There was an extra stillness in the air recently as Father Mel Taylor looked over the picturesque grounds of the Monastery of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, which closed after 114 years of existence.
It’s the end of an era and devoted service by the Benedictine monks of St. Johns Abbey, Minnesota.
“It’s the closing of an era because we were also involved with the school,” said Father Mel.
“We’ve worked here and lived here for a long time,” he added.
It was February 2nd, 1891 that Father Chrysostom Schreiner, Order of Saint Benedict (OSB), the first Benedictine monk of Saint John’s Abbey, came to work in The Bahamas.
Father Mel is one of two remaining monks, including Father George Wolf. They are reportedly leaving due to their age and the decrease of monks who are entering the service.
There was a mass of thanksgiving at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral Wednesday evening and on Thursday, the monastery official closed.
On Friday, the gates to the Monastic Chapel were closed. All was still inside, opposed to the few who would come throughout the day to pray and reflect in quiet solitude.
“People would come everyday. On Sunday, there are quite a few and weekdays, a few,” Father Mel recalled.
Originally from Ireland, Father Mel was assigned to the St. Augustine’s Monastery in 1980. For 25 years, he came to love the people and beauty of The Bahamas. He became prior of the monastery in 2000.
As the 70-year-old walked a short distance through the monastery he takes a look through its gates, marveling at the flora.
“There’s the African Tulip and the Golden Shower. They all bloom at certain times of the year. It’s a beautiful place,” he said.
Father Mel noted that the buildings were designed to maintain the hill.
“Hills are often being bulldozed (but) the architect designed the buildings to sit on the hill,” he stated.
It was on that hill in 1946 when the monastery was established. Saint Augustine’s College established the year before, was moved to the new site in 1947.
The school was founded by the Very Revered Frederic Frey, OSB, the then Prior of the Monastery and was the school’s first headmaster from 1945 until 1963.
The monastery building was completed and occupied in 1947, built largely through the efforts of the priests and brothers of the community. The Monastery and the original college complex which dominate the entire campus from the hilltop were designed by the famous “hermit of Cat Island,” Monsignor John Hawes, also known as “Fra Jerome.”
Questioned as to what he will miss most about The Bahamas, Father Taylor said, “the people, the sea, the sand, the shrubs, trees, plants and this hill.”
By HADASSAH HALL
The end of an era; Monastery closes after 114 years