Sunday 20 August 2017

Mount Melleray Abbot first Irishman to head Cistercians

John Cooney

An Irishman has been appointed head of the worldwide Cistercian Order.

Dom Eamon Fitzgerald, the Abbot of Mount Melleray Abbey, has been elected Abbot General of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappist monks.

Dom Eamon (63) was chosen by the Cistercian abbots and abbesses of the Order at a meeting yesterday in Assisi, Italy, and took immediate command of the spiritual lives of 2,185 monks and 1,782 nuns.

As the first Irishman to hold this lofty office, he will reside at the Order's headquarters in Rome, but spend over half the year travelling around the Order's 97 monasteries of monks and 72 monasteries of nuns in 47 different countries.

There is no fixed term of office for an Abbot General, but he must offer his resignation on reaching 75.

The monks of Mount Melleray will hold an election in the near future to choose a successor to Dom Eamon, their resident spiritual boss for almost two decades.

Dublin-born Dom Eamon first entered Mount Melleray Abbey, Co Waterford, in 1966.

Before his return to Mount Mellary as abbot in 1989, he served or a number of years as chaplain to Cistercian nuns in Abakaliki, Nigeria. Since 2002, he has also been moderator of the Order's General Chapter of senior abbots and abbesses.

There are five Cistercian monasteries in Ireland with 100 monks, at Mt Melleray Abbey, Waterford; Mt St Joseph Abbey in Roscrea, Co Tipperary; Mellifont Abbey, Collon, Co Louth; Bethlehem Abbey in Portglenone, Co Antrim; and Bolton Abbey in Moone, Co Kildare. There is also a monastery of 35 Cistercian nuns in St Mary's Abbey, Co Waterford.

All the Irish monasteries are part of the Strict Observance Order of Cistercians, which was constituted into a separate religious order by Pope Leo XIII in 1892. Its best-known monk in modern times was the late Thomas Merton, an American spiritual writer whose books still sell well.

Most of the Irish communities earn their living through agriculture, though the monks at Mount St Joseph also run a Boarding School in Roscrea, where Taoiseach Brian Cowen and former Labour leader Dick Spring spent their schooldays.

Last night, Brother Bonaface, Prior at Mount Melleray, said this was a momentous day for Mount Melleray Abbey and the Cistercian Order in Ireland.

"We will be very sad to lose him but are delighted that he has been honoured with this prestigious role within the Cistercian Order."

The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Dr William Lee, extended his warmest congratulations to Dom Eamon whom he described as a man of deep spirituality, blessed with a great love for the Church.

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