Abbot General’s Visit
In keeping with the directive of our Constitutions that the Abbot General may visit the monasteries of the Order even though the regular visitation has been made and the practice of our Abbot General, Dom Eamon, we had the pleasure to receive a visit from Dom Eamon this past October while he was visiting monasteries in the U.S. and Canada.
He as accompanied by his secretary, Fr. Simeon, monk of St. Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, MA. While visiting the various Fr. Simeon writes a lively report of each house he visits. Below is the account of his visit to Genesee.
Abbot General, Dom Eamon’s Visit To Genesee – October 1-5, 1916
At the Rochester airport we at once see the smiling faces of Dom Gerard and Brother Anthony through the glass wall and, after a joyful couple of hugs, we set off with them on the one-hour journey to the monastery.
On arrival, while Dom Eamon is housed in a special room near the porter’s office at the front of the monastery, I myself am given an ordinary monk’s cell deep in the bowels of the community, something that makes me very happy. There’s nothing that makes a traveling monk feel more at home (and closer to his own monastery) than being treated like one of the local brothers. The same was true at Mepkin.
Genesee was founded from Gethsemani in 1951 on this beautiful site in the rolling hills of northwestern New York State. In turn, Genesee is the mother house of Awhum and Illah in Nigeria and of Novo Mundo in Brazil. There are at present 30 brothers in the community, including 3 in formation.
For decades, the main work of the community was their delicious “Monks’ Bread”, very popular in the whole region. This bakery is still fully active and functioning on the premises, but the production itself has largely been turned over to lay employees.
However, what is called a “specialty bakery” has recently been developed by Father Isaac, the prior, and his collaborators. A select line of gourmet  berry-and-nut biscotti, power bars, and roasted-cheese crisps pours forth from this one oven, each confection offering a unique quality treat. This smaller operation, with its different phases—from preparing the batter to packaging the finished product—allows for the participation of young and old. I understand that these specialty products sell so well in the area that the brothers can’t keep up with the demand.
Father Isaac, my friend from our juniorate days together, takes time out from his busy schedule on Sunday afternoon and takes me to visit Letchworth State Park, dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the East” and located at a short distance from Genesee. I thought this slogan was pure advertising fancy until I found myself actually in the park and was overwhelmed by its thunderous beauty. After driving for a while along the kind of pleasant but ordinary country roads you find most everywhere in the rural US, suddenly you enter an area of fantastic gorges of great depth in the middle of a huge forest, with three different sets of crashing waterfalls at quite a distance from one another, and these masses of moving water exert a strong hypnotic influence on the viewer. I am very grateful for this visit, which somehow makes me feel cleaner for the experience.
In the last couple of years Genesee has totally renovated its abbey church. The choir stalls, now of light-colored wood, are attractive and practical, the floor is new, and the whole space is very comfortably lit. The massive round altar stands between the community and the guest area, and may be used from either side.
One of the most appealing aspects of Genesee’s community life is the quality of the Liturgy that is celebrated in this sacred space. The musical style is a simplified form of traditional Gregorian chant, in English, and the Opus Dei is executed with manly firmness and simplicity. Above all, the forthright singing conveys a spirit of communal peace and fraternal harmony and collaboration.
Everyone actually seems glad to be there doing precisely this and nothing else, and all the brothers, even the oldest seniors, are present at Vigils, which begins at 2:25 a.m. Although, like everywhere else, there are cantors here too, nevertheless the intoning of antiphons and psalms is not limited to those possessing superior voices. I consider this a telling detail of community life. Praying in the midst of these brothers, I experienced in a strong way the meaning of Ecce quam bonum: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”
Dom Eamon and I rise in the middle of the night on Wednesday, October 5th, to concelebrate Mass in the infirmary chapel while the Genesee community is chanting Vigils. We have a 6 a.m. flight to catch in Rochester, and so we leave the brothers early to let them enjoy their monthly “hermit day”.
Fr. Simeon of Spencer
Abbot General’s Secretary
Joy may indeed seem to be elusive but only if we look in the wrong places for it. Those who dare to love as Jesus did, who are free enough to seek the happiness of others rather than just their own, will enter into his joy. This is the only perfect joy, and it will not prove to be a will-o’-the-wisp that merely tantalizes us. It will be full to overflowing and will last forever.
We could never believe this if Jesus himself had not told us so. I have said these things to you so that my joy mat be in you, and that your joy may be complete (John 15:11). Jesus offers the wisdom that makes joy our partner in life, no matter what hardships may come our way.
A Mystical Portrait of Jesus
Demetrius R. Dumm, OSB