Abbatial Blessing

Bishop Thomas Tobin recently joined the Portsmouth Abbey community to preside over the Abbatial Blessing of the Right Reverend Michael G. Brunner, O.S.B. Bishop Tobin expressed his gratitude to be able to join the community on this important day, for “the formal liturgical blessing of Abbot Michael.” The blessing marked the culmination of much prayer and much preparation, with the School and numerous guests in attendance. The bishop noted that the occasion marked “an expression of the good and strong friendship that has developed for many years between the Diocese of Providence and Portsmouth Abbey,” a friendship he feels is “as strong now as it has ever been.” He affirmed: “The diocese is indeed richly blessed by the presence of this Benedictine community.” And the monastic community and its abbot expressed its own gratitude for the presence and support of the bishop. 

Bishop Thomas Tobin addresses Abbot Michael (image: Marianne Lee)

The Abbatial Blessing is of great significance, both to the monastic community and to the diocese. The language of the liturgical blessing, he noted, contains, “what we might call a job description for the ministry of an abbot.” The ministry, he said, presents “a demanding task.” Notably, the “Abba” at the root of “abbot” is indicative that he must, “make his manner of life so clearly that he is what he is called, a father so that his teaching will be a leaven of goodness.” This encapsulates “a high ideal... a lofty aspiration.” And it accentuates the need for prayer and the petition for blessing: “Is it any wonder that we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit on this occasion! ...Is it any wonder than we invoke the intercession of all the saints.” And these prayers are effective, for while we remain “earthen vessels” in much need of grace, Christ has said “with me all things are possible.”


Br. Joseph Byron, Abbot Michael, and Br. Basil Piette (l to r; image: Andrew Brooks)

The bishop went on to highlight the most fundamental dimension of any Christian ministry, particularly as seen through the lens of the abbatial ministry: the leader must be the servant, just as Jesus Himself comes as a servant among us. Christ serves us in many ways, Bishop Tobin said, notably in his Incarnation, in his earthly ministry with its teaching and its healing. And most visibly Christ also serves us in his suffering: one need only look to the crucifix to be reminded that His ministry is one of service, suffering, and sacrifice. With an additional pledge of support and prayer of the whole diocese and church for Abbot Michael and the Portsmouth community, Bishop Tobin reminded the abbot to, “keep your eyes fixed on Jesus,” that the Lord Jesus may bring to completion his work. 

The Blessing (image: Andrew Brooks)

Concelebrants of the Mass included Portsmouth’s Abbot Emeritus Matthew Stark, O.S.B., Abbot Gregory Mohrman, O.S.B. of St, Louis Abbey, Abbot Marc Crilly, O.S.B. of St. Benedict’s Abbey (Still River, Massachusetts), and Abbot Thomas J. O’Connor, O.S.B. of Glastonbury Abbey (Massachusetts). Also celebrating the Mass with these abbots were priests of the Portsmouth monastic community, including Fr. Paschal Scotti, Fr. Gregory Havill, and Fr. Christopher Davis. These were joined by Fr. Andrew Senay, O.S.B., of St. Louis Abbey, Fr. Daniel Gray of St. Anthony Parish in Portsmouth, Fr. Henry Bodah of the Providence diocese, Fr. Thomas McCreesh O.P., of Providence College, Fr. Gabriel Myers, O.S.B. of St. Anselm in Washington, D.C., and Fr. Paul Rourke, S.J., of Fairfield University. Present in the monastic choir were a number of Sisters from the diocese, as well as the choir of St. Mary’s Parish in Newport, R.I. 

Bishop Tobin congratulates Abbot Michael (image: Andrew Brooks)

The congregation adjourned to the Winter Garden of the Cortazzo Administration Building for a reception and to share in fellowship and hospitality, assisted by the diligent work of Mrs. Sarah Rodrigues and the dining hall staff.