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Copyright 2004, University of California, BRASS
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The Story of the Benedictine Monks
of Santa Familia Monastery in Cayo
on the occasion of
the 25th Anniversary of its founding
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This short history of the Benedictine Monastery of Santa Familia, in Cayo District,
Belize, Central America, is by no means a complete history. Rather it is a picture of
what has happened since 1971 as seen through the reports and letters sent by the monks
to their motherhouse, Subiaco Abbey, in the State of Arkansas, U.S.A.
This story will show mostly the good side of things. It will not include the sorrows,
the bad times, the conflicts or other human characteristics that are to be found in all
Most of the material used here are direct quotations from letters and reports that
were published in Subiaco Abbey's periodical: The Abbey Message, and from the abbey's
history: A Place Called Subiaco. These sources give a good outline of the Belizean
monastery's 25-year history.
Throughout these pages the reader can detect the Hand of the Lord, as well as an
awareness of His blessings upon a small endeavor for God's honor and glory and the
good of the Church and People of Belize.
Benedictines throughout the world have three mottoes: the first is: Peace; the sec-
ond is: Pray and Work, and the third: That In All Things God May Be Glorified. We feel
that Santa Familia Monastery has tried to do all of these, and, in a small way, has suc-
ceeded in its first 25 years.
Rev. Hugh Assenmacher, O.S.B.
THE BACKGROUND OF A
The beginnings of Santa Familia Monastery began before the first Benedictine monks
came from Subiaco in Arkansas, U.S.A. and in a round-about way. The first details of
the British Honduran venture are told in the Abbey's History: A PLACE CALLED
SUBIACO (pp. 445 and following):
In 1962 Subiaco Abbey began a monastic foundation in Nigeria, West Africa.
Due to the Biafran Civil War, this mission had withered by 1968 and all the
monks had returned to the U.S.
Almost parallel with the failure of the Nigerian mission, another chain was being
linked together that led to the founding of a second foreign mission for Subiaco
Abbey. In 1955 a young man, Jos6 Silva, from the Central American country
then called British Honduras, was admitted to the Brother's Novitiate at Subiaco.
On March 21, 1956, he became Br. Benedict and had always hoped for a
Benedictine foundation in his country. In 1966 Fr. Leo Koesler of Subiaco Abbey
made a trip to British Honduras to promote religious vocations at the request of
Church and Government officials. If Subiaco Abbey was fortunate in obtaining
vocations from this country, it might seriously consider establishing a religious
house there. Father Leo returned to Arkansas with a candidate and others came
later. He had also discussed the possibilities of a mission with the Bishop and
the Prime Minister.
The abbot's council at Subiaco decided to ask for an option on some land near
the new capital, Belmopan, which the government was then building in the interior
of the country. However, since the abbey was still engaged in its Nigerian mission
project at this time, it did not want to authorize the foundation of another monas-
tery. No other measures were taken at this time until March, 1968, when Father
Clement Schmidt, sub-prior and farm manager of the abbey, was sent to British
Honduras to check on land, farming operations, and general information. Father
Clement, a biologist, found the trip interesting and felt that such a project was
In the same spring of 1969, the remaining monks in Nigeria returned to Arkansas
after the fall of Biafran Territory. One of these was Father Basil Wiederkehr. In
the late winter of 1969 Abbot Michael Lensing of Subiaco assigned Father Basil
to spend one year in British Honduras viewing options. He spent nearly 10 months
working in Belize City and in the missions and touching most of the areas of
the country during a two-month Confirmation tour with Bishop Robert Hodapp,
S. J., of Belize City.
THE ABBEY MESSAGE of Subiaco Abbey commented:
Upon his return, Fr. Basil outlined for the community at Subiaco some of the
problems and difficulties involved in making a new foundation in this small
country. A factor was the fact that there are now four natives of British Honduras
in the monastery at Subiaco, and so a nucleus of a native monastic community
may already be at hand. The four men are: Br. Benedict Silva, who has been
in the monastery for over 15 years, and three novices: Francisco Cervantes, Jos6
Cervantes, andNoel Leslie.
The book: A PLACE CALLED SUBIACO continued:
In October, 1969, Abbot Michael Lensing and Fr. Robert Lazzari, his prior, flew
to British Honduras for a look of their own. They returned with the opinion
that monastic life could best be carried on with 250 acres promised by the
government near the new capital. Above all, the abbey would avoid taking on
parishes and schools but would merely live a simple monastic life, doing whatever
work might become necessary. This was becoming a fixed idea at Subiaco at this
time, a partial reaction to the problems incurred in Nigeria, but largely due to the
renewed outlook on Benedictine life arising from the Second Vatican Council
of the Catholic Church.
The next paragraph was of the utmost importance in the idea of the monastery for British
Upon his return to Subiaco, Abbot Michael began to prepare for a chapter meeting
to discuss British Honduras. On a scrap of paper he jotted down his plan for con-
ducting the discussion. He would recommend the 250 acre proposal; there should
be an understanding with the bishop that the abbey would not commit itself to
setting up a school or operating parishes, but that the monks might assist in both
as long as they could remain a community; the monastery would support itself
from the land, preferably by raising cattle; at no time would the abbey commit
itself to more than 3 U.S. monks, the rest would be British Hondurans; a novitiate
to train monks would be set up as soon as possible.
THE ABBEY MESSAGE continued the story:
...The decision to go to British Honduras was made by the monastic chapter on
January 8, 1970, several days before the collapse of Biafra. There was no hope
of return to Africa at that time and, a return would involve a completely new
beginning. Subiaco had to consider both Africa and British Honduras and had to
make a choice between them. In terms of political situation, distance, personnel
requirements and physical possibilities, the Central American venture seemed
the more possible. Certainly there was much soul-searching on the part of the
Subiaco monks in coming to this decision. But the Holy Spirit now seems to be
pointing toward Central America, and to British Honduras.
The book: A PLACE CALLED SUBIACO outlined the first beginnings:
Br. Benedict and Fr. Basil drove to British Honduras to begin the new venture.
The first crisis occurred in March 1970, a little over a month after their arrival.
For personal reasons Fr. Basil asked for a leave-of-absence from the religious
life. This was not a spur-of-the-moment decision, he wrote the abbot, but a climax
to a long period of inner struggle. This changed the whole picture.
A disturbed chapter of monks met at Subiaco in May, 1970, and voted overwhelm-
ingly to suspend the mission in British Honduras for the present. The two monks
were to be recalled at once. No sooner had the chapter voted to suspend the mis-
sion than the abbot received a letter from Fr. Basil recommending that the mission
be continued despite his imminent departure. The abbot was troubled but tried to
see the needs of his confrere, but did not change the decision of the chapter.
This was the state of affairs for almost a year. Then, early in March, 1971, Abbot
Michael received a letter from Mrs. Carmelita Silva de Guerra, a sister of Br.
Benedict. Her father, Mr. Leopoldo Silva, had decided to sell the family farm,
"Carmelita ", in Cayo and give full title with the purchase. He had received offers
from the Mennonites, his neighbors, but he preferred to give first chance to the
Benedictines for the purpose of a monastery. He asked $48,000 U.S. for his 512
acres, livestock and buildings.
On March 29, 1971, the Subiaco chapter discussed the proposal of the Silva
family. At this meeting it was decided to lift the suspension and make a new
foundation though there was much skepticism on the part of many monks and
the measure barely passed. Fr. Robert Lazzari, by now the procurator (business
manager) of the abbey, was sent to negotiate with Mr. Silva. He returned to
make a detailed report. Still the chapter monks were hardly enthusiastic over the
whole proposal though the abbot stressed that this was not his pet project but a
community decision. The vote was a reluctant "Yes" for a new beginning in
British Honduras. The Silva farm was purchased on June 13, 1971.
That summer THE ABBEY MESSAGE made public some details of the new project:
Carmelita farm has 512 acres. Purchase also
included 100 cows, 15 horses and a flock of chickens. A
village, Santa Familia, of about 500 people, is next to the
farm. A family lives on the farm as workers and others
live on the property but not as hired hands. On the same
side of the river is a large Mennonite settlement of several "
The purpose of the foundation is in the simplest ;- .
Benedictine terms of prayer and work. The monks will .: t..;
set up their regular religious life and work the farm for -.
their livelihood. They will work with their neighbors and
The farm house on Carmelita Farm
help the pastor of San Ignacio as they are needed. The that housed the first monks when
monastery will be the farmhouse of the Silva family, they arrived in September 1971.
THE FOUNDATION OF SANTA
By August 1971, the abbot of Subiaco Abbey had named the founding monks for the
new mission: Father Leo Koesler, the superior, and Brother Michael Furhmann and
Brother Benedict Silva. At the public departure ceremony at the abbey, the abbot summed
up the occasion in his talk which reflected the rather pessimistic feeling at the abbey.
...This is not the first time we have gathered around the altar at a departure cere-
mony for a group of our confreres leaving to establish a mission in a foreign
land. But there are differences. Eight years ago there was excitement (in going
to Africa). There was a tension and uncertainty in going to the other side of the
world, a venture into unknown Africa. I do not think that any of us were under
the delusion that it would be easy, but none of us in our wildest flights of imagi-
nation could have foreseen what actually happened there.
This evening we are in a more somber mood. If we do not have the same optimism,
we do have, I believe, the same motivation... a desire to serve the Church. We do
not plan great things. We do not dream of building a great monastery and engaging
in a widespread apostolate. In its simplest form our goal is to establish a Bene-
dictine presence in British Honduras.
This last sentence of Abbot Michael's talk has come down as the motto for Santa Familia
Monastery and has never been changed.
The next day the three monks departed from Subiaco. They carried with them the mandate
of Abbot Michael Lensing: ... "to establish a Benedictine presence in British Honduras."
In his journal, Fr. Leo, the superior, noted:
We three monks left Subiaco Abbey at 6 a.m., September 1, 1971 in a loaded
white Ford pickup, 1970 model.
Across the State of Texas and through Mexico the monks travelled until on September 6
Fr. Leo could write:
September 6: Inspection at the British Honduras border; showed Abbot Michael's
letter authorizing our trip into British Honduras as a missionary endeavor. Mass
at Corozal; arrived in Belize City at 4:15 p.m.; met Bishop Hodapp; stayed at St.
John's College, 2500 miles from Subiaco.
September 7: Mass with the Jesuits; bought insurance from Bryant Insurance.
Visited Br. Noel Leslie's folks; drove to Santa Elena in Cayo; met at Salvador's
Store. In the company of Ismael Guerra, Hector Silva, Leopold Silva and Salvador
Silva we drove to Carmelita Farm. We found the Belize River about 200 feet
wide, strong current. We canoed across the river, inspected the farm house, cows,
Phillipa Tun and Leopold Silva's wife cooked a meal for 5:30 p.m., then the visi-
tors left. We spent the first night in the silence of the countryside.
September 8, 1971: We drove to San Ignacio for Mass, met the pastor, Fr. Martin,
had breakfast at Salvador Silva's "Las Palmas" store. Then back to the farm
accompanied by Leopold, Hector and Daniel Silva, Ismael Guerra, Antonio Lupus
and Daniel Allen. On this day we celebrated the beginning of Subiaco's mission
in British Honduras. It consisted of the monks walking in procession into the
house, carrying the large mission crucifix (this now hangs in the Chapel of the
monastery), the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, and the Divine Office books. We
prayed the "Magnificat", sang the hymn: "To Jesus Christ, our Sovereign King",
prayed the psalms of Noon Prayer with appropriate petitions and had a brief
homily on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin and the new monastic foundation
on this, her feastday. Thus began Santa Familia Monastery.
Their life was reminiscent of life at early Subiaco in the 1880's. The monks arose at 5
a.m. and prayed the Morning Office. They fixed their own breakfast, though a hired
cook came from the village at noon to cook and also prepare for the evening meal.
Following the noon meal there was siesta or reading period until 2 p.m. when they
prayed Afternoon Prayer. Then all worked until 5 p.m. Supper was at six and they recreated
until 7:15 when they prayed Evening Prayer. Then the three monks sat on their veranda
and prayed the rosary. Following this they could either crowd under the one or two
electric lights (generated by a gas generator and usually reserved for praying the Office),
use a kerosene lamp or go to bed.
THE ABBEY MESSAGE gave the following information from a letter from Fr. Leo
soon after their arrival:
...At the suggestion of Fr. Martin, pastor at San Ignacio, we built a garage for
the Ford pickup out of scrap lumber. This garage is on the other side of the
Belize River. We have it 300 feet from the river to keep it relatively safe from
flash floods. Salvador Silva has the second key to the truck to come at any time
to drive it to higher ground in case the river rises too high. He's on the same side
of the river as the garage, and we are on the other side. During September we
received only about 2 inches of rain, no fair share of the 75 (or so) average per
On the night of November 20, 1971, Hurricane Laura hit the coast of British Honduras
and dumped heavy rain across the country. Fr. Leo's letter spoke of that and other things
as he and Brs. Michael and Benedict went about their daily living:
This has been some day! Hurricane Laura, last evening, was headed along the
east coast of Belize and we went to bed unconcerned. But at 2:30 a.m. today the
Belize river had risen 35 feet within ten hours. Our dory had to be tied to higher
posts. Water was nearing our house and had flooded our hired man's dwelling.
So he and his wife and children stayed in our house until sunrise. The river kept
rising and we wondered when we might have to canoe to higher ground nearby.
The river had overflowed the banks and covered our garage on the other side
with nine feet of water! (Happily the truck had been moved). At 9 a.m. it was
time for Mass in Santa Familia village,the rain stopped and the river held its
own. We walked through 4-6 inches of water to celebrate Mass. Few were there.
More than a dozen men were standing close to the school used as the church,
watching the flood water. I told them the best they could do now was to come to
Mass, so they could hardly refuse.
Now it is 9 p.m. The water has gone down considerably, but the danger is not
completely passed. We'll be isolated on this side of the river for some days. The
water is the highest since Hurricane Hattie in 1961.
Today we began preparing a small chapel section in our living room, where we
will begin keeping the Blessed Sacrament. Bishop Hodapp has approved. Our
daily Mass, Divine Office, meditation period, etc. are fitted fairly well into our
After several months in their new home, the monks made some of their first big purchases.
Br. Michael wrote in a letter of March 25, 1972:
We bought a 135 Massey tractor some time ago. I drove it back from Belize City
and made it across the river OK. In all it cost about $3750 US. The bushhog we
ordered went from New Orleans to New York and then to Belize. When it got
here there was a strike, so the ship sailed away without unloading, so we don't
know where the bushhog is now. (Note: It was received 5 months later).
We are going to Spanish Lookout this afternoon to get a water tank and also
some connecting links and hooks for a log chain.
We also got a 1 3/4 horsepower Lister diesel engine and water pump from the Je-
suits, who had used it at their former school at Lynam. It seems to work all right!
In early April, 1972, Fr. Leo wrote to the abbot in Arkansas:
We'll be looking for you, Father Abbot (Michael Lensing) at the Belize airport
on April 21. Since April is supposed to be a dry month, we shouldn't be bothered
with muddy roads or high water.
Abbot Michael Lensing arrived on Friday, April 21, 1972 and all three monks met him
at the airport. He spent five days at Santa Familia, giving the monks a 3-day spiritual
retreat and then spent time touring the farm, sight-seeing and visiting.
At the end of August, 1972, the three monks could look back on a busy year. They were
confident that they were "a tangible sign of God's grace at work", as they wrote, and felt
that Santa Familia monastery "was and continues to be a Benedictine presence."
On September 12, 1972, Fr. Leo, for reasons of health, returned to the States, after
consulting the Bishop and doctors in Belize City. The Abbey Message reported:
Fr. Leo has returned from Santa Familia monastery because of his health. Remain-
ing and continuing the "Benedictine presence" are Brothers Michael Fuhrmann,
Benedict Silva and Noel Leslie (a Belizean who had joined the monastery at
Subiaco and who was now at Santa Familia). Brothers Michael and Benedict
continue to care for the farm and the regular religious life, joined, when possible,
by Br. Noel, who teaches school in San Ignacio, several miles away.
Without a priest at Santa Familia, Bishop Hodapp has assumed responsibility
for the spiritual care of the nearby village for the present. Meanwhile, Fr. Leo is
getting a thorough checkup and is expected to be able soon to return to active
service in the abbey's work.
THE MOVE ACROSS THE RIVER
Fr. Leo Koesler did not, in fact, return to Santa Familia. At the end of September 1972,
a new superior was appointed: Fr. Bernard Schumacher. Even before he reached the
mission-monastery, Abbot Michael Lensing had spoken with him about re-locating the
little monastery on the Santa Elena side of the Belize River. When Fr. Bernard arrived at
Santa Familia, he noted:
I mentioned this to Br. Benedict and he knew what to do. We got in touch with
good Mrs. Carmen Requena who treated us well from the start. I believe she is a
very holy person......
Throughout the rest of 1972 and well into 1973 there was much correspondence back
and forth about the feasibility of moving the monastery. The abbot and the bishop were
in favor of a move but Fr. Bernard noted in a letter of December 14, 1972:
Fr. Jerome Kodell writes that there was much hesitation in the chapter (at Subiaco
Abbey) about moving across the river. A very close vote about letting us move
and then our decision would be subject again to the vote of the chapter!
Fr. Bernard, as superior, favored the move. He went to Subiaco to report and rather
bluntly told the voting monks:
I am faced with the prospect of a yes or no answer to Mrs. Requena. I would say:
Yes, buy this land. We could do truck farming there and be close to the market
and would not have to go up and down the river banks. The truth is that we
mostly stay at home. That is better than it sounds. The isolation, the peacefulness,
especially at night, the sweep of the river around us, all have their attractions.
Yet if we cannot get to people, they cannot get to us either. Monastic life is easier
at Santa Familia but we may go out of existence. Farm life has a great deal to
offer, but a wider apostolate would be a more realistic approach.
When this proposal came to a vote it was soundly defeated. By now most of the chapter
monks seemed to have lost faith in the Belizean venture. Then, in what many thought to
be a reverse of the chapter's decision, the abbot authorized the monks in Belize to rent a
house across the river. At this time Fr. Robert Lazzari was again sent to evaluate the
Meanwhile on September 16, 1973, Br. Michael had a near-tragic accident on the farm.
The Abbey Message printed the details:
Br. Michael Fuhrmann was seriously injured at Santa Familia Monastery on
September 16. While driving a tractor through deep bush the tractor hit a stump
and he was thrown against the steering wheel, rupturing his stomach and causing
other internal damage. Fortunately, Fr. Robert Lazzari, who had just come to
Santa Familia a few days earlier, was working nearby.
After emergency care in Cayo, Br. Michael was taken to Belize City where he
underwent surgery. On Sept. 27 he was transferred to the Veteran's Hospital in
New Orleans for continued recuperation. (Note: Br. Michael was a veteran of
World War II.) He is now doing well and may soon be able to return to Subiaco.
Fr. Bernard added a grateful note, which would be re-echoed over the years by the
monks at Santa Familia about the kindness of the Belizean people:
It is good to hear that Br. Michael is well along on the way to recovery. The
Belizean people certainly took good care of him when he was hurt. He was
immediately received by the hospital in Cayo. When the pain did not subside
they took him to Belize in a taxi, when the ambulance failed. A nurse was sent
along with him. When they found he would require surgery, the best surgeon in
the country performed the operation. They had to give him a number of blood
transfusions and donors were readily found for this. They kept him in the Belize
City Hospital for nine days until he was strong enough to make the trip to the
U.S. When the time came for us to pay the bill there was no charge! We have
reason to be grateful to the people of Belize!
Fr. Robert replaced Br. Michael when he returned to the States to recuperate from the
accident. Now the community consisted of Fr. Bernard Schumacher, superior, Fr. Robert
Lazzari, Br. Benedict Silva, Br. Noel Leslie and Br. Anthony Paladino, a young monk
recently assigned from the abbey.
On October 15, 1973 Fr. Bernard noted: "Abbot Michael wrote that he told his council
(at the abbey) that he had authorized us to move across the river as an experiment." So,
with little fuss, the monks rented the Perdomo house on the outskirts of Santa Elena,
near the road leading to the river, Santa Familia village and Carmelita farm.
But the building of a real monastery was not to be so quick and there were problems in
the little rented house. Fr. Bernard wrote to The Abbey Message in May, 1974:
Fr. Robert has put window screens on the house. Bugs abound in the bush and
any time they see a light they rush to it in enormous numbers. Fr. Robert is also
refurnishing the supply room beneath the house for living quarters. We are hard
pressed for room. We cannot take in candidates at the present time because we
have no place for them to stay and without candidates we cannot achieve our
primary goal of establishing a community of native-born Benedictines in Belize.
Now THE ABBEY MESSAGE carried the following news item:
Mrs. Carmen Requena De Novelo of Cayo has donated 17 acres of land to the
monks of Santa Familia Monastery for the building of a monastery. Her transfer
of the title to the land stipulated that it was being given "for the consideration of
the sum often dollars and in her great love for the Benedictine Order The land
is located on the San Ignacio side of the river and is adjacent to the town of Santa
Elena, about a mile away from the farm across the river.
In October 1974, Fr. Robert, who had flown back to Arkansas, reported on this donation
of Mrs. Requena. No action was taken. In this same month of October, Abbot Michael
Lensing resigned from the office of abbot and Fr. Raphael DeSalvo was elected the fifth
abbot of the abbey. This same year saw the assigning of a new member to Santa Familia
monastery. THE ABBEY MESSAGE announced:
Fr. Richard Walz has been assigned to Santa Familia monastery in Belize, joining
Frs. Bernard Schumacher, Robert Lazzari and Brs. Benedict Silva, Noel Leslie
and Anthony Paladino. The monastery also has a candidate, Oscar Gordon, of
At present, Fr. Richard is taking a crash course in Spanish at the Berlitz School
in St. Louis. Br. Benedict is the only Spanish-speaking monk at the monastery.
He (Fr. Richard) hopes to be able to go to Santa Familia in April, 1975.
In February 1975, Fr. Robert was again at the abbey making a more detailed report on
the Requena land donation and outlining plans for a possible monastery. On February 3,
1975, the Subiaco chapter voted to accept the land and proceed with a real monastic
building. The vote now was almost unanimously in favor. Fr. Robert was placed in
charge of construction and began to work on blueprints. On February 13 Fr. Bernard
wrote him that they would try to get things straightened out on customs, etc. for shipments
of building supplies. Three days later Fr. Bernard again wrote to Fr. Robert that "the
bishop does not think we ought to build a low one-story building. Two story give better
protection, protects from mosquitos, is cooler and gives more privacy." But all was not
seriousness. Fr. Bernard included in this business letter that "Our horse, Morte Rico,
took second in the San Ignacio Horse Race" and that they had gone to Esquipulas in
Guatemala on an excursion bus with Fr. McHugh.
THE ABBEY MESSAGE contained practical details:
Abbot Raphael designated Fr. Richard Walz to join the community at Santa
Familia. The monastery will have ten monks'
rooms, a small chapel and a kitchen and dining
room. Later additions would include a larger
chapel, guest rooms, and other facilities. Fr.
Robert will be in charge of construction, which
will be of cement blocks.
From this new site the monks will continue to s
serve Santa Familia village and operate the farm
with the assistance of Mr. George Rivera who l
has been employed on the farm since 1971.The Fr RichardWalz, O.S.B. performing a
baptism in the school building in Santa
new site will make it more convenient for them Familia Village where Mass was said
to serve other missions in the area and to each Sunday.
conduct necessary business matters more easily.
Fr. Bernard commented in a letter to Abbot Raphael:
Letter about the chapter vote to go on with the building program was gratefully
received here......I'm trying to change over to some "bush" medicine. Tea made
from the Woruma tree was suggested by George Rivera and someone else
suggested the back legs of a particular cricket boiled in water!
An important entry in Fr. Bernard's notes occurs on June 6, 1975:
Our request for the right to admit candidates to the novitiate, to continue the
novitiate, to admit novices to temporary vows and to dismiss temporary monks
who belong to Santa Familia has been granted by the chapter at Subiaco.
This was important because of their candidate, Oscar Gordon.
Then Fr. Bernard noted:
The abbot told me to come to the States for my operation and to bring all my
things with me when I come.
Thus ended the second era of Santa Familia Monastery.
BUILDING A NEW MONASTERY
Fr. Richard Walz became the superior of the monastery in July 1975. As such he would
play a great part in the building of the monastery on the new site. He wrote:
The new monastery building is still pretty much a thing of the imagination
though Fr. Robert has put a lot of drawings together and I think has some pretty
good idea of what is happening. We have some engineering problems that are
being worked out by an architect in Belize City, but most of the work is being
done by Fr. Robert. We have stone, sand and gravel in piles on the site of the new
monastery, but so far no building. Our first order is to build a small but permanent
building as a workshop. This will be of cement blocks with a dirt floor. I think
that we will be ready to build this within a week or two. So far we have no
electricity on the site, and cannot use the small cement mixer which we have
borrowed. But we plan to pour the foundation for this shop building somehow
without the mixer. After this building is up we hope to have the materials to erect
a water tower about 30 feet high. After that we will decide when and how the
main building will go up. It seems that we do best by waiting until everything is
ready, and then try to get as much of it done as quickly as possible.
But something more important was happening as Fr. Richard continued:
We have a novice, the first for the place. Novice Oscar Gordon was invested
(with the Benedictine habit) on St. Benedict's Day, July 11. Besides being a
good cook, he takes care of the chickens, ducks and turkeys and most of the
Then Fr. Richard mentioned a new project that the monks of Santa Familia carried out
for more than 10 years:
One of the main reasons for us being here is to get vocations from around here
so that we can turn the monastery over to them. So we are on the active mission
of encouraging those who express interest in the religious life here. One boy
from Santa Familia village, Epifafio Carrias is just such a lad. Since his parents
do not mind, we plan to take him in and continue his education. The present
plan is for him to live with us and go to school in San Ignacio. There are apparently
others who are interested and we plan to have them come and live with us for a
while and let us check each other out.
Fr. Robert, the building supervisor, wrote in July 1975:
Mr. Bedran has started making cement blocks for our new building. He has
about 3000 out of the 13,000 we will need. But he will have to stop tomorrow
due to the lack of cement.
Bro. Jesus Gordon, O.S.B., Fr Richard Walz,
O.S.B. & Bro. Benedict Silva, O.S.B. at a
groundbreaking ceremony for the monastery
building in Santa Elena.
We have been looking for a small light plant. I found one here in Santa Elena.
The Texaco agent has one that is supposed to be almost new. He wants 1000
Belizean dollars for it. This is very reasonable. But the day I located this one (a
3 KW gasoline unit) we heard about a 3.5 KW Lister in Belize. We called and
found that the plant is actually on Cay Caulker. They only want 1500 Belizean
dollars for it. While it is three years old, they said that it was well cared for and
run only about 4 hours a day. It should be like new. We are going to try finding
out more about it before deciding.
Fr. Robert was "commuting" between the abbey in Arkansas and Santa Familia at this
time doing blue-prints. In June 1975 Fr. Richard informed THE ABBEY MESSAGE:
Fr. Robert returned from the U.S. He was met at the airport by Br. Benedict and
myself, and went immediately to visit with a Mr. Biggs, the purpose of this visit
was to engage Mr. Biggs to head the construction work on the new monastery.
Mr. Biggs is an Englishman who is 67 years old. His energy is fantastic. His first
acquaintance with Belize came when he worked for the government in the con-
struction of the Fort George Hotel, probably the most famous hotel in Belize. He
later worked on the remodelling of the Maestri Ltd. Building. About 18 months
ago he returned to Belize to help in the construction of a school in Corozal. For
the past six months he has worked for a Mr. Dieks in remodelling a house. He is
very interested in the building of our monastery and a meeting was set for June
16 at the monastery.
Thus began an interesting and long-lasting friendship between the monks and Mr. Biggs.
The first meeting at the monastery site went well, as Fr. Richard reported:
Fr. Robert went over the plans with Mr. Biggs. Mr. Biggs agreed to study the
plans further but was confident that there would be no difficulties in the cons-
truction of the proposed building. He wants to live at the monastery during the
construction. (Note: He did). The builders will be hired locally. He thinks he
will be ready to move to Santa Elena around the first of July (1975) and is anxious
to get started on the project.
In the summer of 1976 Abbot Raphael DeSalvo began a policy of sending monks for
periods of several weeks to several months to the new foundation, helping in whatever
way they could and to see the mission and the "Benedictine presence" at close hand. The
first to participate in this "exchange program" was Brother Jude Schmitt. That summer
THE ABBEY MESSAGE carried this article:
Perhaps the most interesting summer assignment of any of our monks was Br.
Jude Schmitt's six-weeks stay at Santa Familia in Belize. On July 5 he was in on
the excavation for the foundation of the new monastery. On July 11 he was
present for the first profession of Santa Familia's novice, who became Br. Jesus
Br. Jude, a carpenter, photographer and guitarist, used these and many other
talents while at Santa Familia. Reporting on the progress in the construction of
the monastery, he said that the digging of trenches for the foundation had about
been completed by mid August. They were hoping to complete the foundations
before the rainy season really set in.
In writing about Br. Jude's visit, Fr. Richard added: "One of the lasting effects of
Br Jude's visit is a beautiful mahogany altar which he built."
This altar is still used in the monastery chapel at Santi
The next "exchange monk" was Br. Henry Fuhrmann, who
was in Belize from the end of November 1975 until mid-
February 1976. Fr. Richard wrote to the abbey: .
We have all enjoyed the company of Br. Henry. It "
was an early and much appreciated Christmas gift Bro. Henry Fuhrmann, O.S.B.
to have him here. All kinds of projects were Behind is part of the monastery
undertaken: gardening, planting soybeans, digging building as it began to rise out
a pond, building fences and constructing the septic of the ground in January, 1976.
tank with all its fittings, etc. We also sorted lumber and worked on a grease rack.
We are having good weather now and the building is progressing at a good pace.
If you can imagine the vertical part of a "T" then you will know that we are
concentrating on that part of the building which is the single story. Our present
plans call for us to move into this part, hopefully by the end of March. So many
problems will be solved by our living on the site that we plan to move as soon as
Christmas here went with the usual Br. Benedict extravaganza: Christmas tree,
crib and all the trimmings. Br. Jesus managed to keep us from starving and
so we are missing a few of our turkeys!
During all this hectic activity, the religious life
went on as usual at Santa Familia. The monks
prayed together four times each day, did their -'"
religious "missionary" work as usual and still
managed to help with the building of their new '
Then came the good news. Writing to Abbhci .
Raphael, Fr. Richard announced:
We officially moved into our new ._ _' _-.. ..__ .
house on April 1977 We had started Beginning to roof the single story part of the
moving before that, but that was the building, early 1976.
first night we slept here. So now we are
no longer living in a rented monastery. Everyone has a room full of building
materials plus their own belongings. Besides my bed, I have all the electrical
and plumbing supplies. Br. Jesus has most of the wash basins, toilets, etc. Br.
Benedict has every thing from chains to bicycles. Mr. Biggs has all the window
frames, glass, medicine cabinets, etc.
We are looking forward to Fr. Mark (Stengel) and his visit. I guess we'll put him
in charge of "landscaping" the new place here. Rest assured we will try to occupy
his time enough to keep him out of trouble. No telling where we will put him,
but I know we will have a place even if I have to sleep in the shed in a hammock.
So Fr. Mark Stengel spent six weeks in the summer of 1977 at Santa Familia. During
this time Br. Jesus Gordon went to the abbey in Arkansas for his first visit. Fr. Mark
wrote an account of his summer for The Abbey Message:
The monastery's comfortable but simple design fits in unobtrusively into its con-
text. The northwest-southeast orientation enables both wings of the building to
take advantage of the prevailing east wind. The raised floor level and the wide
overhang of the eaves show a familiarity with the dampness and the wind of the
rainy season. The breezeways, louvre windows, and wide verandas take into ac-
count the often muggy tropical heat. In other words, Santa Familia monastery
looks Belizean, not like a transplanted Subiaco.
And so the new monastery in Cayo progressed towards completion. Abbot Raphael was
there for the dedication on Sunday, July 16, 1978. When he returned from the visit he
wrote in The Abbey Message:
Sunday, July 16, was a beautiful day for the dedication of Santa Familia Monas-
tery in Belize. The first phase of the monastery building has been completed. Fr.
Jerome Kodell and Fr. Bruno Fuhrmann of the abbey had gone down a few days
earlier to help in the final preparations for the dedication.
S' ,4;4 Rain was threatening but never came and
the setting for the ceremony was outside,
with about 200 people present. The
monastery was dedicated by the Most
SReverend Robert L. Hodapp, S.J., of Belize
S:1 City. The bishop, in his talk, expressed his
.- 'pleasure in having a monastery in the
Diocese and praised Br. Benedict Silva for
I~ I his persistent efforts to have the monastery
IL established in his native country. Talks
were also given by Fr. Herbert Panton,
Bishop Robert L. Hodapp, S.J. with some of the
people who attended the dedication of the new parsh priest in San Ignacio and Santa
monastery on July 16, 1978. Elena and myself.
After the dedication, refreshments were served and tours of the monastery were
conducted. Prominent among the visitors were the Mayor of San Ignacio and
many priests and sisters who work in the diocese and the Silva family. During
the days following the dedication, Fr. Jerome gave the Santa Familia monks
their annual retreat. Besides Fr. Richard and Br. Benedict, other members of the
community are: Br. Jesus Gordon, Br. Eric Loran and Candidate Rafael Perla,
Br. Jesus returned to Subiaco with Fr. Jerome to spend one year at the abbey
before making his final religious vows. Note: Br. Eric had arrived some time
before this and would take the place of Br. Jesus while he was away.)
Shortly after the above was written, Fr. Mark Stengel was assigned to Santa Familia in
September 1978. The Abbey Message stated: "In Belize he will be of assistance to Fr:
Richard in spiritual ministry and his manual skills will also mean much in the development
of this mission. "Br. Eric Loran, who had been assigned for special work at Santa Familia
during the previous year, returned to Subiaco.
That September, Hurricane Greta struck Belize. The newly-arrived Fr. Mark wrote during
Lord knows when this will reach you (the monks in the U.S.). The reason, of
course, is Hurricane Greta, and the fact that the Western Highway, on which the
mail runs, is only about four inches above sea level for a good way near Belize
City. I'm writing this as the hurricane is coming ashore just south of Dangriga,
which is about 90-100 miles southeast of us. Classes were cancelled in all schools
in Belize today. Here it started raining about 10 a.m. and has gotten progressively
harder all day. We've had five inches so far, and right now (6:15 p.m.) it is really
coming down with a strong wind, about 30mph right now.
Since I've never been in a hurricane I don't know what to expect. So I prepared
for it by taking a good nap this afternoon. Besides that we spent a good bit of
time moving loose things inside or tying then down, and laying in supplies...extra
kerosene, diesel fuel and food. Fr Richard and Br. Benedict said that if the wind
gets really bad there's a bound to be a crowd of people wanting to take shelter
here. The American family living in the Perdomo...the house we had rented as a
monastery until this was built...said they are surely coming if it blows much.
Fr. Richard told The Abbey Message his version of the storm:
September 25, 1978: Ijust heard that the mail is supposed to go out today, so I'll
try to get a short letter out to see if this is true. We have been a week and a half
without mail due to the hurricane. I haven't been to Belize City since the storm,
so I can give only a little hearsay. Water was said to have risen six to eight feet
throughout Belize City and they had winds up to 90 miles per hour. The eye of
the "beast" came inland south of Belize City, around Stann Creek and did a lot
of damage there.
Around here the only damage was to trees and fences. Our plantains suffered
pretty much but will survive. We lost 5 trees and lots of limbs from others. The
biggest thing was the river. It rose to within two feet of the Cayo bridge! The
water was head high inside the Royal Bank of Canada! The river must have
been 60 to 70 feet above normal. We had over six inches of rain with the hurricane
and another inch the following day. The "eye" passed about 10 miles from us.
Our winds were over 60 miles per hour.
Cayo has been without water since the hurricane. So far we have water, but our
tank is about empty. Even at that we will not be too badly off, as we still have a
couple of vats of collected rain water. But we will be in short supply until the
water works are fixed.
With all this excitement, life still went on. Br. Benedict worked on the farm and the
religious ministry continued. Both Fr. Mark and Fr. Richard taught at Sacred Heart
College in San Ignacio. Their schedule was full as Fr. Mark told The Abbey Message:
We've been staying busy with pastoral work. Both priests from the Cayo parish
are in Punta Gorda in the extreme south of the country for a two-week workshop.
So Fr. Richard and I have been offering Mass in three places and here at the
monastery. Last weekend Fr. Richard had a 6:30 p.m. Saturday Mass and on
Sunday: 6:30 a.m. Mass and 10 a.m. Mass with 11 a.m. Baptisms; 3p.m. Bap-
isms, a 4 p.m. wedding and a 6:30 p.m. Mass. I just had the 8:30 a.m. Sunday
Mass at Santa Elena and the 10 a.m. Mass at Santa Familia village and cooked
dinner and supper here.
A new era for Santa Familia Monastery occurred on the feast of the Assumption, August
15, 1978 when the first monk to enter the monastery in Belize made his Solemn Profession
of religious vows and became a full-fledged Benedictine monk. This did not occur in
Belize but at Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas, where Br. Jesus Gordon was at the time. The
Abbey Message carried the account of the occasion.
On the feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1978, Br. Jesus
Gordon of Belize pronounced his Solemn Monastic Vows at
i. "' Subiaco Abbey. In early September he returned to Santa Familia
I -- Monastery.
S Br. Jesus came to Santa Familia in May, 1973 as a candidate
S"'1 -1 and became a novice there on July 11, 1975, making his first
Religious Profession the following year at Santa Familia.
SHe is the first to make his novitiate and profession at Santa
Familia. At the monastery Br. Jesus serves as cook and gardener,
and assists in the apostolates of the community. For the past 14
Bro. Jesus Gordon, O.S.B. months he has been at Subiaco Abbey.
Bro. Jesus Gordon, O.S.B.
attending one of the poor The encouragement of religious vocations to the priesthood and
who come to our gate. brotherhood had always been a high priority for the monks of
Santa Familia from the earliest days. In 1979, however, their encouragement took a new
form that has continued ever since. Fr. Mark wrote on August 8, 1979:
Since last Sunday we are having what amounts to an old-fashioned "Vocation
Week", except that this is for two weeks. We have six boys here from various
villages in the Toledo District and one from Santa Familia village. Mornings
they all go to the farm and work with Br. Benedict and myself. In the afternoons
they have "classes" with Fr. Richard and myself. Of course they come to all our
Divine Office and eat their meals with us. They all seem very good. I guess the
most encouraging element is having the one boy from Santa Familia village
taking part. Can they ever eat! We're cooking with our biggest pots these days!
Now that the monks were finally settled into their new home and busy with all their
regular activities, a new project began to grow in importance. Abbot Raphael DeSalvo
visited the monks in 1979 and brought up the subject to the readers of The Abbey
There is a great interest in the area for a retreat house. People and clergy and
religious would like to see this, since it would provide an answer to a real need.
Such a retreat center might also be a place where religious groups could meet.
There is much interest in the Cursillo Movement, in prayer groups, in Marriage
Encounter. The monks are studying the spiritual needs of the area and assessing
the willingness of the people to be of help in the development of such a retreat
house. This would not be a large center, but would provide living quarters for
about 12 people and a meeting place for 25 to 30. Apart from satisfying a need in
the area, it would also provide the monks with an apostolate which is truly
As I look back on my week in Belize, I can only rejoice in the progress that has
been made and marvel at the spirit of the monks at Santa Familia. A small seed
has been planted, and only the Lord knows how big a tree will grow from this
modest beginning. This foundation could make a noteworthy contribution to the
Church in Belize.
Abbot Raphael knew about pioneering a new mission as he had been the founding-
superior of Subiaco's mission in Nigeria in Africa in the 1960s, whose failure (due to
civil war) allowed for the beginning of Santa Familia Monastery in an indirect way.
Soon remote preparation for this new building project started in a modest way. Fr. Mark,
in a letter of February 19, 1980, informed The Abbey Message:
Right now we've got a bulldozer snorting and clanking in the pasture. We're
having a large pond dug, a little over an acre, where Br. Henry dug a small pool
with shovel some years ago. This pond is supposed to provide water for the
cattle and possibly for the garden. We hope to raise some catfish there and have
a good swimming place, and it will be a scenic walking area with palm trees and
little thatched bowers and a pebbled path. This will be right below the proposed
retreat- guest house, where our chicken-house is now. Some of this is long-term
thinking. However, the pond is being dug and the chicken house is being moved
at the present time......
In the late winter of 1981, Abbot Raphael began to speak with Fr. Hugh Assenmacher, a
monk at Subiaco, about spending the summer months in Belize. The idea would be that
he would replace Br. Benedict Silva who then could take some time to celebrate his 25th
anniversary of monastic profession. However plans changed somewhat and Br. Michael
Fuhrmann returned to Belize to replace Br. Benedict and Fr. Hugh would only visit in
June, give the monks their retreat and spend some time afterwards with them. After his
visit in June 1981, Fr. Hugh put the expected account in The Abbey Message of July of
I arrived in Belize on June 14 and left on June 30. During that time we had a
five-day retreat at the monastery. I went with Fr. Richard and Fr. Mark on their
Sunday mission-rounds and I even had a Sunday Mass on my own in the church
in Santa Elena. We visited spots of local interest and even went to Tikal in Gua-
temala on several "free" days.
I attended the graduation festivities of the local Sacred Heart College where Fr.
Richard teaches. In fact I was organist for graduation, playing the processional
and recessional at the Graduation Mass in Sacred Heart Church in San Ignacio,
and also the processional and recessional the next day at the San Ignacio Hotel
where the actual graduation for the 69 young men and women took place. Having
only before participated in our own graduation ceremonies at Subiaco, the one I
helped with in Belize was every bit as festive and had many more speeches than
we would have tolerated at Subiaco!
The monks had two diocesan seminarians from the States staying with them
during the summer months. They were Joe Fairbanks from Spalding, Nebraska
and Greg Ames from Longmont, Colorado. These two young men had just gra-
duated from Immaculate Conception Seminary in Missouri and had written the
monks in Belize and to Abbot Raphael early in 1980. They worked and prayed
with the monks and each day went off to their apostolic work.., helping in the
local grade schools until the end of the school term.
Fr. Hugh would return to Belize in 1985-86 as superior while Fr. Richard took a sabbatical
in the U.S.
SAINT BENEDICT CENTRE
In late 1981 Fr. Mark Stengel informed The Abbey Message:
From the time of the completion of the monastery in 1978. increasing numbers
of individuals and groups have sought to come to Santa Familia for retreats.
days of recollection, various programs, or simply for quiet times of rest and
Without any active promotion of this apostolate, it became apparent that this
was a service of hospitality very much needed, and one that people expected of
a Benedictine monastery. However, the guest facilities in our monastery limited
such opportunities to day programs or to three or four overnight guests.
Early in 1981 the Santa Familia monks began exploring the extent of the need.
and the degree of local support that might be forthcoming for such a building
project. The response was unanimously favorable, and surprisingly concrete in
terms of pledged donations. In April 1981, the monks in Belize requested per-
mission (from Subiaco Abbey) to go ahead with the project. In May 1981. per-
mission was granted and in July the first earth was moved.
From the beginning it was felt that the project should be Belizean from start to
finish... from expressing the need, through paying for it and using it. The house
was to be financed by local donations and from the revenue of Santa Familia
Construction began in September 1981 and continued steadily. The monks have
done a large part of the work themselves, with the help of several hired laymen.
Local donations have kept pace with expenses so far, proving that the project is
really desired by Belizeans.
The new retreat facility, called St. Benedict Centre, was
dedicated in 1983. Abbot Raphael DeSalvo came from e
Subiaco to conduct the dedication ceremony. Upon
returning home he gave this account:
It was a pleasure to arrive at the monastery, greet
the monks and make a tour of the retreat house, St. Benedict Centre, completed in
which has accommodations for 18 retreatants in nine 1983.
rooms. The chapel/conference room can accommodate about 60. In addition, there
is a foyer, a room for a receptionist, a kitchen, a dining room and a supply room.
The building is 124 feet in length and 34 feet wide. It was planned by Fr. Richard
and Mr. Frank Norris, a friend of the monastery and built under the direction of
Dedication Day at St. Benedict Centre was Saturday, July 16, 1983 and many guests
came. The abbot continued his account:
In my talk during the dedication service, which was prepared by Fr. Mark, I
stressed that the retreat house was for the service of the Church. In the only other
talk, Mr. Frank Norris of Cayo and foremost supporter of the project, expressed
his satisfaction at the completion of the project and he looked forward to the
many blessings to be realized from future programs in the Centre. Newscasts
from Belize City a day later gave a good account of the dedication.
Soon Fr. Mark was able to report to The Abbey Message that St. Benedict Centre was
indeed very busy:
A variety of groups have used the new retreat house, St. Benedict Centre, at
Santa Familia since its dedication on July 16, 1983. The most ambitious program
to date was a Marriage Encounter, July 22-24, right after the dedication. Thirteen
Msgr Fecundo Castillo, Fr Mark Stengel,
O.S.B., and Bro. Jesus Gordon, O.S.B.
together with the first Vocation Week held
for young men, July 1983.
couples attended, overflowing the Centre's
nine rooms. The rest made do with the office/
reception room, the Reconciliation Room and
the monastery's two guest rooms.
Besides that first Marriage Encounter and a
later one, the Centre has been the venue for a
high school teachers day of recollection, a
retreat for the diocesan liturgical commission,
a mixed retreat, the Jesuits' 8-day retreat, a
workshop for catechists, a five-day vocation
"week", three mini-retreats for a non-
denomination group called "Youth With A
Mission", two parish team planning meetings,
and a weekend community meeting for the
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
The four monks at Santa Familia Monastery are all actively involved in the
operation of the Centre. Fr. Richard handles the scheduling and planning of the
various programs, takes pictures and helps with the music. He and Fr. Mark
serve as trouble-shooters, errand boys, confessors, and celebrants of the liturgy.
Br. Jesus cares for the retreat house laundry, plans the menus and supervises the
cooks. Br. Benedict gives tours of the monastery and grounds and cares for the
grounds. All four have given conferences and conducted other activities.
Now another phase of the "mandate" to establish a "Benedictine presence" had been put
As this era of the monastery's history was completed with the opening of the retreat
house, Fr. Richard could write to The Abbey Message in April 1984:
I'll soon be celebrating nine years here in Belize. I'm not sure if there is any
particular significance in this number, but it does seem like a lot of years have
gone by in a short time!
March, 1984 has been and will be about the busiest month we have had in our
retreat house...close to 300 people. To be honest, I didn't think it would be used
as much as it is. The diocesan priests held their retreat here in January this year
and really liked it. They (and our new bishop) have said they want to use it again
Other work continues around here. I am teaching four days a week at Sacred
Heart College in San Ignacio. Br. Jesus cooks and is one of the regular Eucharistic
ministers to the sick in this area. Br. Benedict keeps talking about retiring, but I
don't think we could keep him from going daily to the farm.
In the January-February 1985 issue of The Abbey Message, Br. Benedict Silva wrote a
further account of the monastery's projects and his own activities, and it did not seem
like he was retiring.
Long ago we noticed that at Santa Familia village the primary school children
had a very unhealthy water supply, and an outhouse in shambles with no privacy
or separation for boys and girls. We solved these problems financially. Before,
the children had to go with a bucket to the river for water to drink. We provided
for a good-sized cistern, made of cement blocks. Now they have enough clean
water to last them through the school year. Also a new out-house was built.
Later, through our benefactors, a library was established for the school.
We have also been contributing financially to our bishop and the local parish.
Each year we pledge to donate a heifer to be raffled at the Christmas bazaar to
raise money for the parish. We have also contributed substantially to help buy
prefabricated houses for the elderly and the poor.
My main job is care for our Carmelita cattle farm. Every morning after we have
prayed our Morning Office, offered Mass and had breakfast, I make my way to
the ranch. I walk the mile and a half to the river, then row across to the farm. I
work until about four in the afternoon, then back across the river for the walk
back to the monastery. I have been doing this daily routine for about 12 years.
On Saturday I stay at the monastery and do my laundry, clean the flowerbeds
and mow around the pond, a place I prettiedd up" by planting trees and flowering
bushes. We have placed wooden benches around the pond and under the trees for
monks, visitors and retreatants.
Surely this type of life and work was a good example of Abbot Michael Lensing's desire
for "the simplest terms of Benedictine work and prayer."
A QUIET INTERLUDE
In mid-February, 1985, Abbot Raphael DeSalvo of Subiaco Abbey announced that during
the summer Fr. Hugh Assenmacher would go to Belize to replace Fr. Richard Walz as
prior at Santa Familia for a year. Fr. Richard had been superior since 1976 and would
return to Subiaco for a "restful" year. It was a year that was a lull in building operations
and expansion of works being done by the monks, but a very busy year living the religious
life and continuing the various works of the community: the prayer life, manual labor,
pastoral work, retreat house activities and the thousand-and-one things that go into the
living of any life. Fr. Hugh wrote to The Abbey Message in March 1986:
Greetings from Belize! We have been having ideal weather for so long that things
will be bad when we get to the hot season, or another rainy season. It has been
ideal this past month. This past weekend a cold front moved in and dropped the
temperature on Sunday morning to 46 degrees. Everyone was freezing and talking
about record lows. Fr. Mark thinks it was the coldest in his seven years here. The
days are breezy and sunny; the nights are beautiful, especially since the recent
We just finished a vocation weekend. We were to have had 17 boys (this was
only for local boys who couldn't come last July), but only 9 showed up. They
were nice kids and we were impressed and they certainly kept us busy. We monks
were exhausted afterwards. Like everywhere else, no weekend seems to be a
good one, and sure enough, the weekend we chose, the college had an obligatory
field trip for the Third Formers and the Student Council had an outing, etc. This
cost us some participants. Our regular vocation week is scheduled for the second
week of July. We were lucky to have the bishop here Friday afternoon and Sat-
urday morning for this retreat. He gave two talks and had Mass.
In May 1986, Fr. David Flusche came from the abbey for the monks' spiritual retreat
and he stayed several days after for a community outing to the cayes off-shore from
Belize City. Fr. Richard returned in late June and Fr. Hugh returned to Subiaco. Before
he left Belize a quiet celebration was held at the monastery for Fr. Richard to
commemorate his 25thjubilee. The local diocesan clergy, the Pallotine Sisters and Sisters
of Charity came for a Prayer Service and a festive supper in his honor.
In August of 1987, Fr. Mark gave a "state of the monastery" report to the readers of The
The present monastery was dedicated in July of 1978. The following years saw
many improvements and additions to the physical facilities. A substantial garage
and storage/workshop and a small barn replaced the previous eyesores. The retreat
house was completed in 1983. In 1985 public electricity reached the monastery.
Finally our many electrical tools and appliances could actually be used. About
this time television became widely available in Belize, and Santa Familia mon-
astery accepted this advance (!) Through the goodness of benefactors an electric
arc welding machine, a wood planer, and a garden tiller made life easier in the
shop and garden. The final new building was a small milking barn, built in 1986.
Maintenance of all this takes more and more time. Recently a major repair job
was completed...shoring up parts of the monastery where inadequate foundations
had caused shifting and cracking. The whole building got its first paint job since
1977. And to help us keep track of all this progress, Fr. Richard installed a
computer in the fall of 1986.
The national elections in 1979 and 1984 were peaceful and honest, in stark contrast
to surrounding Central American countries. Refugees from conflicts in other
countries began spilling over into Belize, bringing new skills, needed population
and some tendency toward violence. Belize got its first native Bishop, a source
of great pride to Belizean Catholics. The U.S. cut back on its sugar imports from
Belize, a source of great frustration for Belizean cane farmers. Some of these
farmers seem to have turned to the cultivation of a more profitable "weed" which
Americans seem to want!
Along with the drug trade has come violence, corruption, and the loss of respect
for the law. Rustling of our cattle reached epidemic proportions, until we were
forced to hire watchmen and changed the operation of the farm. Part of the farm
is now rented out on shares to corn and bean farmers. Perhaps these changes will
again make the monastery self-sufficient financially.
Santa Familia Monastery continues to expand its works, but without any increase
in membership (there are still only four monks). Recently a visitor described
the monastery as the prettiest place he had found in the country, but badly under-
staffed. A good number of young men have come...and gone...during the past
9 years. This remains a great problem and disappointment.
Another monk was assigned to the monastery in August 1987, to replace Fr. Mark Stengel
who returned to Subiaco Abbey. The newcomer was Fr. Jerome Kodell. In the summer
of 1987, Fr. Mark mentioned various activities and his up-coming departure for the
The monastery has taken on a
number of new apostolates in
these past few years: retreat work,
formation of lay ministers,
RENEW program, the Little Rock
Scripture Study Program, serving ,:.
on the parish team, the parish
council, and the high school's
Board of Governors. The ,
monastery tithes itself to
almsgiving and so continues to On January 6, 1985, Santa Familia Monastery
provide scholarships for needy took over the care of the Church in Santa Elena.
students and help for the poor. It
has "adopted" a poor crippled girl, and contributes to the Diocesan Development
Fund whatever is lacking to make up the 10%.
This report hardly scratches the surface of the blessings God has poured out on
your young monastery in Belize. I return (to Subiaco) happy to have been part
of it, and trusting that God will continue to prosper the work of our hands.
TOWARD THE FUTURE
The newly assigned community member, Fr. Jerome Kodell, wrote shortly after his
arrival at Santa Familia:
As the days have progressed, I have settled into a pattern of chores at the monastery
to go along with the ministry work, and I have also received a writing
assignment from Bishop Martin (along with a good nudge from Fr. Richard).
The bishop has asked me to write some leaflets dealing with basic questions
about the Catholic Faith. The leaflets are to serve as an aid to people throughout
the country who are seeking a better foundation for their faith, and also to help
them when challenges are made by non-Catholic evangelists. A strong effort is
being made by the Church. RENEW is in its fifth season here and I was happy to
see that the Little Rock Bible Study Program is also in operation. (Note: Fr.
Jerome was one of the founders of this study program in the Diocese of Little
Rock, Arkansas, U.S.A.) In fact, after one of the first Masses I had here, a woman
came up and said: "Well, I guess you're real. You sound just like on the Scripture
The monks who have been here before me and those who are here now have
done an excellent job in founding and developing the monastery. The community
has a very good relationship with the local Church and the local community and
is looked to for many things. I'm happy to be part of it!
In 1988 young men began to seriously start coming again to Santa Familia Monastery to
join the community of monks and a new era of religious vocations began, one that had
long been hoped for and needed. In the summer of 1988 Fr. Jerome noted:
Vocation Week went off smoothly, and, as well as you can measure such things,
seems to have been a very good one. We had 24 participants, ranging in ages
mostly from 14 to 20 years of age, but one was 24 and another 28. There were
representatives from all six Districts of the country.
In the summers of 1987 and 1988, Br. Thomas Moster of Subiaco was helping at Santa
Familia. Fr. Jerome, in the same letter as the above, continued: "The repeaters from last
year's Vocation Week were glad to see Br Thomas; he did an excellent job of interviewing
each of the boys privately about their vocational interests."
The monks at Santa Familia have, through the years, taken community outings to places
of interest in the country. This is done several times a year. An example of this was in the
summer of 1988. Fr. Jerome told the story:
We began our community outing, appropriately this year, on St. Benedict's Day,
July 11. We went to Placencia, a fishing village on a peninsula south of Dangriga,
and had a very good time. Placencia has a heavy tourist trade a good part of the
year, but we hit the off-season and were practically the only visitors. One day we
went to the nearby Jaguar Preserve. We didn't see any jaguars, but they probably
saw us. Another day we hired a small fishing boat to take us out to the small
cayes about ten miles off-shore. We got three or four meals of fish out of the
expedition, mostly yellow-tailed snappers. Our biggest catch was a 12-pound
One of my stereotypes about tropical weather was shattered by the temperatures
here this summer. Letters from Arkansas talk about high temperatures I know so
well from there, but here it has been pleasant. Out hottest time was during April
and May, but even that didn't match an Arkansas July or August.
Then Fr. Jerome outlined an important step vocation-wise:
Most of the world around the monastery lately has
been in the carpenter shop. We are looking forward to
the arrival of two new candidates (to go with the three
already here), which will cause a pleasant kind of
housing shortage. Among other things we need a couple
more prie-dieus for the chapel, a desk, a bed, and some
shelves. We bought another one of the rocking chairs
made by the Mennonites and sold by them in kits for
home assembly. A real bargain: well-made from
mahogany for $45 US.
The year 1989 was filled with excitement at Santa Familia. A
The community of Santa
further addition, and a most necessary one, was being made to Familia Monastery in
the monastery: an adequate chapel, a real kitchen and a dining January, 1989. From left to
room that was large enough. In the winter edition of The Abbey right: Novice Martin Choc;
Message Fr. Jerome had this to report: Novice Omar Castillo;
Prior Richard Walz, O.S.B.;
Life is bustling around here as the New Year moves in. Bro. Thomas Moster,
Our building program is heading into Stage 2 now that O.S.B.; Fr Jerome Kodell,
the foundation is poured. The rains came but we O.S.B.
managed to get the cement poured before Christmas.
Its a big boost to have Fr. Robert here with us for several weeks. He drew the
original plans for the monastery years ago and has been drawing the plans for
the addition, which includes dining room, kitchen, pantry and a larger chapel.
Our leaflet project continues to develop. We have just arranged for the "Catholic
Questions" to be printed in English in booklet form; Spanish booklets will also
be offered soon. The Benedictine monks and nuns in Coban, Guatemala (from
the U.S.) are helping us to get the leaflets translated into Q'eqchi, an Indian
language used both in Belize and Guatemala.
The "Catholic Questions" leaflets numbered 25, in the first series. They ranged in topics
from "Praying to Mary" through "A Catholic View of the Latter-Day Saints". All of
these leaflets were printed with the approval of the Bishop. The work grew steadily. The
Abbey Message of Spring, 1989, told:
John Chrenko, a lay missionary from Mountain Home (Arkansas), is doing
outstanding work in his door-to-door ministry in the town of Santa Elena. He
was here for a year (1985-86) living at and working from the monastery. He
takes along copies of our "Catholic Questions" leaflets in Spanish and English
and has already distributed them in 150 homes. He has met very good acceptance;
most people are glad to see a Catholic coming into their homes with information
about the Church. One outgrowth of his work was the idea of a Spanish Mass in
St. Benedict Centre here. We had the first one last Sunday and asked help from
the Santa Familia village congregation with the music and readings. I (Fr. Jerome
was writing this) set up about 25 chairs. People started trickling in an hour
early and by Mass time there were over a hundred squeezed into the chapel in
the Centre. We plan to schedule a monthly Spanish Mass here for a while and
gauge the on-going response.
Other interesting things are always going on in homes and in monasteries. The same
goes for Santa Familia. This keeps life interesting. In the same letter as the above, Fr.
The Anglican Diocese of Belize has a new bishop, Brother Desmond Smith, a
native of our Cayo District. He has spent most of his ministry in Africa and
Trinidad. He has visited our monastery several times, and we were happy he
chose to make his pre-ordination retreat here. He surprised us by coming to
Morning Office in his Franciscan habit. I had known about Anglican Benedictines
but didn't realize there are also Anglican Franciscans. He gave us a special
invitation to his ordination in Belize City. Three of us went.
An interesting visitor the other day was Collen Patterson, a medical doctor from
Australia, on a bird-watching walk through Belize. She had been delighted to
spot a grosbeak down the road, a type she hadn't seen before; when she saw the
monastery she came up for a look. It turned out, of all things, that she lives in the
town of Subiaco, Australia, but had never heard of our Subiaco in the U.S. She
was also glad to see a pair of peerless vermillion flycatchers that have been
nesting here for the past few months.
I am getting ready for my first ministerial walk among the villages in the Toledo
,District in the South. This is scheduled for 2 weeks in the middle of Lent. Several
of the participants in our Vocation Week live in that part of the country and I'm
hoping to be able to see some of them.
Another important highlight for the monastery was the arrival of a telephone. Br. Thomas
Moster, who, by 1989, had been at Santa Familia for over a year, was happy;
St. Benedict brought us our telephone! The workmen came to install it on July
11 (1989), the feast of St. Benedict, but we were all gone on a feast-day outing.
Later they came back and installed it. So the days of peace and quiet without a
phone ringing are no more, but, among other benefits, it greatly simplifies our
The concentrated work to secure vocations bore fruit when, on September 8, 1989, Br.
Omar Castillo of Douglas in the Orange Walk District made his first profession of vows
at Santa Familia. Abbot Raphael of Subiaco Abbey received Br. Omar's vows in St.
Benedict's Centre Chapel at the monastery. At this time he also appointed Fr. Jerome
Kodell as the superior of the monastery, replacing Fr. Richard Walz, who, nevertheless,
remained as a member of the Santa Familia community. On this visit Abbot Raphael
announced to the Belizean monks that he would resign as Abbot on November 8, 1989.
Several days before the date of the abbatial election at Subiaco, Fr. Jerome, Fr. Richard
and Br. Thomas travelled to the States as voters in the election. On the morning of
November 8. 1989, Fr. Jerome Kodell was elected the 6th abbot of Subiaco Abbey. This
change of events would affect Santa Familia monastery. A week later, on November 15,
1989, Abbot Jerome was solemnly blessed and officially installed as abbot by Bishop
Andrew J. McDonald, Bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas. Then Abbot
Jerome returned to Santa Familia to finalize various tasks he had undertaken before his
election. He remained in Belize for some days before returning to his new duties at the
abbey. Before he left he re-appointed Fr. Richard Walz as the superior of the monastery
at Santa Familia.
Work on the new additions to the monastery
progressed so that Br. Thomas Moster, early in 1990, .
wrote to the abbey: T
On February 27 we moved into our new
chapel for Noonday Prayer. On March 1 we
had our first Mass in the new chapel with five "
parishioners attending from Cayo and Santa
Elena. Work continues slowly but surely on Bishop Osmond Peter Martin, D.D. and
the new pantry, kitchen and dining room. concelebrant Fr Robert Lazzari, O.S.B.
at the blessing of the new chapel in
With the departure of Fr. Jerome for his new work as abbot, a replacement had to be
sent. On April 18, 1990, Fr. Bruno Fuhrmann, brother to the founding-monk, Br. Michael
Fuhrmann, came to Santa Familia. At first he was a temporary replacement for Fr.
Richard who was in the U.S. Before returning to Belize, Fr. Richard spoke in Texas
parishes staffed by Subiaco monks about the monastery at Santa Familia. He also asked
these parishes for help in providing funds for a new school in Santa Elena. The people
responded generously. The monastery was also working to provide funds for books and
transportation for students who otherwise would not be able to go to school. Later Fr.
Bruno became a full-time member of Santa Familia's community.
On March 20, 1990, Marcos Salam and Julio Cal became novices at Santa Familia. In
October of the same year, Fr. Richard recorded a less religious event:
We are fixing up the tiny old sacristy off the old chapel as a computer room. We
got one of the smallest air-conditioners made and have put in insulation and a
door and boxed up the window. We are about to move the business office into the
old chapel, now that we have the new chapel in use.
And so, with the additional areas now complete, the old chapel would become an office,
and soon the old kitchen and dining rooms would become rooms for monks as had been
In 1991 there was news about the new monks in the monastery.
THE ABBEY MESSAGE said:
May 3, 1991, Br. Marcos Salam of Crique Sarco in the Toledo
SDistrict made his first profession of vows. Abbot Jerome Kodell
Received the profession of Br. Marcos during Vespers in the chapel
at Santa Familia Monastery, with family and friends of the newly-
professed in attendance for the ceremony and the reception that
followed. He came to Vocation Week at Santa Familia in 1987 and
1988 and returned for the 1989 week and stayed to begin his
Candidate Marcos Salam candidacy for the religious life.
Candidate Marcos Salam
and Fr. Richard Walz,
O.S.B. in early 1990.
Abbot Jerome gave his own reaction:
The main attraction of my recent visit to our monastery in Belize was the first
profession of Br. Marcos Salam. He arrived as a candidate while I was still
novicemaster at Santa Familia. He and his classmate, Julio Cal, who will make
his profession later in the year, were already good friends of mine.
When I left Belize in 1989, the new annex was still under construction. Fathers
Richard and Robert introduced me to the new chapel, where all three of us had
spent a lot of working hours. The chapel is bright, airy, and attractive. Our hopes
that the new facility would encourage local participation in our services were
evidently being realized. Every weekday morning we were joined by several
Three months later there was another profession of vows at Santa Familia when Br.
Julio Cal made his first vows. The Abbey Message had this to say:
Br. Julio comes from the village ofAguacate in the Toledo District where he was
born 19 years ago. In August of 1989 he came to the monastery to become a
candidate. He is the fourth Belizean to make vows at Santa Familia.
Fr. Robert Lazzari, the ever-faithful returnee monk at Santa Familia, was there at the
time and noted:
We marveled at many events in connection with the profession of Br. Julio on
August 15. A special visitor was Sister Paschal Fernicola. She works in the villages
where Brothers Marcos and Julio are from and made the difficult trip to be here.
It meant a lot to both young men and to Sister Paschal as well. After the profession
we had a barbecue meal for the community and guests.
In early 1992 Fr. Richard gave a report on the new Santa Elena Primary School being
The new Santa Elena School which has been building for some time is now
complete and ready for use. I had thought it would be ready for September, but
money ran out before they could add some very important additions, like toilets.
It was all for the better though as the building is now complete and painted and
looks very good. There is still a plan for some landscaping...
The year 1991-92 was a full one for the monks and there were important events, additions
as well as visitors from Subiaco. Fr. Richard's newly-begun yearly reports, written on
May 26, 1992, gave the high-lights:
Br. Jude Schmitt came down during the summer months of 1991 and finished
the cabinet work for the new kitchen. We all felt bad that he couldn't be here
when we moved into the new kitchen a couple of days after he left, but we
enjoyed the move. Also, Fr. Mark Stengel was here during this time and did his
top-notch work in our garden. While he was here Br. Marcos Salam accompanied
him on a walk through the villages down South. Br. Marcos is attending night
school in Belize City, returning to Santa Familia on weekends.
We currently have two candidates: Eric Ku from the village of August Pine Ridge
in Northern Belize, and Lorenzo Coc from Pueblo Viejo in the South. Father
Robert and I have been having classes with these two young men since January.
Both attended our Vocation Week last year that attracted 22 young men.
Early this year (1992) Br. Sylvester Gaisbauer (from Subiaco) left his mark here
in a couple of months. We all benefitted greatly from his visit.
Our ministry to the needy (in Br. Omar Castillo's able hands) is going strong. We
now regularly receive a pickup load of food and toilet articles through the Sisters
of Mercy in Belize City. Recently we received a donation of 300 pairs of tennis
shoes from Wal-Mart, with aid in shipping from many charitable people.
Some key events during the past year surely include the decision to hire a cook.
With Br. Marcos out of the cooking rotation, it seemed the better thing to do.
The cook we hired is the same lady who cooks in our retreat centre (Mrs. Sierra).
She cooks our breakfast and noon meal five days a week. We take care of the
other two days, and each one individually takes care of his own supper.
Another key event was the decision to rent our entire farm to the man who has
been renting part of it over the past several years. This decision came about as a
result of increasing difficulties in running the farm from a distance, and George
Rivera's desire to retire from managing the farm. The actual change-over is due
to take effect on October 1, 1992.
St. Benedict Centre had a change. We rented the entire building to a U.S. group
of archaeologists for three months...
Later in the same year, 1992, Br. Omar Castillo made his Solemn Vows at Santa Familia.
This was the first time this religious event had occurred at Santa Familia. Br. Jesus
Gordon, some years before had made his Solemn Vows at Subiaco Abbey. This was a
sign that Santa Familia Monastery had "come to adulthood."
THE ABBEY MESSAGE gave the official account:
The profession ceremony was held August 6 in the Santa Elena parish church
surrounded by parents, family, friends, clergy and religious. The ceremony was
held in the local church, a mile from the monastery, in order to accommodate the
large number of people.
Br. Omar is from Douglas in Orange Walk District, the son of Arcadio and
Benita Castillo. Br. Omar has nine brothers and sister. Before coming to Santa
Familia in February, 1988, Br. Omar worked as a driver in the sugar-cane industry
with his father and brother. At Santa Familia Monastery Br. Omar works in
mechanics and maintenance, and heads the monastery's ministry to the poor and
Abbot Jerome Kodell received Br. Omar's profession during the Mass at Santa
Elena Church with all the monks of Santa Familia present, as well as a delegation
from Subiaco Abbey.
The summer months of 1992 were busy, with many monks coming and going. In June
Fr. Richard returned to the States to celebrate his 25th anniversary of priesthood. Then
Br. James Lindsey of the abbey spent three weeks in Belize helping with the monastery's
Vocation Week and the Santa Elena Vacation Bible School. Fr. Robert Lazzari, who had
been at Santa Familia for several years, was officially replaced by Fr. Bruno Fuhrmann.
Fr. Robert returned to the U.S. after Br. Omar's profession ceremony.
Also in July Abbot Jerome Kodell and his subprior at Subiaco, Fr. Timothy Donnelly
visited Santa Familia. For Abbot Jerome it was another return to where he was stationed
at the time of his election as abbot in 1989.
In May of 1993 Br. Benedict went to the U.S. to visit at the abbey and with his family in
St. Louis, Missouri. Fr. Gregory Pilcher, studying Spanish in Guatemala from mid-June
until mid-July, visited Santa Familia for several days before returning to the abbey. Br.
Joseph Heath and Br. Maurus Glenn, the "exchange monks" from Subiaco, spent July at
Santa Familia. Br. Maurus wrote the expected report in The Abbey Message:
...We had finished participating in a Catholic Youth Workshop with a group of
22 men in the South. Then Fr. Richard, Br. Marcos, Br. Joseph and I continued
our trip through southern Belize, a territory that seemed straight out of the Na-
ional Geographic magazine. We stopped at Blue Creek in an effort to take Br.
Marcos as close as we could to the village of his parents so that he could spend
a few days with them. The bridge over Blue Creek was not only impossible, it
was totally invisible with water over it. Fr. Richard and Br. Marcos went to the
house of a person they knew to get what information they could about the weather
and travel possibilities farther on.
While Br. Joseph and I waited by the pickup, a group of six children came running
down to us from their house. A couple of them were carrying children' books.
When we asked them when school would start, they said: "September "in unison.
Before long the side of our muddy/dusty truck had become a blackboard of
sorts, and Br. Joseph and I found ourselves "in class" with the kids doing math
problems and writing in the dirt on the sides of the truck. Br. Joseph began
reading a story about "Tag", a dog, in one of their books. But "school was out"
when Fr. Richard and Br. Marcos returned. They had learned that Br. Marcos
might have to wait 2 days before Blue Creek could be crossed. What was worse
was that the Jordan River, which he must also cross, might not be low enough
for a week. Br. Marcos decided to make the six-hour drive back to Santa Familia
with us and try to make his visit later.
These two monks returned to the States in August with Fr. Bruno who took a vacation
during that month. Br. Maurus would later return to Santa Familia as part of the regular
Abbot Jerome Kodell on his yearly visit to Santa Familia Monastery commented in late
A major development since my last visit here has been the exchange with the
Belizean government of about 15 acres of our Carmelita farm for the same amount
of land immediately behind the monastery. The acquisition of this acerage has
been considered essential for protection of the privacy of the monastery and the
retreat house. A ten-acre block of this land is "high bush", an area which will be
protected as a preserve for wild life, flowers and trees. Br. Benedict has enhanced
the human/animal trails which lace this "wilderness."
In 1994 Fr. Richard sent his longest-ever yearly report to Subiaco Abbey. It will be
given here in full:
The year began with Br. Omar heading off to school at the Benedictine monastery
in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Br. Marcos continues his education at the Jesuit
run Extension High School in Belize City. Fr. Bruno began a new apostolate to
bring Mass once a month to a remote village some 20 miles from here.
February (1994) began with my leaving for the yearly abbot/prior meeting in the
U.S. I ended up by going to New Orleans to pay a visit to St. Philip Neri primary
school there. Over the years this school has contributed quite a lot of financial
assistance to us and to the primary school in Santa Familia village. We really
appreciate this, and it seems a small thing to work them into a trip once in a
while. I was met in New Orleans by Br. Maurus Glenn who was driving a new
pickup that had been given to us by a very generous benefactor in Texas. Together
we drove the truck down through Mexico.
In March the group of archaeologists from the University of California arrived
and rented our retreat centre again for three months. Several years ago they
excavated a house-mound on our farm and discovered that it had been continu-
ously occupied for more than 2000 years! It was actually a very unassuming-
looking place on the farm.
June was the surprise month regarding rain. We usually have up to 10 inches of
rain during this month, but this year only 1.54 inches. And that was the problem
the whole year. In fact, my rainfall records show 1994 to be, by far, the lowest of
my records. We average about 65 inches per year here, and this year we had
slightly less than Arkansas... only 43.89 inches. I made another trip to the U.S.
This time I took along Br. Marcos, who had not as yet been to our "mother-
house", Subiaco Abbey. Israel Rivera, who has worked for us for many years
also went along. He spent a week there and barely got back in time for the birth
of his 4th child, a daughter. While Br. Marcos visited at Subiaco and worked in
the carpenter shop and sawmill there, I went to spend some time with my mother.
In early July Br. Marcos and I again drove through Mexico on our return to
Belize. We got here in time for the annual Vocation Week, which was well attended
this year. It had been a flop in 1993 for various reasons. We were blessed to have
two visitors from Subiaco for that week: Br. Vincent Klein and Br. Francis
Kirchner. Br. Francis was here for the whole month of July.
October 10 was the official ground-breaking for the new church in Santa Familia
village. The bishop was here for the occasion. The local pastor has been very
active in building new churches, having received a lot of help from his homeland,
Ireland. Santa Familia's church will be the 4th that he has built since his arrival
November saw the arrival of Sindulfo Coc as a candidate from San Antonio
village in the Toledo District. He is in his mid-20s. He was chosen from Belize
to go to Denver, Colorado, U.S.A. several years ago to meet the Pope. This
month was one of our busier times in our retreat house. We did not have as many
retreats, but we did have a full round of weekends and some during the week:
meetings, seminars, etc.
During the past year we were privileged to receive three 20-foot containers of
food, medicine, clothes, etc. from the Salvatorian Mission Warehouse in New
Holstein, Wisconsin, U.S.A. These goods were mostly in the form of toothpaste,
shampoos, hand and laundry soap, many kinds of medicine, foodstuffs of all
types, including much candy. This material is mostly given to the Warehouse by
large corporations who, for one reason or another, have an over-supply of
something. We have developed a number of outlets for the goods after we get
them here to the monastery. We give the majority of the medicine to a clinic
about 8 miles from here. We supply the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the local
parish, a home for the elderly and the parish roll for the poor. We have generally
distributed the toothpaste, toothbrushes and candy through the schools in our
area. I figure there are more than 2000 children in the primary schools attached
to the parish of San Ignacio, and that does not include a high school of about 600
students. These goods are given to us and shipped to Belize free of charge and
we are granted, by the government, a complete duty exemption because we
distribute mainly to indigent persons. The only cost that we incur is the
transportation from Belize City for which we have to hire a truck. We have a
couple of other bills to pay to the broker who clears the customs entry and the
customs officials who must oversee the unloading of the containers. We have
been doing this for 2 years now and we have a permit to continue in 1995.
Br. Maurus Glenn reported at the same time as the above official monastery report,
more everyday items of importance, perhaps, than the "big" events:
The two-acre garden that Br. Eric Ku has been working in since November has
been yielding a good harvest, including 625 pounds of tomatoes, 500 pounds of
beans, 2000 ears of corn and six pickup loads of cabbage, with radishes still to
come. Br. Eric has made a half dozen or more weekly trips to Belize City to sell
the produce at the big market there. To get there before the market opens, he had
to be on the road by 2:30 in the morning. Fr. Richard has also been canning a lot
of tomatoes for us; our pantry shelves are loaded with them.
A wonderful experience for me was a pilgrimage I made with Fr. Richard, Fr.
Bruno, Br. Benedict and some local people to the shrine of Esquipulas in south-
The year 1995 was largely the same type of year at Santa Familia, one filled with prayer
and work in the Benedictine tradition. Fr. Richard in his 1995 yearly report stated some
The year 1995 began with a group of volunteers from a religious denomination
in the USA in our retreat centre. We have found these groups very nice to work
with and a delight to have around. We had three such groups in 1994. They are
generally young people who have worked to put together enough money to come
to a 3rd World Country and try to help in some way or another.
Early in February Abbot Jerome paid us a visit. We are always happy to have
him. His visit was somewhat a busy one as he was giving the Diocesan priests'
retreat. Because of this he decided to make a return visit later in the year. The
annual diocesan priests' retreat is also one of the things that we look forward to
here. Knocking on the door as the priests' retreat was drawing to a close was
Anabel Ford and her troop of archaeologists from the University of California at
Santa Barbara. They are doing basic research on the Mayans that lived in a
ceremonial centre about 12 miles from here.
May began with Br. Marcos Salam renewing his monastic vows for another
year. He continues to go to night school in Belize City. This year he only has to
go 3 times a week by bus. God has granted him the ability to fall asleep as soon
as a vehicle that he is riding in begins to move. May 23 was the date on which
the bishop blessed the new church in the N village of Santa Familia. It was a big
day. The bishop had Confirmation for a number of children that day as well. One
of the major things that we did toward the church was to build the pews. Br.
Marcos and Israel Rivera spent about 3 months, in their spare moments, building
26 pews. They are a good addition to the church and we are justly proud of the
work done. At the end of May Br. Benedict left for his vacation at Subiaco. He
planned to see the doctors while there, and in fact he didn't make it back until 3
months later after some minor surgery and recuperation time. The month ended
with the reception of Sindulfo Coc as a novice. He began his novitiate year on
May 31, 1995 at a short ceremony during Morning Prayer.
August began with another group of young church people from the U.S.A. Our
Centre was on the point of being over-worked, as were our cooks and Br. Maurus.
It was a lucky thing for Br. Benedict that he was still in the U.S.A. or he would
have been washing sheets day and night to keep up with the guests. Fr. Bruno
also saw "the handwriting on the wall" and left for his vacation in the States.
While Fr. Bruno and Br. Benedict were away we who were left took an outing
on Caye Caulker for a little "sun and fun". We took along our workers: Maria
with her husband, Hector Sierra; and Israel Rivera and his wife, Yolanda.
September was filled with extra Sunday help in the local parish in San Ignacio.
With Fr. Ryan gone to Ireland, the only priest there was Fr. Vincente Gomez
from Nicaragua. He speaks no English, so Fr. Bruno and I traded some of our
Spanish Masses and took his English ones. Fr. Richard began to teach 5 classes
a week at Sacred Heart College.
During the September legal holiday celebrations in Belize, Abbot Jerome came
back and he brought along Fr. Bernard Schumacher who was the superior here
in 1975. He had not returned since then and quite a few things had changed in
the last 20 years.
During November our Bishop Martin planned to spend more or less the entire
month here on a retreat/relaxation visit. He hadn't planned on the many requests
for this and that, nor a problem with his back that kept him from coming. Br.
Omar and Br. Maurus made a vocation recruiting trip to the North part of Belize
to check on some of the men who have been to our vocation weeks and others
we hear of one way or another. So far we do not have any new faces around here
in the monastery. During November we began work again on the major fence
that will eventually enclose us. This fence is made of cement blocks and barbed
wire. So far we have just about enclosed the "high bush" area behind the monastery
and are working east from there. The month ended and December began with a
number of mini-retreats for the Catholic High School in Benque and a weekend
retreat for the Diocesan Catechetical Centre.
And so life at Santa Familia Monastery goes on as it has for 25 years: Morning Prayer,
activities, Noonday Prayer, activities, Vespers, Office of Readings, recreation and retiring.
The monks and now, their other helpers, still try to fulfill the original directive in their
coming to Belize 25 years ago: "to establish a Benedictine Presence" and to live "in the
simplest terms of Benedictine life: to pray and to work."
Saint Benedict, pray for us!
Santa Familia Monastery at 25 years of age.