Maronite monks buy land, plan monastery in southwest Washington

Abouna Jonathan Decker celebrates the Holy Mysteries (Mass) at St. Sharbel, a Maronite Catholic church in Portland. The Maronite monks are planning to build a monastery near Castle Rock in southwestern Washington. Photo: Janet Cleaveland Abouna Jonathan Decker celebrates the Holy Mysteries (Mass) at St. Sharbel, a Maronite Catholic church in Portland. The Maronite monks are planning to build a monastery near Castle Rock in southwestern Washington. Photo: Janet Cleaveland

After five years of searching in three states, a group of Maronite monks from Oregon has purchased 65 acres of land in Cowlitz County to build a chapel, living quarters and guesthouse.

 The future Sacred Heart Monastery, northwest of Castle Rock, someday will be open for pilgrims to pray and to hear the Maronite Monks of Jesus, Mary and Joseph chant their office in English and Aramaic. It will be a place of peace, a chance to walk the paths and pause at shrines and Stations of the Cross. 

“That’s in keeping with the monks’ mission of compassion and hospitality,” said Abouna (Father) Jonathan Decker, formerly stationed at St. Sharbel, a Maronite parish in Portland, and now prior of the monastery. “We are here to assist others discerning the spirit of God in their lives.”

The project has the blessings of Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Maronite Bishop Elias Zaidan in Los Angeles. 

The Maronite Church is one of 22 churches (or rites) within the Catholic Church. Maronite Catholics profess the same apostolic faith as Latin-rite Catholics, celebrate the same sacraments and are united with the pope, but they have their own theology, spirituality, liturgy and code of canon law.

The new monastery won’t function as a parish. Instead, it will be a place where 10 to 20 monks can live a simple life and devote their days to prayer and contemplation.

“In the quiet, in the silence, we adore God and pray for all the world,” Abouna Jonathan said. “We have a lifetime vocation to be monks, a lifetime to prayer, meditation and work. We are contemplative.”

In December, as the land purchase was coming together, the Maronites ordained Abouna Anthony Alles. He will help establish the monastery, along with Monk John Michael Morgan and Novice Brother Lee Harris. For now, they all live in a house in Beaverton, Oregon.

Abouna Jonathan Decker raises the monstrance as the Corpus Christi procession forms June 7 at St. Sharbel Church in Portland. Photo: Janet Cleaveland

The monks need $500,000 to begin building the infrastructure for the monastery, a $3 million project. No funds from St. Sharbel Parish may be used for the project. As of July 2, the monks have raised $8,400 on their Go Fund Me site.

Like St. Francis, “the monks live off what people give us,” Abouna Jonathan said. They hope to find laypeople who will donate architectural and engineering skills, said Monk John Michael.

In July, Abouna Jonathan took on the full-time position as prior of the monastery. The bishop will appoint another Maronite priest to St. Sharbel so Abouna Johnathan can devote his time to the monastery. But he knows he needs the entire community’s help.

During the June 7 Corpus Christi Mass at St. Sharbel, Abouna Jonathan gently turned a moment of hesitation into a lesson on how the monks live their vocations. 

When one of the deacons approached the epistle side of the altar, he had trouble finding the right passage. Two others rose to help. Abouna Jonathan looked at the faithful in the pews. He smiled and said, “We do everything in community here … even turn the pages.” 

Make a contribution

Donate to the Maronite monastery project online or by mail: Maronite Monks of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, P.O. Box 13723, Portland, OR 97213.

Who are the Maronites?

  • Maronite Christianity began in areas that today make up Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel. • The Maronite Church is named for the hermit St. Maron, who died about 410 A.D. His followers later built a monastery in his honor, from which other monasteries were founded.
  • The Maronite rite is one of 22 Eastern Catholic churches. Maronites profess the same apostolic faith as Roman Catholics, celebrate the same sacraments and are united with the pope.
  • The Maronites spoke Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Aramaic is still used by the Maronites in some hymns and parts of the Holy Mysteries (Mass), including the consecration.
  • The church has 26 eparchies or vicariates worldwide; two are in the United States — Los Angeles and Brooklyn, New York.

Learn more at the monastery project’s website.

Janet Cleaveland

Janet Cleaveland is a member of the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver.

 

Website: blogs.columbian.com/small-plates/author/jcleaveland/