Dear Friends of Tautra Mariakloster, It’s hard to believe that four years have already passed since we left Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque to establish this little foundation on an island in the Trondheim fjord. Tautra is really the most beautiful island anywhere, and many days we feel just a small step short of heaven. This winter we were treated to some magnificent displays of the Northern Lights, and a rare phenomenon called perlemor skyer when the sky glimmered with translucent pinks, greens and blues which looked like mother-of-pearl, and took our breath away. Despite the cold, sometimes we don’t want to go inside for fear of missing any of God’s creation constantly changing around us. Ringing in Christmas A monastery without a bell is like rømmegrøt without a pool of butter in the middle. Monday, December 9 we were able to hang a second bell in our belltower. This bell was cast in Belgium, at Louvain. Our bells call us to the chapel to pray. St. Benedict says that nothing may be preferred to the Work of God, meaning the Liturgy of the Hours which we sing seven times a day. Each sister takes a turn at ringing the bell before one of the Hours. Both bells are rung on a Solemnity. Our second bell is a little smaller than our first, and sounds good with it. This year we were able to follow the tradition of ringing in Christmas with two bells. Bells have names. Our first is "Maria." On the second is engraved the verse "O Marie, conçue sans péché, priez pour nous qui avons recours à vous!" (O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.) It was fitting that this second Mary was hung on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. One of our guests said that the monasteries in the middle ages were the repositories of learning, since it was the monasteries that preserved books in their libraries. Today monasteries are the repositories of the essential rhythms of life. Our bells tell us when it is time to pray, to eat, to sleep, to work and to "be free". We follow a biologically healthy rhythm which can be difficult to preserve in a world with a fast-food mentality and an ever-increasing pace of life. The next time you hear a monastery bell, let your mind and heart be drawn to God and the rhythm of life. Cool as a Cucumber
Our herbal soap industry, inspired by the irrepressible creativity of S. Gilchrist, showed a 48% profit in 2002 and is still growing. We have recently invented three new soaps: Cucumber, Lemon-Coconut, and Milk & Honey, plus a Chocolate-mango lipbalm. We have established a relationship with a married couple in Lillehammer who are making milk from various grains such as rice and oats, and we will incorporate these organic milks into some of our soaps. These women in turn will put us in contact with health food stores in Norway as possible outlets for our soaps. We have also signed a contract to produce Crème Ancienne, a cosmetic cream based on a second-century formula, for a company called Fresh. This cream is entirely produced by hand (our hands!). It was exciting for us to have a team of chemists from Boston and France come to Tautra to teach us how to make Crème Ancienne. Because we can produce only a limited amount of cream, it will not be sold in Norway, but only in Boston for the time being. You can find more information on Fresh products on their website, www.fresh.com. Blast Off Our bishop, Georg Müller of Trondheim, likens the Catholic Church in Norway to a rocket on the launchpad. There comes a moment when the engines are firing and the supports fall away. Now the rocket is standing alone, balanced on the launchpad, and must either blast off and up into space, or fall back to earth. The Catholic Church in Norway is unusual in that it consists mostly of immigrants (like us), many Vietnamese, and converts from the Lutheran state church. When all 22 religious in our diocese gathered on Feb. 2 to celebrate our vocations to consecrated life, Sr. Ina was the only Norwegian. The supports that we were used to back home have fallen away. (We’re not in Iowa anymore, Toto.) We are balanced on the launchpad and NOW is the moment we must move forward into the future, making a new church out of this diversity of backgrounds. New Architect At the time the last Tautringer went to press, we found ourselves in the position of agreeing to terminate our professional relationship with architect Svein Skibnes. We have now engaged Jan Olav Jensen and Børre Skodvin in Oslo as the architects to bring our permanent monastery to completion. We have also chosen Atle Romstad as our project leader, and he describes the new monastery as the "most exciting building project in Nord-Trondelag in recent years." Another paper says it will be the first, large, newly-built trøndersk cloister in "a small millennium."
Jensen and Skodvin are possibly the most famous architects in Norway at the present time. They have won many Norwegian and international prizes for their architecture, such as the Treprisen in 1999 for original use of wood. Their leprosarium in India has won international acclaim for its simplicity and use of local materials and inspiration. Jensen and Skodvin have just won the prestigious Grosch medal for their design of Mortensrud church in Oslo. This church has been the subject of much attention in Norway because it is beautifully constructed of stone, glass and wood, and is situated in the midst of large, graceful pine trees which were left undisturbed during construction. It looks like a church, yet is modern in design and uses nature to fashion sacred space. It was largely these architects’ experience with glass and stone, and their obvious respect for the beauty of the site as God created it, that led us to choose them to continue our building project. We meet with Jan Olav Jensen, who is the architect in charge, for a whole day once every two weeks during this designing phase. One of our family members commented, "How many nuns does it take to change a lightbulb? I don’t know, but you sure have to have a lot of meetings before you do!" We are planning to start building December 1 of this year, and to move in in April of 2005. Romstad is betting on building the whole monastery in one shot, rather than in stages, because it will be much cheaper. We are very happy to say that we have just passed the halfway mark in a budget of 40 million kroner, but we still lack 20 million kroner. (That’s $2.9 million out of $5.8 million.) If you are in the USA, you can send a donation directly to Mississippi Abbey (mark it for Norway). If you are in Europe, you can send it directly to our Building Fund konto 4200 39 36192. Our first priority is the church, which will have room for 20 sisters and 100 guests. It is not unusual for two busloads of 60 to show up for Midday Prayer. When that happens now, we have to go outdoors to pray. As soon as we can move into the new monastery, our present two houses will be turned over to the many who wish to share our life by coming for a few days of retreat. We also hope to renovate our barn into a welcome center where visitors can learn about our monastic history and buy soap. Jensen is a genius. He really listens to us and tries to understand our life, and puts it all in his head and out come these wonderful ideas. Our site has a view of the fjord in both directions. What if we lengthened the cells so that we could see out in both directions? He wants to see if it is possible to make transparent concrete. Stones from the shoreline would be "free floating" in it and the light would shine through it in a very interesting way. The light here exists nowhere else. Stones could also be put between glass, but then they would be resting on top of one another and not suspended. But it could give a stained glass effect. We are very excited about these ideas.
We are moving toward having all the rooms on the ground floor, except for the dormitory which will be two stories. We want Jensen to develop his idea of making the garth a little untraditional. Some of the rooms would be in the garth, and there would be little gardens spaced among them. Jensen’s idea for the church is based on a long, narrow, high nave with alcoves for the choir and guests on both sides of the nave. The transparent concrete with stones in it would be used in a skylight along the nave which would give a fantastic light effect from above. The alcoves would be darker, which is good for private prayer, and offers visitors a choice about how much they want to feel they are participating. A low window would give a view of the fjord behind the altar. There is a Norwegian saying, Vegen blir til mens vi går den. That has certainly been the case for us during this unforeseen delay in our plans for the permanent monastery. The road comes into being as we walk it. We become more and more each day dependent on God, and strive to bring our impatience in line with his timing and his will. He is the one who has called us to return a Cistercian presence to Tautra, and we have no doubt that he will bring his design to completion. The Queen is Coming! Though we probably will not start the actual building until December, we will be honored by Queen Sonja laying the foundation stone on May 8. We are thrilled that Norway’s Queen is so interested in the monastery on Tautra that she will visit and personally sign the official document which will henceforth reside in the foundation wall of the church. On the same day, the Queen will officially open the bridge on the causeway, which will allow the water to flow through, providing better aquatic foodstuff for the many birds protected by Tautra’s bird sanctuary. Comings and Goings Our chaplain who has served us so well since the beginning of the foundation four years ago will be leaving us soon after Easter. Fr Michael McGregor will be returning to his own monastery, Mellifont Abbey in Ireland, where he is much needed. Mount St Joseph Abbey in Roscrea, Ireland will be providing our next chaplain, Fr Anthony O’Brien. We look forward to Fr Anthony’s many talents, especially in the garden. Our sister Hanne-Maria, who has been in the USA for over two years, will be returning to the foundation at the end of April. There is much gladness on both sides of the Atlantic as we anticipate this reunion. S. Hanne-Maria will bring the number of sisters here up to eight. Now the days are lengthening, and spring is just around the corner. We feel very blessed by
being called to Tautra, where God is building not only a new monastic church, but forging us—who were initially formed in five different monasteries--into a Cistercian community for his glory. Each day is new, adventurous, and more beautiful than the day before. We are grateful to each of you who continue to make our mission possible.
With love from your sisters on Tautra