Spiritual Life

House Mass - St. Hugh's

As a Catholic school in the Benedictine tradition, God is at the center of all we do. Our spiritual life program exists for students to encounter Him. 

Faithful to the Church’s life and teachings, we are also enriched and edified by students of other faith traditions and no faith traditions. Here, students from all walks of all can explore, question, and grow in their relationship with Christ. 

The presence of the monastic community and the involvement of many of its members adds a depth and vitality to spiritual life at the school.

Sacramental Life

The celebration of mass is the primary way to God. On Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, students and faculty gather in the Church to enter into the one ineffable mystery: the Eucharist. At school masses, students serve as lectors, singers, gift-bearers, and altar-servers. Throughout the year, the monks offer house masses as well. The intimacy and familiarity of house masses serves as a reminder that “God comes to us,” right here in their “school home.” 

Confessions are heard every Friday during conference periods. Once a term there is also a schoolwide reconciliation service. 

Eucharistic Adoration is offered in the Church every Monday night. 


Lectio Divina, or “Divine Reading,” refers to the monastic practice of reading the Bible. Unlike Bible studies which focus on analysis and study, in lectio, the person takes a more receptive disposition to God’s word. To put it differently, in lectio, we let God speak to us. 

Here at the Abbey, we are blessed to be associated with the Manquehue Apostolic Movement, an officially recognized “Private Association of Lay Faithful” whose aim is to promote the Benedictine tradition of lectio divina. Our lectio groups are student-led and meet by house. Students gather to meditate on the Sunday scriptures, share prayer intentions, and grow in friendship and joy. 

In addition to members of the Manquehue visiting our school and becoming a part of our community during our Winter Term each year, a group of Abbey students and faculty spend 10 days in Santiago and in the surrounding region in the summer. While there, they tour the area and complete a community service project by constructing a home for a local family.

RCIA and Confirmation Program

The Abbey offers RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and Confirmation classes. Students sign up at the beginning of the year and meet weekly to prepare for baptism, first communion, and/or confirmation. Students who receive all sacraments of initiation do so at the Easter Vigil. In May, there is a separate mass for those only receiving confirmation. 

The Lourdes Pilgrimage

Abbey students are in the privileged position to have the opportunity to travel to Lourdes, France, to volunteer in helping the pilgrims, or malades, who seek healing to fully benefit from their time in this historic and holy place. The students also have the chance to savor the day-to-day life of the town, and enjoy their own spiritual retreat.

The late Hugh Markey '40 sponsored the pilgrimage, as he did for decades, for students to go with Ampleforth Abbey in England on a week-long trip that has been taking place for over a century. Since the mid-1990s, Joe Michaud '90 has organized and led the Portsmouth Abbey students each year.

The volunteer activities at Lourdes change, and so the experience is a very individual one, varying from year to year, pilgrimage from pilgrimage, and person to person. This could mean responsibilities include meeting the malades at the train station, helping them into rickshaws, transporting them to the Holy Shrines, or offering assistance as needed.  


The Grotto & Candlelight Procession

The School has a Marian grotto, modeled on the grotto of Lourdes, which has provided a focal point of prayer for the school community. The grotto has served as the point of origin for candlelight procession that accentuate the beautiful surroundings of the Abbey campus.

The School community marked the first Friday in May -- the month the Catholic Church devotes to the Virgin Mary -- to dedicate the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in 2012.

The generous gift of an alumnus who has spent considerable time at Lourdes, in the south of France, the School's outdoor shrine was constructed to pay homage to the Virgin Mary.  The massive stones -- some weighing as much as 11,000 to 12,000 pounds each -- used for the Grotto were harvested from fields on School property.  The statue of the Virgin Mary, enshrined in the side of the Grotto, was made from Carrara marble and was specially sculpted in Italy for the Grotto.  A candle rack for devotional candles, marked with the same Cross Moline that is over the front door of the Church of St. Gregory the Great, was fabricated and donated by Billy Mac (Mac Marine), of Tiverton.  The large granite bench placed in front of the Grotto is from a Newport estate and has been in storage on campus for years.  

"The statue of the Blessed Virgin enshrined at the Grotto also reminds us that, since 1947, Portsmouth Abbey has been dedicated to her under the title of Our Lady of Peace. We have not yet made enough of that title and of her patronage."Each year since its dedication of the Grotto, the School gathers at the Grotto to begin a candlelit procession to the Church of St. Gregory the Great on upper campus.  It was first explained that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the most appropriate place from which to begin a procession symbolizing the journey of faith, since it was precisely through her embrace in obedient faith of the word of God spoken to her by the angel that Jesus, the very object of our faith, came into the world.

The faculty and the entire student body, arranged according to their residential houses, process—lit candles in hand— from the Grotto to the lower road, then to the south and east of St. Martin's House and then along the west side of the "Holy Lawn," which they circumambulate in two circuits. Finally, everyone ascends the main stairway into the Church. Meanwhile, on the raised platform immediately in front of the Church, student instrumentalists and singers provide music and lead the community in prayer.

Candlelight Procession