Benedictines' first Irish monastery
By DOM PLACID MURRAY, 0.S.B.
THE Benedictine Order has been re-established in Ireland for about 30 years now in Glenstal Priory, County Limerick, and the opening of the newly built monastic Church there on Sunday by Archbishop Kinane of Cashel and Emly, is a final proof of the consolidation of the Order in Ireland.
People often wonder why the Benedictines were such latecomers on the Irish religious Scene: a whole century had elapsed since Emancipation before Glenstal was founded.
The true reasons are historical rather than psychological, and are to he found in the decentralisation and federal nature of the Benedictine Order, as well as in the struggles for religious freedom in Ireland,
The 14 pre-Reformation houses im.ply ceased to exist in the persecutions, and there was no central colonising body in the early 19th century to send hack the monks to Ireland. Indeed, the Benedictine Order was at its lowest ebb after the French Revolution. and it has mounted steadily at every census taken since 1880.
Glenstal is now numbered among the older recent foundations. Glenstal's influence in religious life in Ireland at large has been exercised mainly in three spheres, in education, liturgy and art.
ONE of the objects which Archbishop Harty proposed to the monks when they arrived in 1927 was the establishment of a secondary school for boys, which would cater for families who had hitherto gone to England for their education.
The Benedictine tradition of education had always been popular in Ireland, and he felt that there was a need for a school in which Irish boys could enjoy a Benedictine education adapted to the Irish character and way of life. It was not until 1932 that a beginning was made, and a preparatory school was opened which was extended into a full secondary school in 1936. In spite of the difficulties occasioned by the war, the school developed rapidly. and there are now over 100 boys in a school which has, we hope, all the characteristics of the Benedictine system. and is at the same time essentially Irish.
Many of the early pupils are now members of the Community, and four young priests who were edttcated here are now teaching in the school.
It would be difficult to set out in a short article the marks that distinguish a Benedictine school from the other excellent schools in Ireland. Perhaps the most striking differences are the measure of freedom given to the boys outside class hours, and the emphasis placed on a broad education as opposed to the intensive preparation for examinations which the official system tends to impose.
Glenstal does not claim that their system is the best for all boys. but they do feel that it has supplied a need in Irish education, and that many parents are glad to find in Ireland a type of school which they had hitherto to seek abroad.
ESTABLISHED MUCH remains to be done, but they feel that the progress in the first 20 years has been satisfactory. and that Glenstal is now established in the ranks of Irish schools, while its former pupils are beginning tet make themselves known in the Universities—the Glenstal monks conduct a University Hall for lay undergraduates in Dublin—and the various profes'ions.
Seven of them are now members
of the Community, and they are glad to have representatives in the other Orders, in the missionary societies, and among the diocesan clergy, ln all more than a dozen Glenstal boys are now ordained or are studying for the priesthood,
THE three Liturgical Con
gresses held at Glenstal (1954, 1955 and 1956) have revealed both at home and abroad that the state of the liturgy in Ireland is not quite as undeveloped as has been generally thought. In each instance the congresses were attended by large numbers of priests from every part of the country.
Sympathy, enthusiasm. and practical common sense were the keynotes of these very successful gatherings. The first Congress was based on the general theme The Place of the Liturgy in the Life of the Church," the second was "The Lord's Day," and the third "Baptism our Divine Birth."
The papers combined, and the discussions. showed a knowledge of the liturgical movement as it exists outside Ireland, and the suggestions made for adapting the liturgical apostolate to Ireland's needs are certainly bearing fruit among the clergy.
In this connection the new Church in Glenstal, built as it is on liturgical lines, will no doubt in the future be a rallying point of interest in the Liturgy,
THE Church is not based on any one style, and least of all on the contemporary style evolved in the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland after the Second World War.
While catering for the needs of a growing modern monastery, the style of the Church had to take account of the existing group of fine buildings erected by the former owners, the Barrington family, in a wonderful setting of park-land situated amid the wide horizons of Munster. The outside of the Church has been completely clad in a reconstituted local stone of a pleasant• pinkish hue, with white reveals to windows which are in the pointed style characteristic of Irish Churches from the earliest Celtic times.
Inside. the Church is still rather bare and austere. as much of the internal decoration yet remains to be done. The chief focus for attention for Irish visitors is the noble choir where the monks carry out the Divine Office with due solem
The interior of the new Benedictine Church in Glenstal resembles a Latin basilica of the 5th or 6th century, and so is in full view of the congregation.
IN a country where every family is Catholic, devotional objects are in great demand. Ireland is mainly supplied from abroad. but it must he admitted that frequently these imported articles are of inferior artistic value.
It would be wrong, however. to generalise. and say that everything in Ireland is only of repository level. Many convents train their girls in excellent taste in this matter, and the results of this training are evident in many homes.
The spate of church building going on in the country at the moment has drawn attention to the need for modern church furnishings, and here too progress has been made, The artistic crafts carried on in Cdenstal under the inspiration of the founding Abbey of Maredsous, expresses in modern technique the traditional objects needed for these services: chalices, fuil-size crucifixes, ciboria. and the other sacred vessels.
THE foundation of Glenstal was undertaken by Maredsous in memory of the great Irish Abbot. Dom Columba Marmion. The fortuitous set of circumstances between 1923 and 1926—the untimely death of the daughter of the Barrington family. the purchase of the Castle by Mgr. I. J. Ryan, the munificent gift of the castle and grounds to Maredsous to make the foundation. with the encouragement of the late Archbishop Harty of Cashel, all these resulted in the opening of Glenstal in 1927. as the first Benedictine monastery in Ireland since the Reformation.
Among the former Priors we should mention Dom Bede Lebbe, the author of a well-known historical study on The Mass, and brother of the famous Pere Lebbe. the Chinese missionary.
Dom Idesbald Ryelandt is the author of several books on Benedictine spirituality. and a critic best qualified to judge is of the opinion that among Benedictine authors, Dom Ryelandes writings are in the first rank of monastic spirituality. Radio Eireann are broadcasting on Sunday on the evening programme. a feature entitled " The Benedictines in Ireland."