PIFFARD — As cloistered monks, they don’t go out into the community. Still, the priests and brothers at Abbey of the Genesee still place a great value on connecting with the public.
“It’s so important,” stated Father Isaac Slater, OCSO, who serves as prior, or second-in-charge, of the Trappist monastery in northwest Livingston County. He said that hospitality is emphasized by the priests and brothers of the abbey, which has long been a popular spot for retreats, day trips and shorter visits.
In an effort to better serve its valued guests, Abbey of the Genesee has undertaken a major renovation to its gatehouse. The project, which started in April 2018, will feature a new, second entrance on the gatehouse’s north side. The entrance will lead to an enlarged Merton Hall conference room along with a relocated and enlarged bread store that sells the famed Monk’s Bread, other products from the abbey’s bakery and additional foods.
Having extra space will allow the store to also expand its offerings of books and such religious items as rosaries and crucifixes. In addition, a caf√© area is being added where visitors can “get a cup of coffee, visit with a friend, make an afternoon of it,” Father Slater said.
He added that the changes are expected to take effect sometime in January. Meanwhile, the original gatehouse entrance remains in place. To its left is the abbey’s church, and to its immediate right is the reception room as well as the current bread store space. According to Father Slater, that area will be converted into visiting rooms for confession and spiritual direction, making up the renovation project’s second and final phase. Father Slater explained that the new entrance is designed to accommodate store patrons as well as large crowds, such as those arriving by bus. This diversion of traffic, he said, will allow the area near the original entrance to offer a more peaceful, spiritual setting.
“The basic idea is to separate out the sacred and the commercial somewhat,” he said.
Overseeing the renovation is McKinnon Construction of Honeoye Falls, the same firm that refurbished the abbey’s church in 2014. Funding for the project received an unexpected boost around the time it was being launched — a $500,000 bequest from Mary Ann Mans, a longtime high-school teacher in Rochester who died in January 2014. Yet even with that sizable donation, Father Slater said that several hundred thousand more dollars are required to meet the project’s $1.2 million price tag, and any donations are welcomed.
Whereas the renovation project is aimed at visitors, another initiative at Abbey of the Genesee is designed for those considering a much longer — and possibly permanent — stay, but do not yet wish to make a formal commitment.
Through a monastic guest program, men can live as guests for one to six months with the abbey’s 23 priests and brothers belonging to the Cistercian of the Strict Observance, or Trappist, order. Participants would spend all their time inside the cloister, taking full part in the abbey’s lifestyle, which includes working in the bakery and prayer several times per day, as well as limited conversation and phone and computer usage, and no television or radio.
While acknowledging that monastic life is “such a leap from contemporary culture,” Father Slater said that “it’s much more livable than people might imagine,” noting that a recent graduate of SUNY Geneseo stayed at the abbey for a month this past summer and had a very positive experience.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Father Slater said of the immersion initiative, which is open to unmarried Catholic men under age 50. “The conditions are optimal for a growing intimacy with God.” He added that anybody interested should contact him at email@example.com.
Among other recently launched initiatives at Abbey of the Genesee, Father Slater noted a program by which schools, parishes and organizations can sell the monks’ products for fundraisers. In addition, he said, the abbey now offers gift boxes filled with food products that companies and businesses can purchase as gifts for their employees. Details can be found at https://monksbread.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To donate to Abbey of the Genesee, or learn more about the abbey, visit https://geneseeabbey.org or call 585-243-0660.