Livingston County monastery welcomes visitors, vocations - Catholic Courier

Livingston County monastery welcomes visitors, vocations

PIFFARD — Visitors to Abbey of the Genesee come from near and far, making day trips and taking part in weeklong retreats.

Some even end up staying for a lifetime.

The Trappist monastery has been a fixture in northwest Livingston County since its founding more than 70 years ago. It is widely known for the Monks’ Bread produced on-site by its resident priests and brothers, as well as the monks’ spirit of welcoming to their quiet rural setting.

“I think individuals and families are hungry for the solitude and peace that is easier to encounter in a monastery,” said Father Isaac Slater, OCSO, who serves as Abbey of the Genesee’s novice minister and vocational director.

Fortunately, Father Slater said, opportunities for public visitation are returning to normal as the threat of COVID-19 continues to subside. In addition, he said, the monastery has seen an increase in recent years of men exploring a commitment to the monastic life.

Livingston County monk says visitors are ‘drawn to this place’

Abbey of the Genesee is located at 3258 River Road in the hamlet of Piffard, near Geneseo. Its chapel is open to the public seven days per week from 3 a.m. to 8 p.m.; guests also may walk the monastery’s scenic grounds.

The abbey’s on-site store — located in the gatehouse leading into the monastery — is open each Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There, visitors may purchase Monks’ Bread, specialty foods, reading materials and religious items. Other public-access features of the gatehouse, which has undergone a major renovation in recent years, are a café and a visiting area.

“A lot of people come here over the course of the day. They’re just drawn to this place,” Father Slater said, noting that visitors, along with participants in the abbey’s popular retreat program, come from all parts of the Rochester Diocese and beyond.

Their presence marks a welcome contrast to the abbey’s forced suspension of public access for more than a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. A gradual reopening began in July 2021.

“We’ve kind of eased our way into it, like everyone else,” Father Slater said, noting that “we had to be cautious because we have so many elderly members.”

Piffard monks emphasize prayer, work, study

Abbey of the Genesee, established in 1951, is currently home to eight priests and 13 brothers in the cloistered Cistercians of the Strict Observance, or Trappist, religious order. They support themselves primarily through bakery sales in New York and surrounding states, including an online store; and leasing farm land on the abbey’s property.

The monks come together in the chapel several times per day for regularly scheduled prayer as part of their lifelong commitment to prayer, work and study in accordance with the Rule of St. Benedict. Monks are available in person to the public on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. for confession and spiritual direction; they also can be contacted via email and telephone.

Although the Trappists are restricted from going out into the community, Father Slater said that “we do feel ourselves to be very much a part” of the Rochester Diocese.

“We have very good contact with the bishop (Salvatore R. Matano) and multiple groups within the diocese,” Father Slater said, noting, for instance, that Abbey of the Genesee frequently collaborates with St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.

Priest says monastic life ‘depends on your gift’

Abbey of the Genesee welcomes not only short visits but also extended stays for those weighing a potential Trappist vocation. Father Slater noted that the abbey is drawing steady interest with its immersion initiative, through which unmarried Catholic men under age 50 live there for several weeks or months and take full part in the monastic life.

Having that firsthand knowledge, Father Slater observed, helps discerners to decide whether they’re suited for a religious vocation, particularly a cloistered one.

“It completely depends on the person,” he said. “It depends on your gift.”

Regarding his own vocational journey, Father Slater — a native of Canada who has resided at Abbey of the Genesee since 1999 — said the monastic life and its separation from contemporary culture has been highly satisfying for him.

“I’m much happier than I expected to be. It’s been very joyful, challenging and rewarding, and I’m growing,” he remarked. “The particular kind of plant I am has been growing in this soil, and that’s satisfying.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about Abbey of the Genesee, visit or call 585-243-0660.

Tags: Livingston County News, Religious Orders
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