My initial plan was to return to Loyola Jesuit Center in Morristown, NJ because of my wonderful experience in 2021. But my provincial, Fr. Jim Walther, OMV, suggested St. Mary’s Abbey on the other side of town. The dates of my retreat were May 30 to June 6, 2022.
I don’t regret making the change. Br. Kieran Sheik, OSB, the guestmaster, lived out St. Benedict’s call to be hospitable to visitors. He showed me around the public areas of the monastery and Delbarton School and introduced me to various workers. He made sure that the prayer books were set up for me.
I lucked out in accommodations. During the lockdown, the monks gutted and rebuilt the Vincent House with modern amenities. My room had such a large floor space that I could have spent my entire retreat there. The bathroom had a rain shower head and hose attachment. Although the air conditioning was great, the cooler temperatures allowed me to leave my window open during the retreat.
Usually, monasteries maintain separate areas between guests and monks for Mass, Liturgy of the Hours and meals. But because I was a religious, the monks allowed me to sit with them in the choir for Mass and Liturgy of the Hours. My meals were with them in their refectory. Some monks chatted with me while others gave me space. I didn’t mind either situation. There were enough times of silence for me.
The monastery provided enough options for my dietary needs. My favorite was the egg ordering sheet for breakfast. One circles the type of eggs with additional instructions for the kitchen. At first, I asked for no butter with my scrambled eggs. Then, I began to add vegetables to the point where the list became “tomato, onion and (spinach or bell peppers).”
Since the Benedictines provided only a place to stay, I relied on my spiritual director to direct my retreat through FaceTime. We met every other evening and her advice proved crucial at various moments.
There are many graces to unpack from the retreat. But I can share the two biggest graces. First was the call to express courageously my identity as a religious brother. I made a point to wear my habit at liturgical functions and the following meals. Maybe that opened the door to allow me to sit with the monks at meals. Second was more trust in the Blessed Virgin Mary to take care of me. Throughout the return, I saw little trinkets of her presence. For example, a walk around the athletic fields turned up a baseball, which became a bedtime present for Vito, Fr. Peter Gojuk’s African gray parrot.
During the weekend, I walked often around Delbarton School. The cool temperatures, early morning light and beautiful building and grounds created a peaceful atmosphere.
I would recommend the abbey for two types of people: first, those who need only online or no retreat direction, and second, those who need a few days to be with the Lord, but do not want the total silence of a retreat house.
Check out the abbey. Maybe you find yourself loving the grounds, the monks and the eggs.