Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 15, 2010
Ballplayer's exodus draws attention to Calif. abbey
Roots of Nobertine order go back to 12th century
JACQUELINE GILVARD LANDRY
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
OAKLAND, CALIF. - St. Michael's Abbey of the Norbertine Order, an autonomous, monastic community in the Orange Diocese, was established in 1961, but its roots go back to 1121 when St. Norbert of Xanten founded the order at Premontre in modern-day France.
The abbey, located in Silverado, has been in the news since a top baseball prospect for the Oakland A's, Grant Desme, announced he was putting the sport behind him to enter the abbey in August.
"We've received people into our monastery from all different walks of life - from the university, from very successful careers, from simple work lives - and everyone arrives here the same," Father Ambrose Criste, novice master and vocations director, said in an interview.
About half of the abbey's confreres are from California, with the others coming from Canada, Mexico, Vietnam and the Philippines, he said. The abbey accepts men aged 18 through 30; the median age of current membership in the community is 42.
"It's a very young community," said Criste, who left Oxford University before completing his Rhodes scholarship to enter the abbey.
Members of the abbey live in community and devote themselves to the solemn celebration of the liturgy, including Mass and the Divine Office, he said. "So we're singing all day, every day."
Criste said there are 69 members, including both priests and seminarians, at the abbey. Today they are among about 1,300 Norbertines throughout Europe, the Americas, Africa and Australia. The order follows the Rule of St. Augustine.
The Silverado abbey was founded by seven Hungarian refugees from the Abbey of St. Michael at Csorna, Hungary. They fled their country in 1950 and regrouped in California in 1957, opening a permanent monastic community and novitiate in 1961 on the current site of the abbey.
In 1976, St. Michael's became an independent Norbertine priory and was elevated to abbatial status by Rome in 1984.
The course of study for the priesthood takes about 10 years, said Criste. Typically fewer than half who begin the process make it to ordination. About nine men usually enter each year.
In addition to its liturgical emphasis, the abbey's principal apostolate is its adjacent boys' residential high school, St. Michael's Preparatory School.
Members of the order teach at the prep school as well as other high schools in the Orange Diocese and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Some are chaplains to elementary schools and two members serve as college chaplains. Seminarians lead an annual five-week boys' summer camp on the abbey grounds.
The priests say Sunday Mass at about 33 parishes. They also provide pastoral support to the Sisters of Tehachapi convent, which the abbey established in 1996 in the Fresno Diocese.
St. Michael's also is responsible for the administration of two parishes: St. John the Baptist in Costa Mesa and Sts. Peter and Paul in Wilmington.
Because of increased vocations, the abbey has outgrown its property and is currently raising funds for an expansion project about 50 km from the current site. It will include a new abbey, school and housing for both seminarians and priests.
To help with the fundraising efforts, the abbey choir, of which Criste is a member, has recorded two CDs: Christmas at St. Michael's Abbey and Anthology: Chants and Polyphony.
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