At the core of the mission of Portsmouth Abbey School is the desire to "grow in knowledge and grace," in a life dedicated to Christ. In light of this basic apostleship, the spiritual life of the school is inspired by the Benedictine ideal of a community life of work and prayer ("orare et laborare"). As Saint Benedict sought in his Rule for monks, so too does the school community seek a life of spiritual growth, centered in intellectual development and balanced with physical and social activities, recreation and rest. To this end, oriented by the Catholic tradition, the school offers a comprehensive and structured academic, athletics, and residential life program.
Spiritual life programs seek to integrate all of these dimensions of school life into the "work of God," centering the school life in personal and community prayer and service. This includes school liturgies, form and group retreats, service and pilgrimage trips, volunteering and community service, and a variety of additional programs and events. 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. The presence of non-Catholic and non-Christian members of the school community creates a rich diversity and promotes an atmosphere of acceptance and respect for various religious traditions. This diverse community is drawn into a reflection on and an attentiveness to the life of the spirit, as it lives out its central mission.
Learn about Portsmouth Abbey students' work in Community Service.
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,ooo 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.
Portsmouth Abbey’s friendship with the Manquehue Apostolic Movement from Santiago, Chile, is focused on inspiring the Abbey community to a renewed and deeper spirituality. This Chilean community of faith has a longstanding relationship, and now a formal association, with the English Benedictine Congregation. Manquehue’s founder, José Manuel Eguiguren Guzman, developed his own personal spirituality, assisted in study and prayer by a Benedictine monk in Santiago. He has structured the community life of the movement in light of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Inspired by visits to several English monasteries, he later sent representatives to the schools at Ampleforth and Downside Abbeys and other monastic houses and schools in England and the United States. For the past several years, Portsmouth Abbey has been cultivating its relationship with the Movement through ongoing visits to Chile by Headmaster Dan McDonough and Director of Spiritual Life, Blake Billings ’77, joined in 2012 by Director of Christian Community Service Therese Thomas and Tim Seeley ’77, director of summer programs. Dr. Billings remarks that, “The visits really helped us to explore more closely the practices and spirituality of the Manquehue schools and communities, to see how they might be integrated into life here at the school.” Several visits by the Manquehue delegation has helped to further these efforts.
The Manquehue visitors have adapted quickly to life at the Abbey, frequenting afternoon athletics practices and games, organizing evening lectio divina groups with the dorms, participating in the divine office with the monastic community, and quickly getting to know many students, faculty members and monks. Dr. Billings reflects, “They are a devout and well-grounded group of individuals, so committed in their faith, and easy to spend time with. They not only teach about ‘accompañamiento’ (a kind of fellowship) and ‘acogida’ (a warm hospitality), but they live it so visibly and persuasively.”The School recently udertook its first summer trip to Chile for Abbey students in July 2014, which included spending ten days in Santiago and in the surrounding region, touring, and completing a community service project.
Meet our 2015 Manquehue visitors to the Portsmouth Abbey campus here.
“Lectio Divina” is a reading-based form of prayer, particularly based on sacred scripture. Inspired by Manquehue practices, which in turn looks to centuries-old monastic traditions, and with the student leadership of Matt Benevides ‘15 and Susana Marino-Johnson ’14, the Portsmouth Abbey School has been developing a regular student-led lectio divina group. The visitors also have helped the spiritual life team to learn about the Movement’s practice of “celebrating the Word,” a lectio divina-inspired praying of the Sunday Mass readings.