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Retreats at Mt St Benedict resume

By Kaelanne Jordan

Having been closed due to restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the monks at Mt St Benedict were able to host a live-in retreat at its Retreat House for the first time in three years. There were 13 retreatants from Holy Thursday until Easter Sunday.

The monastery, Abbot John Pereira OSB said, is hoping to maintain its Retreat House ministry on a limited scale as repairs are needed. “Once funds are forthcoming, then the Retreat ministry of the monks will definitely be expanded,” he told Catholic News.

The dining hall of the Retreat House

The Retreat House at Mt St Benedict Abbey has a rich, varied, and interesting history. It was first used as a Cocoa Drying House by the monks from the year 1915. The property of Mt St Benedict was partly a cocoa estate.

According to Abbot Pereira, there were no rooms on the top of the building at that time but a galvanise roof with rails on either side. When the cocoa was harvested, the sliding roof was pulled back for the cocoa pods to be dried in the sun.

He mentioned the present refectory of the Retreat House was separately built in 1913 as a workshop/dormitory for the monks.

In 1926, the Cocoa Drying House was converted into living quarters for the Benedictine monks by having rooms, a chapel and a conference hall built above the lower floor. A bakery was also built on the lower floor where the monks baked their own bread. The monastery’s resident donkey had often been tied just outside where the bakery was eventually established.

With the establishment of the Seminary within the womb of the monastery in 1943, more spacious accommodation was needed for the growing number of seminarians. The solution was the present Retreat House.

Abbot Pereira explained after the building of the present Seminary building in 1962, the seminarians moved out of the formerly used Cocoa Drying House and took up residence in the present Seminary building lower down the hill.

“Several other uses were made of the building until the monks decided to establish it as a Retreat Centre,” Abbot Pereira said.

With the election of Abbot Hildebrand Greene OSB as Abbot in 1979, he spent much time and effort in promoting the Retreat Ministry of the monks. This ministry continued even after his resignation as Abbot in 1995.

Abbot Hildebrand Greene OSB leading a retreat on the Mount in the late 1970s. Abbot John Pereira was one of the participants.

With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Retreat House was closed to the public for three years in keeping with restrictions imposed by the Government.

“Thankfully, the Retreat House was able to host its first live-in retreat for the Easter Triduum 2023,” Abbot Pereira commented