60th ANNIVERSARY OF FOUNDATION
ABBEY OF OUR LADY OF THE GENESEE
1951 - 2011
Fr. Francis Steger, OCSO,
Sixty Years of Life at the Genesee
My arrival at the Genesee on October 31, 1951 was an anticipation of things to come. It began with an all-day blizzard blowing at full force. The wind was so strong that when I stepped out of the train station, my hat was blown off my head and Syl McGinley and I, running as fast as we could, were not able to catch up with it until it flipped over. My 1 st sight of the Genesee made me think of a war photo of a bombed-out German city. Only the walls of the 1st building were standing, the dirt was piled up on all sides, but at least the walls did remain standing.
As we arrived at our first home, the present Bethlehem Retreat House, the winter cowls were hanging on the line to dry. They were flapping parallel with the ground. We went around to the side of the house where Fr. Simon was washing up with the aid of ice cold well-water looking as happy as a little child with a new Christmas toy. When I entered the house, I met Dom Gerard and with a big smile on his face, he said: "Welcome to the Genesee." I didn't say what I was thinking! He showed me to my cubicle that happened to be right in front of a broken window. These 1 st days were difficult for everyone. But there was joy, the joy of sharing. On Wednesdays we had all-out work in which everyone, including Dom Gerard, piled into a couple of trucks and cut down thorn apple trees. That was no fun! But there was the satisfaction that we were privileged to make things more pleasant for our successors. When we visit our cemetery, thank God for all that they did for us and pray that even now they are receiving their reward.
Gradually things improved. Dom Gerard was inspired to make baking bread our chief industry. We started out with an old goat house with a single oven. Gradually things improved until we are where we are now - thanks to God and also thanks to a lot of help from our neighbors who were most kind to us.
Things went well until Dom Gerard while on his way to the General Chapter died a sudden death. When Dom James cabled the news and Fr. Regis called us all to the chapter room to make the announcement. There was dead silence Shortly after this announcement each one of us received a postcard with a personal note. . Dom Gerard had made many friends. Dom James appointed Dom Walter as our temporary superior until we were ready for an election. He ran into difficulty with four of our monks and resigned to the regret of Dom James and most of the community including myself. All four subsequently left the community.
Dom Jerome Burke then tried to restore some semblance of peace. He did as good a job as possible. He later transferred his stability our daughter house in Brazil where he died. Fr. John Eudes followed. I was going through serious depression at the time, and I was scared to death that Fr. John Eudes would send me packing. When I fearfully told him my difficulty, he simply looked at me and said: "There's no problem. You'll soon get over it." I left his room walking on cloud nine - or better - cloud nineteen! Unfortunately it didn't last long and I was soon knocking at his door again with the same kind response. He is responsible for my recovery next to God. I have to stop, but should be sufficient. But I do want to say this. We owe a great debt of gratitude to our founders. They worked hard and lovingly to bring us where we are today. We owe Gethsemani a debt of gratitude. Above all, we owe a debt of gratitude to God. He has been good to us.
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