What Are Americans Doing in Klosterneuburg, Austria?
A reflection after the first beginnings - December, 2004
In 2002 two priests and one seminarian from the US entered the ancient foundation of Canons Regular of St. Augustine at Klosterneuburg on the outskirts of Vienna, Austria. They came because they perceived a need in themselves for a different way to live the priesthood. They believed that the common life was the answer to that need, and the life of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine appealed to them. This life is essentially priestly, focused on perfecting the priesthood according to the Evangelical Counsels, monastic discipline and the solemn celebration of the liturgy. It is the oldest form of religious life for the clergy in the Church. It became clear to these men that this form of life might have a broad appeal to men of our day in the US who feel called to the priesthood but also to a life in common with other priests. This “canonical life” could be a wonderful path for many young laymen, priests and seminarians who desire to be solidly formed priests and religious, faithful to Holy Church and devoted to the Sacred Mysteries and their solemn celebration.
The common life was always key to renewal within the Church. The enduring appeal and call of the apostolic model found in the Acts of the Apostles, in which the community of disciples lived together, shared all things in common and was “of one heart and one mind”, never has been far from the Church’s consciousness. Already in the 4th and 5th Centuries we have examples of bishops living together with their clergy according to this model, the greatest example of which was St. Augustine who wrote a rule for his clergy at Hippo, a rule which large numbers of canons would adopt in the 11th Century, and which they still follow today. The adoption of the rule was a defining moment for this renewed and reformed group of canons, and placed them at the center of the papacy’s move to reform the clergy, do away with clerical concubinage, restore the liturgy and protect the Church’s freedoms against powerful temporal lords.
This vision inspired these three men to trust in Divine Providence, accept God’s call to the canonical life and enter Klosterneuburg. The adventure these last two years has been far more than any of us dreamed when we came. It proves that when we trust in God and give ourselves to Him, life is infinitely more interesting and exciting than if we “do it our way”.
Our hope, God willing, is to be able someday to begin a canonical foundation within the tradition of Klosterneuburg in a diocese in the US. It is a magnificent vision, and we believe one which offers tremendous possibilities. Yet as we look forward, we also look back. In looking back and assessing the last two years, we are struck not merely by our hope for the future, but the incredible grace of the present. To live and minister here in our abbey and our abbey’s parishes is wonderful. Among the many blessings we have seen: our ministry has extended even to Norway; interest among American laypeople has kept pace with our own growth; we are now seven Americans in the community, but we also have two Germans and five Norwegians, two of whom are Vietnamese Norwegians. We are privileged to live in one of the most exciting and dynamic communities in the world. Whatever the future holds in God’s Providence, we are blessed in our vocation to Klosterneuburg a hundredfold.
I have a principle which I find admirable: In order to gain a lot we sometimes have to permit ourselves the chance of losing something. Those who wish to be too prudent, too careful, who never want to run the risk of losing, or leaving, or letting go of something that belongs to them: possessions, rights, just claims, their rest, their peace of mind, sometimes -- no, frequently -- miss fine occasions to do great service for God and neighbor and to enrich themselves.
-- St. Peter Fourier