July 2004 Dear Friends of Tautra Mariakloster, There’s lots of new life on Tautra: the hatching of seagull, duck and oyster-catcher chicks all over the island; last year’s kittens Petra and Lille Mia are nursing three each of their own; and the excitement and new life of our building project which is at last out of the designing stage and moving toward hiring engineers. In April, our project manager Atle Romstad brought in a backhoe to dig a 9-foot-deep trench on both sides of the site of the new monastery to see what kind of soil he would be dealing with. He found a lot of water and sand on one side, but not bedrock, which is good news. We will need to level off the top of the hill so that the monastery, which is designed all on one floor except for our private cells, will lie low and fit well into the landscape. The tender documents were ready in early June, and on June 11 we had advertisements in the two largest newspapers, inviting contractors to make bids for the various types of work. It will take at least a month to choose contractors, and then all of Norway takes summer vacation in July and August. So we are looking forward to the building actually starting around the first of September. Romstad estimates that it will take 18 months to finish the monastery. We hope to celebrate Easter 2006 in the new church. After we have moved in, we will have some days of Open House so that all our neighbors and supporters can see the final product of their prayers and contributions. Then we will close the cloister, but the church will remain open to the public. The houses we live in now will be used for guests, so that we can take as many as twelve at a time instead of only one. There are many who want to spend a few days on retreat with us, sharing the rhythm of our Cistercian life, with its balance of silence and chant, solitude and community, activity and meditation. There are also many, from both in and outside of Norway, who visit the Cistercian ruins on Tautra and come to see the new Cistercian monastery. Some days during the summer we have had four busloads of tourists who come to pray with us and learn what monastic life is all about. We can fit a maximum of 35 in our chapel (and even then, some have to sit in the sacristy!). When the busload has more than that, we pray outside. Even if it rains. Our visitors have included the political leaders of Frosta kommune, who gave us a check for 50,000 kroner (about $7000) toward the new monastery. The mayor said it was only a symbolic amount, to show how much they appreciated having us in Frosta. But we know the kommune is operating in the red, so the gift meant a lot to us. We are happy to announce that, with contributions and pledges, we are at 94% of the total needed to build the monastery. Our sisters at Mississippi Abbey have continued to work hard on our behalf, both in the candy factory and on the capital campaign trail, and have also recently given us a very generous check. We were also honored by a visit of Erna Solberg, who just might be elected our next prime minister. In June we had our biannual official Visitation. Mother Gail (our founding abbess of Mississippi
Abbey) and Dom Brendan Freeman flew over from Iowa. This was M. Gail’s seventh trip to Norway, but only Dom Brendan’s second. Because the sun was shining about 20 hours out of 24, it took him a few days to figure out when it was day and when it was night, and what day of the week it was. S. Hanne-Maria took him on his first fishing trip in our rowboat, and he had a peak experience when he caught his first cod! Dom Brendan was very impressed that in five years, we have come to a new country, found property and started community life, are learning a new language, started a new industry, are building a completely new monastery from scratch, and have formed a monastic community out of eight sisters who made their initial formation in five different monasteries. Any one of these projects is a major undertaking which would take all one’s energy. We are operating on many different fronts at the same time, and living a serious monastic life as well. One of the topics we discussed during the Visitation was how to make more progress in learning Norwegian. Several practical suggestions were made, and we voted, among other things, to try:
Reading Benedict’s Rule in Norwegian at chapter every morning.
Speaking Norwegian during washup after dinner on Mondays, in order to get a basic vocabulary in place. We are all trained to keep silence, and speak only when necessary—a very difficult way to learn a new language! When our Norwegian teacher recommended that we go through our whole day, narrating to ourselves what we were doing, in Norwegian, we realized how many common words we didn’t know. We can more easily think of a line from the psalms like "Lord, protect me from my enemies!", than ordinary phrases like "Please put the silverware in the top drawer" or "Does anyone know where the extension cord is?" Test yourself: in how many languages can you say those two sentences?
Speaking any "extra" talking, around the house or among ourselves, in Norwegian. Sisters who tend to talk to themselves, are encouraged to do it in Norwegian!
We calculated to our delight that our soap industry was able to cover 75% of our living expenses last year. A Norwegian woman, Kirsten Huglen, intends to enter our community in August. It’s another exciting sign of new life that we are preparing to receive our first novice. Whenever a community gains a member, this calls forth conversion in each one as we review our living of monastic life and feel our usual ways of doing things challenged, as we welcome and embrace the newcomer to the Cistercian life as lived on Tautra. The last abbot of Tautra, in 1537, was known as "Mad Matthias." Our former chaplain, Fr Augustine Michael McGregor, was elected the seventh abbot of Mellifont Abbey in Co. Louth, Ireland on May 27. So it’s the first time in 470 years that Tautra has brought forth an abbot, and we hope he can rectify the image of abbatial madness. We were so pleased that he called us first, immediately after the election. It shows how close he feels to the Tautra community. Fr Michael was our chaplain from the beginning in 1999 until just after the Queen visited Tautra
last year. He was an inestimable help to us in those first, difficult and challenging days, learning to celebrate Mass and preach in Norwegian. Mellifont was founded by Mount Melleray in Ireland, which also founded New Melleray in Iowa, which is the "father immediate" house to Mississippi Abbey. So we consider Dom Michael our "uncle abbot" in the Cistercian family. We wish him many graces on the occasion of his abbatial blessing, which will take place August 15, the Feast of the Assumption. Norway seems to be having a colder than usual summer, so only s. Hanne-Maria has been Viking enough to have begun this season’s swimming in the fjord. We wish all of you light- and grace-filled summer days, lived in the warmth of God’s love.
Your sisters on Tautra