Community lives out prayerful life in Oshkosh

By | October 21, 2009

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The Community of Our Lady Monastery, located on Oakwood Point in Oshkosh, includes four members: Fr. Augustine Serafini, left, Br. Joseph LeSanche and Fr. Regis Barwig. Not pictured is Fr. Eugene Kalinski. (Dick Meyer | For The Compass)

Fr. Barwig, prior of the community, celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination in May. All three had professed as Benedictine monks and were together at St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Illinois. When Fr. Barwig celebrated his first solemn Mass in 1959, he was assisted by Fr. Kalinski and Fr. Serefini. All three were involved in teaching.

Fr. Barwig said that, after the Second Vatican Council, they sought a more prayer-centered community. They were invited into the Diocese of Green Bay by then-Bishop Aloysius J. Wycislo. The bishop recommended that they look at the lakehouse property in Oshkosh.

On Holy Saturday of 1968, with the personal blessing of Pope Paul VI and under canonical authority of Bishop Wycislo, the trio established the community, referred to as a Pious Union, within the Diocese of Green Bay. They continue to follow the Rule of St. Benedict.

A fourth member, Br. Joseph Le Sanche, joined the community 16 years ago.

“The community is dedicated primarily to prayer,” Fr. Barwig said. “There has been a good deal of converts and outreach and ecumenical movement. It’s given an opportunity for people to come to know the monastic life and (for the Benedictines) to help people understand the faith and the church in our own day.”

Fr. Barwig and Fr. Serafini said they were drawn to the monastic vocation because of its contemplative aspects and its sense of family.

“It was a desire for a life of worship,” Fr. Barwig said. “A life according to a rule, the Rule of St. Benedict, is very appealing. The monastic community is a family. It is the relationships of living with other people that one goes on to God. Your first vocation is to the monastic life. The life itself is your vocation. That is the seeking of God’s will in all things.”

Fr. Serafini said he originally studied for diocesan priesthood but was drawn toward the monastic life of work and worship.

“Many priests are in lonely situations,” he said. “The concept of monastic life as a family is a source of great strength, living and working with like-minded people. As we three started as students, then priests, we had a similar ideal to form a smaller monastic community in a more contemplative spirit.”

Fr. Barwig said they offer visitors spiritual direction, guidance and answers to questions. They hold Mass at 11:30 a.m. on Sundays in their glass-surrounded chapel, but they stress that they are not a parish.

“We are here to help people in their search for God, to seek God, to bring peace to people,” he said. “If you have that peace, it (helps) to bear your crosses every day and to grow in your love of God.”

Fr. Barwig said they also guide people in prayer. “It’s the Holy Spirit that teaches people how to pray and to be brought into union with Almighty God,” he said. “What we have learned from St. Benedict, and endeavor to pass on to others, is that we are all accountable to and for each other as disciples of our Lord, for no one can become an apostle who has not first been a disciple.”

The community is self-sustaining. Besides offering retreats and mission work, Fr. Barwig does translations from Latin, Italian, Polish, Hebrew and Greek. He has published five books and numerous articles and Fr. Serafini has published two books.

“This is compatible with our life of prayer,” Fr. Barwig says. “You have to rely on divine providence to a great extent with things like funds. We are debt-free, so we managed to pay the mortgage off.”

Both feel the monastic life has been satisfying.

“There’s a global church. It gives us strength that we belong to something like that. We’re not isolated,” said Fr. Barwig. “We can help others, but we also need to be prayed for. Beyond book knowledge, you have to develop a wisdom of heart. That’s a lifelong task.”

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