to live the life required by the Rule. A “visit” to these houses will help us understand how the first Passiomsts lived together and accomplished their apostolic goals.
The community in St. Louis was the third foundation in what became in 1906 Holy Cross Province. Nevertheless, the monastery in Normandy was the oldest building of the five “in the beginning.” It is to Normandy, Missouri, that we go to visit the oldest example of a Passionist monastery in Holy Cross Province, the Mother of Good Counsel Retreat.
For three years the Passionists had a “hospice or mission house” on Page Avenue. In October 1887 the Passionists bought property in Normandy bordering on the Natural Bridge Road on the south, Lucas Lane on the west, and the tracks of the narrow Gauge Railroad on the north. Almost four years later on June 7, 1891, the monastery was dedicated. This monastery was built around the original residence on the property. The whole structure was so elegantly organized that most people did not realize that part of the older building had been utilized.
As we visit this new monastery which the Sunday Watchman called “The Passionist Retreat, at Normandy,” we are struck by this “beautiful building in Renaissance style.” The foundations are of stone, “the walls being of St. Louis hydraulic pressed bricks laid in cement and faced on the outside with fine stock bricks. The roof is of wooden construction and slate covered. There are three floors, besides a basement and attic.” (Chronicles p. 33)
The front entrance leads to the parlors. Directly beyond the parlor door was a short corridor with several rooms and a large stairway to the upper floors. One could hardly notice that these few rooms and the stairway were from the original building, for all “the woodwork is of hardwood, beautifully finished.”
A long corridor extended the entire length of the first floor leading to the public chapel on the west end and the dining room and kitchen on the other with private rooms and common wash room. The second floor was for the professed (the priests and senior brothers) with their living rooms, recreation room, wash room, library and community chapel or choir. The third floor was for the students with their living rooms, wash room, recreation room, class room, etc. There were all together sixty-five rooms in the building. The boiler house was a separate building to the rear of the monastery with the laundry on the second floor.
It was in such a monastery that the religious lived the home-life which was much alike in all the other monasteries. All the religious prayed together in the choir, chanting the Divine Office, celebrating Mass, devoting time to personal meditation. Meals were taken together, the students reading, the brothers, assisted by the students, serving the meals. The “professed” and students recreated separately but met often enough to really know one another. There were community days with picnics at home or away. The liturgical seasons as feasts were celebrated with greater or lesser degrees of solemnity.