Academic journal article Michigan Sociological Review

Vocation Stories of Cistercian Monks

Academic journal article Michigan Sociological Review

Vocation Stories of Cistercian Monks

Article excerpt

VOCATION STORIES OF CISTERCIAN MONKS

The original purpose of this project was to study the prayer lives of the monks at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit (a Cistercian/Trappist monastery) in Conyers, Georgia (Smith 2014) but I soon discovered that the monks had very interesting vocation stories. The monks are known as Trappists, which is a popular name for their religious order: Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Lekai 1977; Bianco 1992; de Waal 1998; Delisi 2003). This paper will discuss their vocation stories. Fichter (1966: 3) noted, "The person who dedicates himself in a full-time and special way to the work of the Church is said to have a vocation, rather than simply an occupation, job or profession ... The ecclesiastical vocation is commonly considered a calling from God." Martin (2010: 343) discovered, "God calls each of us to different vocations. Or, rather, God plants within us these vocations, which are revealed in our desires and longings." Weigert and Blasi (2007: 27) concluded, "To be called is to have one's identity activated, and the called must then respond, and thereby maintain, enhance, or demean the activated identity." Merton (1978: 29-30) referred to the monastic vocation as "a mystery ... a gift of God . God will reveal Himself to us in the gift of our vocation, but He will do this only gradually."

The Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit is located 35 miles east of Atlanta, Georgia and it was the first Trappist monastery in the United States founded by American Cistercians. It is also the first daughter-house of Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey. Gethsemani was home to the famous monk Thomas Merton. Twenty-one monks from Gethsemani founded the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in 1944. The monks built the original structures including a large church. During September and October of 2013, the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit was home to 38 monks including three visiting monks and three monks who have since died. The monastery is supported by a retreat house, a conservation burial ground, a bookstore, a garden supply shop, a stained glass business, and a bakery which produces fudge, biscotti, and fruitcake.

Initially I was interested in studying the monks' prayer lives but I then became fascinated with their vocation stories. Scholars have mostly neglected the sociological study of vocations (Hoge, Potvin, and Ferry 1984) and the vocation stories of religious (Wolf 1990; Crider 2006; Bendyna and Gautier 2009; Gautier, Wiggins, and Holland 2015), although significant attention has been given to the topic of the decline in religious vocations (Hoge, Potvin, and Ferry 1984; Neal 1984; Felknor 1989; Greeley 1990; Ebaugh 1993; Schoenherr and Young 1993; Wittberg 1994; Stark and Finke 2000; Gautier, Perl, and Fichter 2012; Johnson, Wittberg, and Gautier 2014). There is a plethora of vocation stories of Catholic religious available on the internet. It is not uncommon for these stories to appear on the web sites of religious orders such as the Jesuits, Congregation of Holy Cross, the Paulists, the Poor Clares, the Felician Sisters, and the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. The Jesuits have one of the largest online collections of vocation stories, the result of their oral history program. Religious orders as well as diocesan vocation offices use these stories as recruitment tools. In addition to the web sites maintained by religious orders and dioceses, the National Religious Vocation Conference, an organization of vocation ministers, maintains a web site for information about vocations to the religious life (National Religious Vocation Conference 2014). Bendyna and Gautier (2009: 54) found among recent vocations of members of religious institutes (those who live in community and profess the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience) that their vocations stories revealed a, "call to religious life and particularly their desire to deepen their relationship with God and with Christ. …

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