A visit to Weston Priory
There is a sound to silence, to solitude, to peace, and those who visit Weston Priory Monastery in Weston, Vt., can hear it clearly.
“It is a prayerful, serene place,” explained Father John Rose, pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Syracuse, and a frequent visitor at Weston Priory. “It is a place of welcome and hospitality that exudes the reign of God. It’s a life-giving place, a Christ-filled place, and however long you stay, it’s still too short.”
The priory has been in operation since 1953 when its founder, Brother Leo A. Rudloff, OSB, of the Abbey of the Dormition in Jerusalem, was determined to found a fraternal community of love and service that would follow The Rule of Benedict, a basic guide for monastic living that was written in the sixth century by St. Benedict. The Rule of Benedict is a collection of wisdom that urges those committed to living a monastic life to “live by the work of their own hands, receive all guests as Christ; offer Gospel hospitality; share personal gifts for the good of all; be a sign of the Beatitudes (nonviolent, uphold justice and peace); respond to God’s voice and the cry of the poor; celebrate faith in worship, silence and reflection.” To create this community, Brother Leo purchased a small abandoned farmhouse in rural Vermont. This became the foundation of Weston Priory.
“The setting is breathtaking. It’s on top of a mountain,” stated Father Timothy J. Taugher of St. Francis Assisi Church in Binghamton. “I go there several times a year in all seasons and it’s a place where I feel connected to God. There is Gospel-based spiritually there that is powerful and hundreds come to the Sunday morning liturgy,” explained Father Taugher. “It’s not just a Catholic place: they have a wide net that brings in all faiths and an inclusive community where all people feel comfortable and welcomed.”
The priory is currently home to a community of 12 Benedictine monks from all areas of the country and the world, including Vietnam, Canada, Mexico, New York, Vermont and New Jersey.
“There are really no criteria for who can come and who can’t,” stated Brother Richard Loquinto, OSB, one of the brothers at Weston Priory. “Our founder, Brother Leo, stated that ‘whoever comes up the hill brings with them a gift.’ We believe that everyone who visits the priory has a gift to share.”
Brother Elias Kielian, OSB, another brother at the priory, agrees. “Some people discover us through our music, others through [newspaper] articles and others just drive by and say, ‘I wonder what that place is all about,’ so they come up the hill to find out.”
Sister Laura Bufano, CSJ, associate director of the Office of Pastoral Planning for the diocese, has been traveling to Weston Priory on a regular basis since the 1970s. “It’s a place for anyone, a healing place. I’m there [spiritually] even when I’m not there physically. There is a part of their daily prayer when they pray for their brothers and sisters who are absent; I am part of that prayer,” explained Sister Laura. “I may be absent in body but whenever I need to, I can close my eyes and perfectly picture the pond and I am there.”
For Sister Laura, the priory plays an important part in her spiritual life. “There is community in silence and [the priory] is an important part of my spiritual geography. I can drive up the hill, even in winter, and the silence is palpable. There may be others around, but when I am there I have solitude. I often feel that it’s here that God wants me to be still and communicate most with me. He wants me to ‘listen with the ear of my heart.’”
Visitors to Weston Priory can come for an hour, a day, or spend time on retreat. The facility offers guest accommodations and time to reflect on God’s work and share in daily prayers and the Eucharist. The priory is open to the public throughout the year. There is no charge to attend retreats at the priory but visitors may make donations.
“The chapel, the grounds, the gift shop and the visitors’ center are always open, but we don’t offer public prayer during the times of the year when we are on retreat,” explained Brother Elias.
Although prayer is a cornerstone of the brothers’ daily routine, there is time during the day to interact with new and returning guests.
“We make ourselves available to guests after prayer to see who they are, where they come from and listen to their stories,” explained Brother Richard.
It is through these stories that the brothers often learn why people have come to visit the priory. The most common thread in visiting the priory seems to be a desire for peace.
“This is a fast-paced world and I think people are looking for the stillness and the personal centering the priory can offer,” explained Brother Elias. “At this quiet place they can leave the cell phone behind. There is a gift of empowerment here.”
Brother Richard agrees. “There are people in the world who feel estranged and hear that there’s something, a process here, that might reconcile them with God, the Church and other people in their own lives. So they come. The priory offers them an opportunity to enter an atmosphere of peace, tranquility and spiritual renewal. It is an opportunity to be open to the peace of the world and receive the gift of being in a praying community. It is like our founder said, ‘Whoever finds their way here is welcome.’”
The priory is self-sufficient, originally sustained by the monks’ farming, maple sugaring and raising cattle. Now it has expanded to utilize the gifts of all the brothers living there. The monks create music, craft beeswax candles, and create pottery, silver jewelry, weaving, woodworking and calligraphy gifts that are sold in the priory’s gift shop. “We are a happy group of monks,” stated Brother Elias. “It is a very rewarding gift for us to find ourselves here.”
For Sister Laura and the hundreds of visitors the priory welcomes throughout the year, it is a rewarding gift for them as well to be at Weston Priory. To sum up her feelings about the priory, Sister Laura wrote the following poem in 2004.
felt utter stillness
basked in sky’s blueness
heard absolute silence
this is living
an extraordinary moment
For more information on visiting Weston Priory, go to www.westonpriory.org