Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

The Benedictine Family

by Stephen Drees


I couldn't help but smile when I read Deacon Jim and Ann Cavera's recent piece for this blog titled Digging Deeper, a reflection on the spirituality of the late great, Dorothy Day. Well over a decade before I experienced my first monastic retreat at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, which ultimately led to my oblation at Saint Meinrad, I was fascinated by Day.

In fact, I knew about Dorothy Day long before I learned that she had been a Benedictine Oblate, or even what an oblate is! Her story as a devout lay Catholic and activist with a checkered past living the Beatitudes amidst the poor in the slums of New York had a big impact on my personal spirituality and faith walk.

It wasn't until after my first few trips to Gethsemani that I made the connection between the Rule's admonition to "Receive all visitors as Christ" and the houses of hospitality that Day had founded.

Could America one day have its first oblate saint? Day's cause for sainthood continues and has picked up considerable momentum, as Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are actively promoting it.

As a lifelong Catholic, I have always made an effort to attend Mass and visit churches, cathedrals and basilicas when travel for business or pleasure has taken me throughout the United States and sometimes to other parts of the world. I have always found it comforting that the Mass is essentially the same, no matter what building, culture or language it is celebrated in.

The Church is different, but also the same, no matter where you go. As an oblate "newbie" who has been formally part of the family for only two years, I am just beginning to understand that the 1,500-year-old Benedictine tradition is a mirror of the Catholic Church in its paradox of diversity and universality.

Several weeks ago, I was in the Chicago suburbs for a couple days of business meetings. As I was settling into my hotel room, I recalled that Dorothy Day had been an oblate of a monastery somewhere in the Chicago area. After doing a Google search, I discovered that the monastery of her oblation was St. Procopius Abbey in nearby Lisle, IL - just a short drive from where I was staying.

I made a phone call to the abbey, spoke to one of the priests, told him I was an oblate in town for business and asked if it was possible to join the community for Lauds the next morning. With typical Benedictine hospitality, he extended a warm welcome and early the next morning I found myself in a small chapel with about a dozen monks chanting Morning Prayer of the Divine Office.

As I was praying with the monks, I couldn't help but think back on my first monastic experience at Gethsemani nearly a decade earlier - when I had absolutely no idea what the Opus Dei was, let alone how to recite it. Having prayed the Office for many years now, sitting in the pew at St. Procopius I was totally comfortable actively participating in this ancient prayer ritual.

I also couldn't help but think of the connection between Dorothy Day, St. Procopius Abbey and this humble oblate as I felt like the many spiritual roads I had previously traveled had all led me to this place. It felt like I had arrived at a long-awaited destination, but also at a new beginning.

I was a visitor, but I felt right at home. Like the Church of which it is a part, the Benedictines are a large global family and - like the Mass - the Divine Office is prayed pretty much the same way all over the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays in the Garden that His followers then and always would remain as "one." And so we are.

It was a Catholic moment. It was a Benedictine moment. It was a God moment. Dorothy Day, pray for us.

Soli Deo Gloria!

St. Procopius Abbey prayer for Dorothy Day's canonization

O God, may the Church recognize the holiness of Dorothy Day, Servant of God and Benedictine Oblate of St. Procopius Abbey, especially in her dedication to the liturgy, her desire for the justice of God's Kingdom, and her devotion to the poor as persons in whom Christ is welcomed. Amen.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.