CASTLE ROCK – It may be summer, but winter is surely coming — and no one knows it better than the Maronite Monks of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
The small community of religious has started construction of Sacred Heart Monastery, tucked into 65 acres of rolling hills near Castle Rock, just a few miles west of Interstate 5 in southwest Washington. The building’s stem walls have been poured, and it’s time to finish the foundation, frame the building, put on a roof and install doors, windows and siding — not to mention the electricity and plumbing — before the rain and cold set in.
The interior will have to wait.
The entire project (land, architectural work and construction) is estimated at $2 million, and the monks are $700,000 short, said Laif Waldron, a member of the building committee. He recently moved to Longview with his wife Karen to help with the project, along with caretakers Kelly and Kim Stewart, who live nearby.
But there is faith and trust that the money will come.
“The project is moving forward,” Waldron said. “We realize that this isn’t a regular building. A monastery is so much more. We expect the hurdles, but we’re working through them. It’s God’s project.”
The monastery has the blessings of Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Maronite Bishop Elias Zaiden in Los Angeles.
Sacred Heart Monastery is set in the rolling hills west of Castle Rock in southwest Washington. The Maronite Monks of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are trying to finish the foundation, frame and roof the structure before winter rains arrive. Photo: Janet Cleaveland
Celebrating Mass in a converted barn
The Maronite Church is one of 23 churches (or rites) that are in communion with Rome. 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 nearest Maronite parish is St. Sharbel in Portland, where Abouna Jonathan Decker served as pastor for 26 years. (“Abouna” is Arabic for “father.”) In 2007, Bishop Zaiden and the late Maronite Bishop Robert Shaheen asked Abouna Jonathan to found the Maronite Monks of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The monastic order was officially recognized by the two bishops and Rome in 2011.
On August 3 and 4, the monks invited the faithful, some of them from St. Sharbel, to Holy Mysteries (Mass), lunch and confessions at the monastery site. They celebrated Mass in a barn that has been converted to a chapel; an occasional “moo” could be heard from the cattle that the monks are raising for beef.
About 40 people, including many children, attended the First Friday event; Saturday’s liturgies drew an estimated 130 people. The Friday readings dealt with the theme of stewardship, ideal for reflecting on the progress of the monastery.
“We have the entrustment of God’s fruitfulness for all eternity,” Abouna Anthony Alles said in his homily. “Love we cannot conceive of presses down on us at every moment.”
St. Sharbel parishioner Michael Gama of Corbett, Oregon, spoke after the Holy Mysteries about the need to get the monastery up and running. Gama reminded those in attendance about the boy in the Gospel who had five barley loaves and two fish. How much did he have? “Enough,” the congregation answered.
“That’s us; that’s enough,” Gama said, referring to their ability to raise money for the monastery. “We can count on the Lord to feed his people. We depend on the Lord,” he said.
In the Maronite rite, “passing of the peace” during Holy Mysteries (Mass) begins with the priest, who passes it to the servers, who then pass it on to the faithful. The person giving peace presents his or her hands joined together to the next person, who briefly clasps them with both hands, then turns and passes it in the same way. Photo: Janet Cleaveland
‘We adore God and pray for all the world’
Sacred Heart will be one of only two Maronite Catholic monasteries in the United States (the other is in Petersham, Massachusetts).
Abouna Anthony, ordained in 2014, is helping establish the monastery here, along with Abouna John Michael Morgan, who was ordained just last year at the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver. The men live in a house in Beaverton, Oregon, and commute to the monastery site.
The monastery will include a chapel, living quarters and a guest house, but won’t function as a parish (although it occasionally will be open to pilgrims for retreats). Instead, it will be a place of peace where as many as 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 shortly after acquiring the land in 2014.
In early August, looking toward the tall firs that ring the perimeter of the property, Abouna Jonathan borrowed a metaphor from Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk who died in 1968: “We will be like the trees, purifying the air in silence,” Abouna Jonathan said, paraphrasing what Merton wrote.
The recent gathering of the faithful at the monastery site made Annette Salame of Hillsboro, Oregon, grateful and happy for the work being done. She and her husband, José, have supported the monastery from the beginning.
“We are already benefiting from the sacrifice the monks are making,” Salame said. “And once [they are] cloistered, we will all benefit from their continued sacrifice and prayers.”
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. His followers later built a monastery in his honor, from which other monasteries were founded.
The Maronite rite is one of 23 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 (dioceses) worldwide; two are in the United States — Los Angeles and Brooklyn, New York.
Learn more at the monastery project’s website.
Janet Cleaveland is a member of the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver.