The following post was written by Brother Sixtus Roslevich, O.S.B.
In his homily for the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1, Prior Michael Brunner put into words the very same thoughts that were on the minds of many. Addressing the overflow crowd in the Abbey Church for the Solemn Profession of Br. Benedict Maria, O.S.B., he said, “How incredible it is that a young man from the opposite side of the world, the Andaman Islands in India, should then find his way from Philadelphia to this...one of the smallest monasteries in the United States.” In fact, we might add, finding his way from the Andaman Islands to Aquidneck Island.
Mass of the Solemnity of All Saints and Solemn Profession of Brother Benedict Maria, November 1, 2021
The 8:30 a.m. celebration of the Eucharist, which was the context for the profession of final vows, was attended by the entire student body, faculty and administration, along with many staff members, Portsmouth Abbey Oblates, members of the Board of Regents, neighbors from Aquidneck Island and beyond, consecrated religious from the Diocese of Providence, and many of Br. Benedict’s friends, mostly from the metropolitan areas of Philadelphia and Boston. A large number of children and teenagers attended with their parents and gave the day’s proceedings the festive atmosphere of a family gathering. Sadly, none of Br. Benedict’s family were able to travel to the United States to be with him due to international Covid-19 travel restrictions. Ironically, India was said to be lifting bans on travel out of the country as of November 1, the very same day as the profession.
Besides Prior Michael and the five other monks of Portsmouth Abbey, Abbot Gregory Mohrman of Saint Louis Abbey was a concelebrant, as were Fr. Patrick Sullivan, O.S.B. of St. Anselm’s Abbey in New Hampshire, longtime Portsmouth friend Fr. Henry J. Bodah of the Diocese of Providence, and Fr. Thomas J. Pulickal of St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Florida, where Br. Benedict will commence his priestly studies in theology as of January 2022. Also in attendance was Sister Elizabeth Castro, H.M.S.P., Director of the Office for Religious in the Diocese of Providence, representing His Excellency Bishop Thomas J. Tobin. The Portsmouth Abbey School Schola, under the combined direction of Jeffrey Kerr and Blake Billings, ably handled the requirements of the liturgical musical settings. The highlight for many participants was the a cappella chanting in Latin of the Our Father, or Pater Noster. Paul Zalonski of East Haven, Connecticut, recently invested as a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, assisted with sacristy and ceremonial duties.
Brother Benedict reads aloud the Document of Profession
Elsewhere in his homily which, while mostly addressed directly to Br. Benedict, resonated strongly with everyone present, Prior Michael spoke of surviving, “the time of great distress, by living the Beatitudes, a word which literally means ‘The Happinesses’.” He drew knowing laughs from everyone when he said, “You get along with everyone, everyone who meets you likes you, you always smile; we’ve never seen you angry or upset or sad. You never oversleep. You never miss prayers. You get A’s in all your courses. You never complain or grumble. You are so unlike me!” (Bold emphasis is Fr. Michael’s). Appropriately for All Saints Day, he continued, “You are vowing to work at being a saint. What can we say other than you have made a great start. There are many people here to witness you make these vows. There are many people here to pray for you, that you succeed, that you enrich this monastery, this school, the whole church with your vocation. This is a tribute to you and a prayer of hope for the future. God is doing great things in you; may you cooperate with his gifts and his grace that you may lead others to God and take your own place among all the saints. Now you will make your vows.”
With that, a centuries-old ceremony unfolded in the sanctuary consisting of the Interrogation, the Profession of Vows, the Prayers, the Litany of the Saints (with the inclusion of St. Teresa of Kolkata and St. Alphonsa of India), the Blessing Prayer, and Admission to Membership of the Monastic Chapter. During the recitation of the Litany of the Saints, Br. Benedict prostrated himself on a carpet before the altar and was covered briefly with the large elaborately quilted and embroidered funeral pall normally reserved for placing on a coffin inside the church. Used in this way at a Solemn Profession, it symbolizes a man dying to his former way of life and rising as a new man. To conclude his admission to the chapter, Fr. Michael proclaimed, “We confirm that you are now one with us as a member of this monastic community of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, and Saint Gregory the Great, and a member of our chapter,” which the entire congregation affirmed with a hearty, “Amen!” A sign of peace followed, as a gesture of welcome given to Br. Benedict by the seven monks present from the Portsmouth chapter.
Reception in the Stillman Dining Hall
Two receptions followed the Mass to accommodate the crowd: students gathered in the Winter Garden before heading off to their first class of the day, while the rest of the guests gathered and lingered in the Stillman Dining Hall. Sarah Rodrigues and her food service staff handled all of the food and beverage needs in addition to maintaining the regular meal schedule for the school. Beautiful seasonal floral arrangements utilizing only local plantings from the island were prepared by Mrs. Catherine Abbate, wife of Regent Chris ‘88, mother of Eloise ‘20 and Michael ‘22. At the Stillman reception a large mosaic shield was unveiled and blessed by Prior Michael. Completed by Br. Benedict in the days leading up to his profession, it portrays the coat of arms of Portsmouth Abbey which was designed by Fr. Wilfrid Bayne (1893-1974). Utilizing skills acquired under Br. Symeon Gillette, O.S.B., during early novitiate studies at Saint Louis Abbey, Br. Benedict enlarged the shield, made paper patterns, cut the black, white and gold tiles to his needs, and applied them to a plywood base. With the guidance of several staff members at the school, the shield was grouted, framed, polished, and is now ready to be mounted to a wall in the monastery. In the note for viewers, which he read at the blessing, Benedict explained, “This coat of arms is a heritage of Portsmouth Abbey as it portrays the lions of St. Gregory the Great lifting high the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The lions symbolize St. Gregory who was the defender and protector of the Liturgy and Eucharist.”
Mosaic shield of Portsmouth Abbey, fabricated by Br. Benedict before his profession
After three days of complete silence while pinned inside of his black monk’s hood, Brother Benedict will fully rejoin the community, always smiling, never complaining or grumbling, eager to do the work of God.