Seventy-five Years of Community Life in Holy Cross Province

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The new Province of Holy Cross in 1906 continued the spirit and practices of community life already existing in the “undivided Province.” It also inherited problems as well. That there were problems in regard to community life and observance cannot be denied. Let me give the testimony of Father Felix Ward.

Father Felix writes in The Passionist of his conversations with Father Steven Kealy, the Provincial, shortly before his death in 1904. I will quote: “In many a heart-to-heart talk, the future had been discussed; the problems that confronted the Order in America; its dangers and prospects; – all had been considered. The demands for work were ever-increasing, and the need of meeting them without weakening the regular observance was of the utmost importance. This observance in choir keeps the Passionist at his prayers, secures the blend of work and prayer, handed down by St. Paul of the Cross to secure God’s blessing, and efficiency in the missionary field. This tradition had been transmitted to us by our Founders in America and they insisted that it was necessary for upholding the spirit of the Congregation in our country; nay, vital, because of the strenuous life we lead. The need of stronger communities was felt for safety. For the years spent in the country, the Province should have had a larger membership. This conviction prompted Father Steven’s letter to the Fathers requesting them to cultivate vocations; for while they come from God, He depends on our industry to secure and cultivate them” (p. 231).

Father Felix himself on May 8, 1905, as the Provincial who succeeded Father Steven convoked the Provincial Chapter of 1905. In this letter he insists on the need of leadership. Once again I will quote: “What we need now is not new legislation, but wise and strong Superiors to rule. This need has never been so great before… The next few years will be of vital importance to our Province, as in this period we must strengthen the points that have been made for regular discipline. For fifty years we have been accommodating ourselves to our work and surroundings in America, while trying to safeguard our Rule and the spirit of the Congregation. In this we have, with God’s blessing, succeeded. But there is a limit to concessions; there is a limit to progress in given lines; there is a point in which progress becomes retrogression, and we are now nearing this point – we are approaching the danger line. Hence, the momentous responsibility of the next Provincial Chapter” (P. 232-233).

I do not want to continue on with the problems facing the American Passionists in 1905. We have listed two needs as experienced by the men of that time, namely, increased membership and strong leadership by superiors. Nor should we take the remarks of Father Felix in their absolute literalness. Very frequently Provincials in convoking a Chapter speak of the evils of the time so strongly in order to arouse the interest and zeal of the brethren in the work of the forthcoming Chapter!!

In these pages I would much rather concentrate on the practices that have fostered community life among us. I will try to recall the various forms community life has taken in our Province. I am dealing with a somewhat nebulous matter inasmuch as the practices of community life are not the type of thing that appears in Chronicles or Chapter Documents. Perhaps what I will say needs to be corrected here or there. Perhaps other religious will remember other practices and forms which it would be worthwhile to include in an effort to assess the “seventy-five years of community life in Holy Cross Province.”

In the spirit of memory I will begin with the following incident. One of our earlier religious told me that there was a time when the community at Normandy began to speak in German at the recreation. There were those who thought that the new Province should be the German-speaking Province of the Passionists (something similar happened to the Franciscans in the midwest). However, the story goes, when Father Jerome Reutermann heard of this he descended upon the community and ordered the practice stopped at once!

The General Chapter of 1914, conscious of the problems concerning the health of the religious throughout the Congregation, ordered the Provinces to be concerned with “physical exercise” for the younger religious. Holy Cross Province took this admonition seriously. Within a year or two a swimming pool was built in Louisville where the novitiate was. The “camp” on the Neosho River was used as a recreation site for the religious at St. Paul, Kansas. Baseball fields were provided in the cow pastures of several of the communities! Later swimming pools were built in St. Louis for the Prep (and then even later at Warrenton) and in Chicago. Tennis courts and handball courts were also constructed on our properties. In this way the religious were able to take part in “physical exercises” and also to play together in community recreations.

Community recreation together on the monastery property was a strong element in our community life over the years. Whole days on the property consisted of eating both dinner and supper outside, playing one or two or three ball games, taking a swim or just sitting around. These were called “whole days on the property.”

There were also “whole days off the property.” These could be a walk to a nearby park or even a streetcar ride to a park or more frequently a truck or bus or automobile trip to some lake or river or park area away from the monastery. The students had six of these whole days during summer vacation and then there was one on Pentecost Sunday and one after Labor Day. There were times when on these whole days off the property we were the guests of the Christian Brothers or Xaverian Brothers or Techny seminarians, etc. For many years in Chicago the students would take the whole day on the Lake near Loyola University.

In 1957 the students all gathered at Warrenton and spent the summer vacations on the large tract of land and facilities belonging to the minor seminary there. This continued for some years. By the mid 1960’s all the religious were allowed 20 days of vacation. This interrupted some of the earlier community-based forms of vacation. However, recently religious of the same class or age-group might try to arrange a vacation together, for example, at Warrenton, at Cumberland Lake, at Rough River in Kentucky, on Padre Island, at Pentwater, Michigan, etc. Finally, I should mention that all the religious of the Province were invited to a week of community get-together at the Province Assembly in Bardstown in 1974!

There was also daily recreation in the recreation rooms, both after the noon meal and after the evening meal. Likewise there was common recreation in the afternoon of “half days.” From time to time there would be a prolonged recreation period after the evening meal until 11 or 12 o’clock or even later. The Chapter of 1929 felt that it was necessary to regulate the frequency of whole days and prolonged recreations at night.

Normally at daily recreation the religious would sit and talk. Newspapers would be brought in and some would read the daily paper. From time to time the religious would engage in playing cards at daily or half-day recreations, listen to the radio or watch TV, smoke, eat candy or take a drink. The practices on all of these different forms of common recreation have a history each its own! When around 1968 we began to talk at meals, recreation after mealtime seemed less important. Television began to dominate and there was a tendency in most communities not to have a fixed hour for recreation.

I should mention that during the summer months the daily recreation was taken outside in the garden. In order to provide an appropriate place for sitting and talking small “pagodas” were built. This gave us an opportunity to enjoy the fresh air and to avoid the heat within the house. However, radio, television and, especially, air-conditioning made the outside recreation less attractive. When we abandoned the fixed hours of recreation, we abandoned also the formal outside recreation.

There is one aspect of community recreation that should be mentioned, even though I personally find it somewhat disagreeable. It is true that St. Paul of the Cross in the Rule said that the recreations were to be common to both the priests and the brothers. As a matter of fact, there were certain forms of recreation that the brothers found it practically difficult to take part in. The simple reason for this is that it was up to the brothers to prepare the meals and to take care of the front door, the boiler and such other necessary tasks in the daily life of the community – tasks which continued on during a whole day or a free day. In fact many times whole days or free days caused more work for the brothers than on other days. I remember, for example, Brother Gabriel Redmond telling me that on his first Christmas at the novitiate he had about one hour free to go to recreation with the other novices. The rest of the time he was either in Church or in the kitchen working. On the other hand, there were many times, especially on the prolonged recreations that the presence of the brother in recalling old stories, or playing cards or adding to the general good feeling was really vital for the community life.

A most important element for the development of community life was the choir observance and worship and celebration of Feast Days. First of all I should mention the choir observance. Every day the religious who were home were called to the choir at various hours of the day for the chanting of the Divine Office in Latin, for personal meditation and for the celebration of Holy Mass. This was a daily routine for all, although the Brothers did not participate in the chanting of the Office. At the time of the Vatican Council we began to use English for the Office. Then with the very strong emphasis on the Eucharist and as we awaited the reform of the Office daily chanting of the Office became less frequent in our communities. Today most communities strive to have Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours.

For many years a First Class Feast was a truly “liturgical experience.” There were Solemn Vespers in the afternoon before, an hour of prayer during which a short meditation was read on the Feast Day Mystery, the mortification asked of the Superior before the evening meal, Solemn Matins at 2 o’clock in the morning, the solemn singing of the martyrology and the “Communion Mass” of the students and brothers in surplices, the Solemn Mass later in the morning, the very solemn dinner at noon time, solemn vespers in the afternoon and the longer afternoon recreation before supper. These First Class Feast Days, or what we today call “solemnities” were truly such in the Passionist community life of this Province.

The Provincial Chapter in 1926 ordered that Gregorian Chant be sung in our solemn liturgies in accordance with the Motu Proprio of Pope Pius X. The same Chapter ordered all of the liturgical services to be conducted according to the norms contained in the rubrical book of Wapelhorst. The Promptuarium was introduced to the Province in 1937. In 1965 and afterwards the Province quickly participated in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in regard to liturgy.

Something should be said in regard to the Holy Mass or Eucharist as a part of our community life. The earlier choir observance certainly emphasized the Divine Office. There was a community Mass each day after Prime and Tierce, but normally only the students and brothers attended it as the priests celebrated private Masses. In fact, in the early days of the Province, daily Communion was not allowed the students and brothers. I purposely use the word “attended” since the religious were not allowed to “actively participate” in the responses to the prayers of the Latin Mass. We participated in those days silently. When the Eucharist was put into English, it immediately became an actively participated Liturgy with recited prayers, shared prayers and singing. And also concelebration became quite common and universal among us. There are not many who prefer the private Mass. Obviously, eucharistic devotion and praxis have taken on different forms while in one way or another always contributing to community life.

Community life in our Province has been fostered by various forms of community meetings. Our tradition insisted that from time to time the Rector must call a local Chapter of all of the professed priests of the community in order to discuss and give approval to matters of greater importance. The minutes of such local Chapters were kept in a special book. Reading these minutes will give some idea of the community life at various decades of our Province’s history.

In the revised Rule of 1959 the local Superior was to call the community together for monthly community meetings. These were to be held whether or not there was a grave matter to be voted on. In some ways this is the beginning of the community dialogue as we know it today.

The Provincial Chapter of 1965 committed the Province to three years of intensive study and community dialogue. As a result and through the action of the 1968 Provincial Chapter, and especially of the 1970 General Chapter, community meetings and community dialogues are most important elements of community life. The 1975 Provincial Chapter legislated also for the “Review of Life.”

Mention should also be made of the “moral case” which was held on Wednesdays and in which the priest took part. This was a serious discussion of a moral question. It must be admitted that it was frequently dispensed with and so during the time of visitation the Provincial would advise the community to hold the moral case more frequently.

The same could also be said for the Tuesday examen which was a short discourse for all of the community after vespers in the choir. These were generally short exhortations and can well be compared to the homily of today. In fact the Rule spoke of having the examen twice a week, but if there was a public sermon at the Sunday High Mass which the community attended, then this sermon could take the place of the examen. Today the homily at the Eucharist, which is quite frequent in most of our communities, continues the value of the examen of old.

The community also participated in the “Friday Chapter” which also took place in the choir after vespers. Each group in the community knelt before the Superior and made its “culpa.” The Superior addressed each group, namely, the students, the brothers and the priests. Then he addressed the entire community and urged them to greater fidelity or perhaps pointed out something that needed correction.

In the early days of the Province, eating together was an important practice of community. Partaking of our daily food was a community exercise and fostered a sense of community even during the many years when we ate in silence or listened to public reading.

Silence in the refectory was most faithfully observed. We either listened to the public reading or ate in silence. The entire meal was surrounded by norms and guidelines. It has been said that there was a real ritual or “liturgy” about our monastic-styled meals.

For example, we walked into the refectory in an orderly way – one by one following the Superior. The meal prayers were chanted in Latin with all standing facing one another. A passage of the Gospel was then read by the Superior. At noon time there was always reading, and also at the evening meal, unless a fast night supper was observed, then we ate in total silence. When the meal was over, the Superior rang the bell, the prayers of thanksgiving were chanted and all left the refectory again in an orderly manner.

The meal itself was served by the brothers and students or, in the absence of students, by the junior priests. There were strict guidelines as to what foods and portions were to be prepared by the cook. The main meal, or dinner, was at noon time. It consisted of soup, meat or fish, potatoes or macaroni, a vegetable, a salad and fresh fruit. The lesser meal was in the evening. On fast days, the evening meal was a “collation” consisting of a plate of beans or vegetables, an egg, cooked fruit, bread and butter and hot tea.

Breakfast consisted of coffee and bread and butter. It was taken standing, in silence, and at one’s own convenience after the morning Mass and Prayer.

In 1968 we began to talk at meals. At once we realized that the practice of sitting at tables along the wall did not foster conversation. We remodeled our dining rooms and made them more adaptable for conversation. There is much less formality about our meals today. The food is served buffet style. One can leave as soon as one wishes. Others at times eat leisurely and share longer in conversations. Mealtime is still an important part of community life.

In this survey I do not praise nor condemn the practices of old, nor do I question or extol the practices of today. What is important for us is to make sure that whatever practices we observe, these must contribute to the development of the Passionist community spirit.

Very Rev. Roger Mercurio, C. P.
Provincial Superior
February 27, 1981

Please contact Fr. Rob Carbonneau, C.P. at [email protected] if you have any comments. Permission of Archives needed for publication.