Christmas at the Abbey
Benedictine Spirituality on the Bluffs of the Missouri River
BY Laurie Ghigliotti
December 19, 2010-January 1, 2011 Issue | Posted 12/10/10 at 5:24 PM
Guests are welcomed with good old-fashioned Benedictine hospitality and a celebration of Christmas that quiets and feeds the soul at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kan.
On Christmas Eve, the novices gather to decorate the church with evergreens cut fresh from the abbey’s lands on the bluffs of the Missouri River, and strand after strand of white lights are carefully tucked among the branches.
Jim Madden brings his family to the abbey for holiday vigils.
“What has had the most impact on me for all of the holiday vigils I’ve attended at the abbey is the hospitality of the monks and the sense of the festive that pervades the experience,” Madden says.
Members of the Asher family have been celebrating Christmas here for many years. “Our family is so fortunate to be neighbors of the monks of the abbey for over 40 years and to share the joy of the Christmas vigil Mass,” Mary Asher says. “The monks are always welcoming and appreciative of the guests who join them for the Christmas vigil.”
After the vigil Mass, the monks share Christmas goodies with their guests in the abbey refectory.
Mass With the Monks
With Benedictine College students gone for Christmas break, there is plenty of room for visitors to join the monks for Mass and scheduled prayer. Sitting in the choir stalls across from the monks brings the congregation closer to the altar and draws visitors into the celebration in a way much different than sitting in the pews.
The abbey’s guesthouse remains open throughout the season. Guests are welcome to join the monks for meals during their stay. If your visit coincides with Epiphany, you can witness the blessing of the guesthouse rooms.
The abbey is an imposing structure that dominates the campus of Benedictine College. It has old and new elements. The abbey church, completed in 1957, was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and connects to the abbey that was completed about 30 years earlier. The abbey, a Tudor Gothic construction of native limestone, houses about 30 monks. Twenty-five others live away from their community on assignment.
Behind the altar of the expansive church, a fresco painted by French artist Jean Charlot depicts the Trinity and events in St. Benedict’s life. The church also houses two other Charlot frescoes: “St. Joseph’s Workshop” and “Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Four Apparitions.”
At press time, “Beauty in Faces and Places: Through the Lens of a Monk,” an exhibit of photographs by Abbot Barnabas Senecal, was on display at the abbey’s art gallery. PBS featured the abbot’s photography on “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly” in September. Previous art exhibits include “Thirty-three Original Works” featuring the work of monks and friends of the abbey.
A visit to St. Benedict’s Abbey and the campus of Benedictine College would not be complete without a stop at the college’s grotto, a short walk from the abbey. The grotto depicts the Blessed Mother’s appearance at Lourdes and offers a quiet place for reflection surrounded by the campus’ natural beauty no matter what the season.
The monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey have called northeast Kansas their home for more than 150 years, and their influence in the area is evident. Atchison boasts four churches founded by the Benedictines: St. Benedict’s Church on the edge of the college campus, as well as the churches of the Sacred Heart, St. Joseph and St. Patrick.
Both St. Benedict’s and St. Patrick’s appear on the National Registry of Historic Places, along with the Benedictine sisters’ Mount St. Scholastica Monastery. St. Benedict’s Church and Mount St. Scholastica Monastery’s chapels house exquisite stained-glass windows that are a feast for the eyes and the soul.
Whether to bring the year to a contemplative end or for a peaceful start to a new year, a visit to St. Benedict’s Abbey and its neighbors in Atchison is worthy of consideration.
As Jim Madden says, “The monks do a very good job of leading us to participate in something both sacred and joyful, and I always find a real sense of expectation when I arrive.”
Laurie Ghigliotti writes from Atchison, Kansas.
St. Benedict’s Abbey and
1020 N. Second St.
Atchison, KS 66002
St. Benedict’s Church
1001 N. Second St.
Atchison, KS 66002
Daily Mass: 8:15am Monday-Saturday
Saturday (vigil Mass): 5:15pm
Sunday: 8:30 and 10:30am and 6:30pm
St. Benedict’s Abbey is on the campus of Benedictine College in historic northeast Atchison. The entrance to the campus is on Second Street just north of Division Street. Atchison is situated on the Missouri River, a scenic drive on Hwy 73 from Leavenworth, Kan., or on Hwy 59 from St. Joseph, Mo.
Planning Your Visit
Arrangements to stay at the abbey’s guesthouse can be made with Father Blaine Shultz. St. Benedict’s Abbey Art Gallery is open each Sunday at 11am and by appointment. The Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery offer both private and group retreats throughout the year as well as events open to the public. Tours of their monastery are available by appointment.
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