By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
MONCKS CORNER — In two short years, thousands of generous contributors have raised $6.5 million to build a senior wing at Mepkin Abbey, where older brothers can continue to serve the Trappist community through their wisdom, age and grace.
A liturgy of blessing for the senior wing was held on Nov. 12, celebrated by retired Bishop David B. Thompson. In his homily, the 11th bishop of Charleston mentioned that the monks were also observing the 51st anniversary of their founding as Mepkin Abbey.
“I’m happy to be dedicating the senior wing since I am in retirement myself,” the bishop said with a laugh. He offered congratulations to Abbot Francis Kline and the monks of Mepkin for their new building to take care of those who are infirmed and of advanced age.
Bishop Thompson said that his successor as ordinary of the Diocese of Charleston, Bishop Robert J. Baker, “considers Mepkin to be as much of a blessing to South Carolina as I do.”
The retired bishop extended his own congratulations on the changes that have taken place at Mepkin during the past 10 years, mentioning the grounds, the gardens, the flora and fauna, the chapel, and the senior wing, and he said he was looking forward to the completion of the Clare Booth Luce Library, which is nearing the final phases of construction.
“You have been supported by means, but also by love and prayers,” Bishop Thomson said.
Referring to the liturgy reading from St. Paul to the Colossians, which exhorted the community to compassion, understanding, and forgiveness through Christ Jesus and taking care of members of the body, the bishop said the monks at Mepkin have done the same thing for many years here by emphasizing community.
“There is a holy relationship from the monk to God and the monk to other monks,” he said. “The senior wing is for those in that stage of life when maybe they can’t participate in songs. The monks are taking care of those who have been called upon by Jesus to carry his cross. Thanks be to God, members of this community, for this oasis of spirituality in South Carolina.”
The bishop then recounted when a young abbot named Bernard went to the Trappist monastery in Citeaux, France, in the year 1112, taking 30 persons, mostly family members, with him.
“They are known as the family that overtook Christ,” Bishop Thompson said. “The 31 monks here are the Mepkin family that overtook Christ. I thank the monks of Mepkin.”
In his comments at the ceremony, Abbot Kline said that those gathered together bless not only building, but reinforce community bonds.
He thanked Bishop Thompson, “a deep personal friend of the community’s,” and Mepkin Fund Appeal co-chairs Norma C. Palms and Diane and John Knott.
The abbot thanked several major donors, including Dorothy J. Marron, whom he said was “unwavering in good wishes and presence,” Lawrence and Beth Burtschy for the furnishings in the new senior wing, and Thomas Ashe Lockhart, a descendant of Henry Lauren.
Other donors mentioned by Abbot Kline included Dr. and Mrs. Eugene A. Scioscia, Charlton F. Hall Jr., Dr. and Mrs. A. Bert Pruitt Jr., and Mr. and Mrs. Bart Jordano.
Building architects Bentz, Thompson & Rietow Inc. of Minneapolis, Minn,. received special recognition from the abbot, and Brother Stan Gompula, the construction project director for the abbey, thanked contractor Stier, Kent and Canady Inc. expressing “gratefulness from the whole community.”
Deb Campeau, who served as development director for Mepkin Abbey from 1998 to 1999, gave an update regarding several projects underway at the facility.
She said the Clare Booth Luce Library is now fully funded thanks to pledges from the Henry Luce Foundation and Thomas Ashe Lockhart. Campeau also announced that Our Lady of Mercy Sister Bridget Sullivan has been named the first director of the Clare Booth Luce Library and that Mary Jeffcoat has been hired as part-time director of development for the abbey.
Bishop Baker is also increasing the diocesan gift made to the abbey by Bishop Thompson in 1998 to $100,000, Campeau said. In addition, Mepkin is about to embark on a botanical garden project.
Before the close of the ceremony, donor Dorothy Marron spoke briefly to the invited guests about the significance of Mepkin in her life.
“For many years I have come here and it has brought me peace and kept me in God’s wishes. Today we take a step to care for those who care for others. May we be good stewards of the gifts God has given us.
“Love, duty, and peace is what God wants for us,” Marron said.
The new senior wing at Mepkin Abbey has 9,261 square feet of space and 12 rooms, including two for temporary care of non-residents. Nine brothers are currently living in the building, which encompasses The Commons area for the monastery. That space serves as the mail room and a quiet place for reading newspapers and periodicals as well as Scripture and traditional resources.