The Monastic Church Revisted
by David Richen, Church Architect: 12-6-14
Thank you, Abbot Peter and Community for this opportunity to once again offer a few thoughts on the design of this Church. Thank you also Br. Todd for your trenchant comments and excellent homily.
In the past I have commented upon the architectural design rationale behind the Church and I am tempted to once again give you a brief lecture on Cistercian Architecture. But instead, I have decided to share some more personal feelings with you about what this building means to me.
I’ll begin with a story. Nearly six months ago while all alone in the Guest Cabins across the plaza and in the middle of the night, I awoke with severe chest pains. After failing to find any help or a phone in the Porter’s Lodge and then passing out for about 1/2 hour or more, I stumbled over to this Church to try and get help.
When I got to Mary Lewis’ carved doors I was in such pain and so exhausted that I had to sit down on the floor. After a bit I was able to get up and entered. The first person I looked for was Br. John because I had heard that he got up early for adoration. No luck. So I worked my way up into the Cell wing and was graced to wake up the best person I possibly could in my condition….Fr. Francis, the Infirmarian for over fifty years!
As I was working my way through the Church that night, right over there, I thought to myself “Wouldn’t it be something if I died here in my own church”? Later in the hospital when I told my family this thought that I had had, my granddaughter’s fiancé piped up and said something like, “Wow, now that would have been the highlight of the church architecture tour”!
Had I died that night, right here in this church, I would have died a happy man because there is no place I love more on earth than this place. This Abbey and the men in it have changed my life in every conceivable way. I started coming here about forty years ago and it has been my refuge and spiritual sanctuary ever since.
After coming at least five years I met Abbot Bernard and he blessed me with my first Cistercian project, Bethany House. His successor, my beloved friend, Abbot Peter, extended this blessing to the planning, design and completion of the Master Plan for this whole monastery, including this new Abbey Church. And now, thanks to him, I have worked on Cistercian monasteries across the country. It really is beyond belief and I am deeply grateful for all of this.
I believe it was William Stafford who when asked what was his favorite poem, would answer, “The next one”! I don’t feel this way at all. Even though I have done much work since the completion of this Church, this is still my favorite project.
Many architects retire or die feeling like they never got a chance to do the building that they were born to do. To me this is very sad. I feel that from my earliest childhood Catholic school memories of loving to do art, through the university programs, career changes and work in parishes, this building was what I was being prepared to do. To paraphrase another author, Raymond Carver, “The rest is all gravy”.
+ David Richen 12/6/14 two days ahead of 7th Anniversary of dedication 12/8/14