St. Joseph's Abbey, Massachusetts

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St. Joseph's Abbey
St Josephs Abbey, Spencer MA.jpg
St. Joseph's Abbey
Monastery information
Order Trappist
Established 1950
Important associated figures Fr. William Meninger
Fr. M. Basil Pennington
Fr. Thomas Keating
Fr. Augustine Roberts
Fr. Raphael Simon
William James
Location Spencer, Massachusetts, U.S.
Public access Yes
Other information Produces and markets Trappist Preserves, Spencer Ale.

St. Joseph's Abbey is a monastery of the Catholic Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.), popularly known as the "Trappists," located in Spencer, Massachusetts. It is known for its production and marketing of Trappist Preserves, a line of jams and jellies, which partially supports the abbey. On December 10, 2013 the abbey was certified by the International Trappist Association to become the first Trappist brewery in the United States and the first outside Europe.

While the monastery became known internationally as the origin of the centering-prayer movement in Catholicism and Christianity in the 1970s (the movement's leading proponents, Fr. William Meninger, Fr. M. Basil Pennington, and Fr. Thomas Keating, were monks at the monastery), the community still lives from the daily Lectio and deep roots of the monastic life going back to the desert fathers. The abbey community lives a contemplative life, following the Rule of Saint Benedict.

Weekend and week-long directed retreats for men, women, and clergy are available during the year. Normally, retreats are made six months in advance, or on a stand-by basis if there is a cancellation. Visitors are welcome to pray the Psalms with the community throughout the day, - Vigils, Lauds and Mass, None, Vespers, and Compline in the two side chapels in the front of the church.

The grounds of the Abbey are open to the public except for the areas marked "Monastic Enclosure".[1]


St. Joseph’s Abbey was settled in 1950 on the former site of Alta Crest Farms, under the leadership of Dom Edmund Futterer. The Trappists that settled the abbey moved there from their previous location in Cumberland, Rhode Island, which was heavily damaged by a 1950 fire.[2]

Father Thomas Keating was elected abbot of the abbey in 1961. Keating, one of the architects of the contemplative prayer movement, retired in 1981.[3] Along with Meninger and Pennington, Keating founded the centering prayer movement in the 1970s while abbot of St. Joseph's.[4] The three held retreats at the abbey to teach this method of prayer.[4]

After the short term of Dom Pascal Skutecky, due to poor health, Dom Augustine Roberts became the fourth Abbot in June 1984 and served two six-year terms. His autobiography is Finding The Treasure: Letters From A Global Monk. The current Abbot, Damian Carr, was elected in June 1996.

Trappist Preserves[edit]

In 1954, shortly after their arrival in Spencer, a small, stove-top batch of mint jelly was made by Brother John Berchmans (1927-2013), one of the monks, with mint from their herb garden.[5] Since monastic austerity at that time precluded the jelly from being served to the monks at meals, it was sold at the porters' lodge. The response to the jelly encouraged the monks to try making and selling other varieties. Soon, jelly-making proved to be a successful and compatible monastic industry, contributing about half of the income needed to run the abbey.[5] The jams and jellies made by the monks are sold under the brand name Trappist Preserves, and are now available in supermarkets in the United States, particularly in the New England region.[2] In 2005, the monks produced 1.7 million jars of preserves in 26 flavors, turning one and a half tons of fruit into preserves daily.[5] [5]

Spencer Brewery[edit]

The monks, concerned with the increasing costs of maintaining the abbey, became interested in brewing beer like other Trappist monasteries. In 2010, several fact finding missions were dispatched—first to the Belgian Beer Fest in Boston, then to several Trappist breweries in Europe where they met some skepticism from their European counterparts.[6] Eventually sympathizing, the established brewers made three recommendations for the new enterprise: hire a skilled brewing engineer; build a modern, state of the art facility; and only brew a single beer for the first five years. Over twenty test batches were developed before settling on the final beer's recipe. Spencer Trappist Ale is a blonde ale at 6.5 % alcohol by volume. It is the first and only certified Trappist beer brewed in the United States.

The Holy Rood Guild[edit]

The monks at the abbey also make liturgical vestments and run a farm.[7]


  1. ^ Ellery, J. P. (2009-04-02). "Tranquility, beauty of abbey offer respite from life's rigors". Telegram and Gazette. Worcester, MA. p. 3. 
  2. ^ a b Byrne, Kerry J. (2007-07-11). "Fast food". Boston Herald. Boston. p. 30. 
  3. ^ Fox, Thomas C. (2007-12-14). "Keating moved the movement". National Catholic Reporter (44.7): 19. 
  4. ^ a b Berger, Rose Marie (December 2006). "Be Still & Know: Thomas Keating talks about how the ancient church tradition of contemplation can transform Christians today". Sojourners Magazine. 35 (11): 34. 
  5. ^ a b c d Giuca, Linda (2005-12-21). "A Vow of Quality: Massachusetts monks use best ingredients in well-known Trappist Preserves". Bangor Daily News. Bangor, ME. p. C1. Retrieved 2011-03-13. 
  6. ^ "Monks near Boston will start selling the first Trappist beer brewed outside of Europe". New York Daily News. 16 January 2014. Retrieved 22 January 2014. 
  7. ^ Russell, Gerard F. (2008-12-23). "Nonprofits to receive grants for power study; Abbey, health facility consider wind turbines". Telegram and Gazette. Worcester, MA. p. B1. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Simon, Raphael (2004). Hammer and Fire: way to contemplative happiness and mental health in accordance with the Judeo-Christian tradition. Bethesda, MD: Zaccheus Press. ISBN 978-0-9725981-2-5. OCLC 225916393. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°17′51.59″N 72°0′52.11″W / 42.2976639°N 72.0144750°W / 42.2976639; -72.0144750