A Few Dates from Our History
In 1881, eight Trappists left the Abbey of Bellefontaine, France, to begin a new foundation in Canada. The Sulpicians offered the Trappists land situated in the Seigneurie of Lake of Two Mountains. On the 9th of November 1881, after having occupied for a few months the tiny cottage belonging to the miller Gagnon and his family, the monks took possession of their first true monastery. It was built from wood at the top of the Saint Sulpice hill. Several years later it was to become the first agricultural school of Oka designated under the name of Oka Agricultural Institute affiliated with the University of Montreal.
In 1892, the community became large enough to send some religious to found a new monastery in Mistassini.
In 1977, a group of monks left to begin a foundation in Georgetown, Ontario. After transferring the monastery to Orangeville in 1980, this house was permanently closed on the 1st of September 1998.
Nine Centuries of History
In 1998, Cistercian monks and nuns celebrate the ninth centenary of their foundation. It was, in fact, on the 21st of March, 1098 – the feast of Saint Benedict – when 21 monks left the monastery of Molesmes to establish themselves at Cîteaux (in the vicinity of Dijon, France). Under the wise direction of the first three Abbots, Robert, Alberic and Stephen, and with the strong impetus given by Bernard of Clairvaux, the new foundation spread first in France and England, and soon throughout Europe. At the time of Saint Bernard’s death (1153), the new Order, called the Cistercian Order, grew to no less than 350 monasteries.
How can the success and rapid expansion of the “white monks”, as they are sometimes called, to distinguish them from the “black monks”, the Benedictines, be explained? It is that they were able to give a new expression and new vitality to traditional monasticism by ensuring a framework of life, doctrine and spirituality that was in accordance with the aspirations of their contemporaries. A return to a simple and poor life, based on manual labor; insistence on the communal dimension of the Rule of Saint Benedict, making the monastery a “school for the Lord’s service”; making room for the spiritual life, integrating the emotional dimension of the individual, as witnessed by the spiritual writings of Bernard of Clairvaux, William of Saint-Thierry, Beatrice of Nazareth, Saint Gertrude and many others…these are some of the important values bequeathed by the first Cistercians to their successors and to the entire Church.
The Cistercian Order, founded on these solid spiritual bases and on an effective juridical and administrative organization, has gone through the centuries, yet not without knowing the hazards of history and successive periods of decline, decadence and renewal. To note, in 1892, the emergence of a new branch within the Cistercian family: three existing congregations gathered together to form the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance ( O.C.S.O.). This gathering together came within the framework of reforms stemming from the monastery of La Trappe (France) and its superior, the Abbot deRancé. Hence the name “Trappists” traditionally given to monasteries descended from this reform. Thus within the Cistercian family today there are two juridically distinct Orders: the Order of Cistercians (O.C.) and the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, originating from the same source and united in the same fundamental spiritual values, along with a few autonomous monasteries which have a spiritual affiliation with the Cistercian Order. The O.C.S.O., to which the Abbey of Oka belongs, currently numbers 162 monasteries (96 monasteries of monks and 66 monasteries of nuns) spread throughout the world, on five continents, gathering together 3000 monks and 2000 nuns.
These monks and nuns are celebrating throughout the world their age-old history, but even more they are celebrating the God who has called them to unite themselves with His life and joy! In the diverse Cistercian monasteries, this jubilee year opened with a Eucharistic celebration on January 26, 1998, in memory of the holy founders Robert, Alberic and Stephen. We invite all the readers of Chantecler to unite with the various celebrations that are anticipated throughout the coming year, and to join us in giving thanks the Lord.