While visiting Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries in Garrison, N.Y., yesterday, the postulants made a tour of what used to be a house of formation for the priests and lay brothers.
Through the late 19th century and early 20th century, many religious orders settled along the Hudson River, outside New York City, where distance from nativist and anti-Catholic resentment made it easier to purchase property. The Capuchins acquired Glenclyffe, the former estate of Hamilton Fish, who was governor of New York and also U.S. Secretary of State under President Ulysses S. Grant. On these grounds were built a minor seminary, which was a high school that prepared boys who were considering priesthood or religious life for the rigors of theological education. Also, a group of Third Order Franciscans -- men and women who promised to live according to the way of St. Francis without formally entering religious life -- built a villa on the grounds. Finally, there was the house of formation itself. It was known as the Monastery of Mary Immaculate, and it was built in 1932 for the purpose of theological instruction. The brothers would study, work, and reside there for four years until they completed their oral examination in theology.
The monastery had the capacity to shelter about 120 persons. At its peak, the monastery housed about 80 friars in formation. As vocations to religious life declined, the province had no alternative but to close the monastery in the 1970s and move its post-novitiate formation into more economical quarters. At present the post novices, who number about 10 to 12 in any given year, live in Boston in the neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, and they attend classes in theology and philosophy at Boston College, Emmanuel College, and St. John's Seminary.
With the upkeep of the property becoming increasingly cost-prohibitive, the province decided finally to sell the monastery building at the beginning of the last decade. Its occupant is now the Garrison Institute, an educational center dedicated to the "non-sectarian exploration of contemplative practice within a social context." You can see a few pictures of the building and grounds, as they look today, right here.
The chaplain at Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries took us through the Gothic-style complex. His memory was excellent, and since the Garrison Institute made significant renovations only to the bathrooms and former chapel, he could point out exactly the purpose of every room and space in the building. It was easy to picture ourselves with him and his fellow confreres at the refectory, taking meals in silence while some sacred text was being read. We could see ourselves working with the lay brothers in the kitchen or laundry room. We could imagine lounging with the priests in their recreation room. We could envision the fairly strict separation between the lay brothers and the priest-brothers, who resided in different quarters, attended separate classes, and even prayed apart at chapel, with the priest-brothers on the ground level and the lay brothers in the loft.
A quick word about the chapel. What happens to a place of worship when its founders leave? Well, in this instance, it still remains a sacred space -- only the rituals have changed. Truthfully, I can think of no better second life for this chapel than to become a meditation hall. Though I must admit, I experienced some cognitive dissonance as the chaplain described where the altar and sanctuary used to be. From the place where a baldachino, or canopy, arched over an altar of Christ, now a great Buddha sits composurely. Gone, too, are many of the choir seats; and the panel scenes for the Stations of the Cross (a traditional chapel devotion popularized by the Franciscans), embedded in recesses of the stone walls, have been cemented over. Vestiges of the chapel's origins are seen in the stained glass windows.
One of the postulants and I were daydreaming about what it would be like to live for several years in a cloistered space like Mary Immaculate, with everything we needed all in one place, and all our activities (work, study, prayer, recreation) in the same environs. We could definitely place ourselves where our elder brothers were 50, 60, and 70 years ago, but we were glad all the same that the friars do things differently today. First and foremost, we would never think of ourselves as monastics, though friars share a common spiritual heritage with monks; and we would never build a house to operate like a monastery. We would never segregate the priest-brothers and lay brothers in a clerical pecking order or take meals in silence. The Capuchins have always had a contemplative bent, but our charism is to outward-looking fraternity. We do not dwell apart from the world in serenity and contentment. It is fitting that Capuchins strive to live contemplatively even in the cities, and that the majority of formation now takes place in an urban context.
Much more could be said about what it means to be a friar and not a monk, and I will say more in posts to come.