On Aug. 10, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila gave the abbatial blessing confirming Father Charles Albanese, a Cistercian of the Strict Observance (or Trappist) monk, as abbot of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass. The rite took place during a Mass at the monastery, which is located near Aspen.
Father Albanese, 68, is just the third monk to serve that role at St. Benedict’s, which was founded in 1956 and is home to 11 monks ranging in age from 30 to 88. He succeeds Father Joseph Boyle, OCSO, who was abbot from 1985 until his death last October.
Father Albanese was elected by his brother monks in January and installed by Abbot Damien Carr, OCSO, of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass., the same month. The abbatial blessing, however, is typically conferred by the local bishop.
The sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict, which the monks follow, explains that abbot means abba (father). It also notes that the abbot is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery. In his homily, Archbishop Aquila addressed both of those aspects of Father Albanese’s role.
“In the blessing for the abbot, it speaks of the abbot as being a father to the monks. That is the unique relationship entrusted to you and it means prayerfully reflecting on the deep intimacy Jesus had with the Father. [And like him] of seeking only the will of the Father.
“Any of us who are called to authority know in our heart of hearts that we are unworthy of that authority and of what the Church calls us to be,” he said, gently urging the abbot to trust that God will provide and reminding him that the Holy Spirit accompanies him.
“In the role of abbot you have been chosen and elected by your brothers…to serve. As the Rule states clearly, you are to be about the salvation of souls. You are called to imitate Jesus. To be the one who knows Jesus well.”
Referring to the life of contemplative prayer and work the monks follow, the archbishop reminded the abbot and his community to faithfully carry out those activities.
“The Rule says you are called to pray no matter where you are. There’s that delightful line by St. Benedict: You will know how well his prayer life is by the way he sweeps the floor.”
In addition to conferring the blessing, Archbishop Aquila entrusted Father Albanese with instilling the Rule of St. Benedict among the monks and presented him with the instruments of his office: a ring, symbolizing fidelity to the Church, and a crozier and mitre, signs of his role as shepherd of his community. Father Albanese also received an abbatial cross. The items had belonged to his predecessors. Receiving Abbot Joseph’s ring was especially significant.
“It’s an honor to have that,” Father Albanese said. “He was abbot for over 33 years. That I’ve been chosen to succeed him is humbling.”
Born and reared in Brooklyn, N.Y., as an only child, Father Albanese joined the Air Force in 1969 right after graduating from high school. It was the time of the Vietnam War and he was stationed in Florida and England.
“While I was in England I was visiting the monasteries and 11th and 12th century monastic ruins … and I got my vocation there,” he said, adding that he was particularly drawn to Mount St. Bernard Abbey, the only Trappist monastery in England.
After his discharge in 1975, he continued visiting monasteries in the United States, including St. Benedict’s. Captivated by the spectacular mountain location and the small size of the community, he entered St. Benedict’s in 1977.
He made his solemn profession of vows in 1983 on the feast of St. Benedict and was ordained to the priesthood in 2005. He has a liberal arts undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in pastoral theology from the Aquinas Institute of Theology at St. Louis University. During his 42 years as a monk he has served as novice master, cookie manager, work manager, prior and as secretary to the late abbot.
“Our life is one of prayer and hospitality and community,” Father Albanese said of the monastery, which supports itself through its retreat house, cattle ranching, a bookstore/gift shop and a cookie business. “Our main focus is offering hospitality to retreatants. People come to be nourished in prayer and reflection, and they participate with us in praying the Divine Office. I’m happy we can give people that opportunity to get away from the world and come rest awhile.”
St. Benedict’s is part of a 900-year-old contemplative tradition inspired by the desert fathers. Featuring austere Cistercian architecture, the monastery is located in a pristine high valley.
“It is a very beautiful place we have here,” Father Albanese said, adding that his predecessor called it “the sacred valley.”
“Mount Sopris is right in our front yard. It’s Colorado at its best. No one takes it for granted. We’re stewards of this land. When it comes my time to go, hopefully, we’ll be able to hand it on to monks who will continue to steward it. It’s God’s gift.”
In his homily, Archbishop Aquila commended Father Albanese and his community for upholding their way of life.
“Your prayer, your contemplative life and your intercessory prayer, especially for the world and for the Church, is needed more today than ever before.”