Abbey to Continue Presence in the Bahamas

The Benedictine presence in the Bahama Islands engrossed the mo- nastic community once again during the annual week of retreat and renewal, 31 May to 5 June. With the close of this calendar year the apostolic administratorship of Abbot Jerome comes to its close so that the community faced a number of options, which Abbot Jerome addressed before the assembled community members. The present situation recognizes Saint Augustine’s Monastery as dependent upon the American Cassinese Federation and immediately under the jurisdiction of Abbot Jerome. His motion to the chapter was to continue the present situation.

In a preview of the situation given to the Senior Council – the Abbot’s advisory board-and in the presentation made to the entire community, Abbot Jerome stated that the present situation would be preferable to an indefinite extension of an apostolic administratorship. He also pointed out other options including making the Priory dependent upon Saint John’s or closing it entirely. The discussion that flowed among the chapter members proved quite decisively that there remains a strong interest in continuing the Benedictine presence which had begun in 1891. The mode and manner of its presence was the focal point of the discussion.

In 1967 the community in the Bahamas was granted its independence from Saint John’s and became canonically known as a conventual priory. It was able to sustain itself through the flourishing school which has always been a significant part of the house and through grants and gifts from various sources. Bishop Paul Leonard Hagarty, however, had to spend much of his energy in seeking financial support for his diocese and the Benedictine community. Events flowing from the changes brought about subsequent to the Vatican Council and political events in the Bahamas resulted in a severe blow to the community when a good number of native clergy were granted release from their Benedictine vows and clerical orders.
The subsequent history is the struggle of the monks to remain a stable force in the religious life of the Islands. In 1981 some stability was given when Abbot lerome accepted the task of apostolic administrator for three years. He has since given immediate jurisdiction for the Priory to Fr. Theophile Brown, and he has also promised continued financial aid and personnel.

Favoring the present situation is the recognition that the community has been regular in its public performance
of the monastic liturgy. lt has been very successful in its apostolic work of hospitality. And it continues to ad-
minister one of the best schools in the Islands. On the negative side is the inability to recruit native vocations in a country where the Catholic population is relatively small and where celibacy is quite contrary to cultural style. And the successful school is gradually losing most of the Benedictine presence among the faculty and administration.
Similarly, the priests who are working in the school and in the parishes are aging.

Surfacing quietly in the discussion of the chapter was the suggestion that perhaps some form of radical change in monastic style and greater recognition of cultural differences may be demanded if the monastery is to survive.
However, few voices addressed this aspect of the Benedictine presence so that when the Abbot asked for a vote, the community agreed to continue the present arrangement for another three years.

(Saint John’s Abbey Quarterly – July, 1987)

Topics: Bahamas, Jerome Thiesen

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