In 1997 a community of three monks took possession of a redundant convent in Grangetown, Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, this was to be the beginnings of a new family of traditional Benedictines within the Catholic Church. It was never the intention of this small community to do anything remarkable or indeed to make any changes to the modern Roman monastic life that it led, but within a few short years something remarkable is exactly what did happen. This community had set out to strive to live a traditional monastic life within the limitations of a modern setting and in a deprived area of the North of England, though sadly within a very short time it became apparent that this work would not have the support of the local diocesan bishop. Possibly due to the embarrassment of the local Roman Catholic Church having abandoned this area and closed its parish church, the diocese found itself uncomfortable with a new Catholic presence.
Finding themselves very much out on a limb the community was approached by an Old Catholic bishop who offered his help. Bishop Aelred Coghlan, himself a Benedictine, aware of the predicament that the community faced, took the monks into his care. On the feast of St Cuthbert, 20th March1999, Dom Philip-James French the prior of the community was ordained priest. Now the community was no longer dependant on the local parish priest for the celebration of Holy Mass.
The decision to place itself under the Episcopal oversight of an Old Catholic bishop of course meant that the community had removed itself from communion with the See of Rome. This decision was not taken lightly, but after serious consideration.
Bishop Coghlan's lines of apostolic succession were Roman and the rites of ordination used were from the Roman Pontifical. Like the Society of St Pius X, and other such groups, a step had been taken which had not removed us from the One Holy Catholic Church, this very small community had taken a step, like many other groups before them, to make a stand for the Holy Tradition of the Catholic Church, rejecting modernism and innovations.
Due to an increase in attempted burglaries and criminal damage to the monastic buildings, it was decided in the year 2000 that the community would sadly leave the monastery in Grangetown and find alternative accommodation. The village of Skelton was chosen for its location, as being not too far from a major town but sufficiently quiet for the monastic life. Two terraced cottages, now as one building and an outbuilding, which would serve as the chapel, were located and an agreement to rent was signed with the local estate of Skelton Castle.
Since the move to the new monastery the community has been called upon to serve the parish of St Ninian in Whitby North Yorkshire. Whitby is an extremely historic fishing town, which played a major role in the life of the English Church. In the year 663/4 the great synod of Whitby was held which would change the life of the Catholic Church in these islands forever. The decision was taken to follow the Roman tradition of Christianity over that of the Celtic tradition. St Hilda the Abbess herself presided over this synod. Some years later the monastery was re-founded as a Benedictine Abbey, the ruins of which now dominate this little town, towering above on the cliffs. The town is now more famous as the setting for the story of Dracula, as it is in Whitby that Bram Stocker wrote his now world famous book, set in Whitby itself. The remarkable thing about the work of this small community in Whitby is that the Benedictines have returned to serve St Ninian's church as they did when on its original site before the reformation almost 500 years ago.
As well as serving the parish of St Ninian's the community are involved in apostolates outside of the monastery in order to support themselves. This involves work with the homeless and the local health service.
Christians over the centuries have found many different ways in which to serve God and His holy Church. Some through marriage and the raising of children in the faith, others by serving as priests, and there are those who feel called to the monastic life. Being an Oblate of St Benedict is also an invaluable way of being a Gospel witness to the world.
Q: What are Oblates?
A: Oblates of the order of St Benedict are men and women who are admitted into spiritual union and affiliation with the Benedictine monks of the Church, that they may share in the spiritual life, prayers, and good works of the order. (oblate constitution) Oblates do not form an order of oblates but are a "spiritual arm" of the monastic community.
Q: What do oblates do?
A: People who become Benedictine Oblates strive to live out their baptismal commitment as Christians in whatever situation they find themselves. Every home, factory, hospital, building site and office is called to produce its saint. Our Blessed Lord was a carpenter, Peter a fisherman and Matthew a Tax collector. Oblates are called to continue Christ's work in the community with Him as its head. Oblates are "monasticism's gift to the world", they strive to bring Christ to the world in the spirit of the Holy Rule of St Benedict.
Q: Yes but what do they actually do?
A: Oblates are men and women of prayer! Drawing on the Holy Rule they draw up their own personal rule of life with the guidance of the Oblate Master. This rule includes the oblates horarium (timetable) for daily prayer, morning, evening and night, regular confession and Holy Mass. Time for spiritual reading and meditation is also very much a part of the oblates vocation, as are times of silence and retreat.
Q: Who can become an Oblate?
A: Men and women eighteen years and over, lay and ordained, who feel called to a dedicated and ordered life of prayer in the spirit of the Holy Rule may apply to the Oblate master for admission to the oblate novitiate.
Q: If I do want to apply what happens next?
A: Those who wish to become oblate novices will be asked to spend some time in prayer, seeking always the will of God. Aspirants begin to familiarise themselves with the Holy Rule and Benedictine ways before being admitted as novices. The novitiate is for one year, after this period of formation if the novice oblate and the oblate master feels that this is the will of God, then the novice may make their act of Oblation.
Q: After I make my act of Oblation what then?
A: As with our Christian pilgrimage through life an oblates life is one of constant formation. No Christian is fully developed until the day of his or her glorification in heaven. In a particularly intense way oblates make a promise of continual conversion. Oblates long for those things that can promote ongoing personal reform according to Gospel values. Therefore oblates seek to build upon the formation which they experience as novices. Some elements of ongoing formation include:
Discipline in daily prayer.
Regular confession and Holy Mass.
Sacred reading (Lectio Divina).
Making an annual retreat; in particular the annual oblate retreat.
Meeting regularly with other oblates and the master of oblates.
Q: Can I be involved with the order without becoming an oblate?
A: Yes, there are those who wish to be involved in some way with the Order of St Benedict without becoming oblates. These people are called associates. Associates remember daily in their prayers the work of the order and give assistance in all manner of ways using their talents and gifts in practical ways. Financial assistance is much needed and associates give (as their circumstances permit) in order to continue the work of the order.
For any informatiom regarding becoming an oblate or an associate, please feel free to contact the monastery and information will be sent without any obligation.
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