From Oklahoma to Ireland

From Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the heart of rural Ireland, a community of Benedictine monks is hoping to play a part in the renewal of the Church in the Emerald Isle.

It’s a challenging time for many religious communities, but Prior of Silverstream Monastery Dom Mark Kirby is facing a very pleasant challenge: “We don’t have any room to accept the many new candidates we’re getting vocation inquiries from,” he said cheerfully.

There are currently five monks in the community and to describe their living conditions as modest would be an understatement. “We have a huge amount of work to do to the monastery,” Father Kirby confides. “It’s a big job.”

Planting a seed

Silverstream Priory has been open for three years. At a time when many religious communities are consolidating and closing down houses, the Benedictines at Silverstream have an ambitious plan of work to build their monastic community as a powerhouse of prayer, hospitality and spirituality. There’s only one problem: “We are in dire straits; we don’t have any money,” Father Kirby said.

Father Kirby, 62, was born and raised in the United States, but he feels that the gentle hand of God has led him to Ireland. The story takes shape in 2007 during a lengthy layover in Dublin airport en route to Rome. Father Kirby wanted to celebrate Mass, so he went to the airport church. While there, a prayer came to him: “Lord, let me do something for the Church in Ireland.”

At a conference in Rome in 2011, he met some people from Ireland; he shared with them the fact that Eucharistic adoration and a special care for priests is at the heart of the charism of his community that was then based in Oklahoma. The Irish people he met shared their hope that such a community could benefit the Church in Ireland. “The invitation to consider Ireland touched me deeply, because for several years I had felt a growing desire to respond to the needs of the Church in Ireland with a humble love.”

New mission

Father Kirby returned to the United States to find that the house of their embryonic community in Oklahoma had been flooded by heavy rains and, as a result, badly damaged and uninhabitable. He searched in vain for an alternative location in the Diocese of Tulsa. It was then that the idea of making Ireland a base started to crystallize. Luckily, Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa is a man of Irish descent.

He gave Father Kirby permission to seek a new home for his community in Ireland. So the priest met with Bishop Michael Smith of Meath, Ireland, and received his permission to set up at Silverstream, which had recently been vacated by the Visitation Sisters.

Power of beauty

Mass at the priory is celebrated in the extraordinary form, and the community has gathered a healthy congregation, particularly on Sundays. They also celebrate the full Divine Office, reciting the entire 150 psalms over the course of a week. Liturgy is central to the mission of Silverstream, and “beauty is integral to our vision,” said a member of the community, Dom Benedict Maria Andersen.

The community is convinced that people can be attracted to an authentic encounter with Christ through beauty. “When people approach the Church,” Father Kirby said, “we must offer them beauty. We must enchant people; you don’t attract people by moralism or by preaching a harsh message to them, you attract them by pointing them toward something that is beautiful.”

‘Big plans’

Hospitality is also a key part of the mission of Silverstream. There are currently a number of guestrooms where people are invited to come and stay and enjoy the beauty of the monastic experience. The church on the site is currently unused. “We have big plans for it,” Father Andersen said. “We want to have something really beautiful, something that will help people raise their hearts and minds to God.”

But it’s all dependant on fundraising. Father Kirby admits to “nervous evenings” looking at the bank account.

Is he daunted by the challenges? “Yes, we have so much to do,” he said. “But here in the Boyne Valley with its rich monastic tradition, we are confident, and we rely on God’s help.”

Michael Kelly writes from Ireland.