Oasis of ‘heavenly hosts’ for connecting with God
“You can’t put limits on God’s work,” Father Justin Ramos often says. He is one of 51 priests and 35 seminarians at St. Michael’s Abbey, a Norbertine community in southern California, among the fastest-growing monastic communities in the country.
Father Ramos is used to divine intervention from a limitless God, yet still, there were tears in his eyes on Sunday, March 18, so deeply moved was he at the ground-breaking celebration for their new abbey. He was the lead priest in the capital campaign to raise money for the new abbey. In 1999, a 40-foot-deep mudslide had compromised the buildings and grounds, making expansion and rebuilding impossible. They needed new land and new buildings, but where would money come from?
Father Ramos explained that the Norbertines are one of the oldest orders in the Church, began by St. Norbert during the 12th century. St. Michael’s was founded by seven Hungarian Norbertine priests who fled communist oppression during the 1950s. They are dedicated to a monastic life of prayer, teaching, giving retreats, and serving others especially in hospitals and prisons. St. Michael’s community offers priestly help in several parishes, and serves the dioceses of Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside.
The Abbey, which includes a monastery, a top-rated Catholic boys boarding school, and a church, was bursting at the seams with many new vocations. The estimated $120 million needed for new land and buildings seemed unrealistic, especially since the Norbertines are not the type to cheerlead their own cause. But it turned out that they just needed to be themselves, while others sang their praises.
Legate Sherry Van Meter became a big supporter after a chance conversation with the Abbot Eugene Hayes. She and her husband Richard, a physician in Long Beach, belonged to the Orange County chapter for 30 years and both are past presidents.
Promotion came easy to Sherry, who is one of the original Disney Mouseketeers and still performs “blast from the past” shows on cruise ships and other events with fellow Mouseketeers. It was during a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France with the Order of Malta where Sherry first learned of the Norbertines’ dilemma.
“I was talking with St. Michael’s abbot, Fr. Eugene Hayes, who was our chaplain, when I learned they had a big number of vocations, but due to the mudslide, their buildings were unsafe,” she said. “I said, ‘You need a new place,’ and I began fundraising to make that happen.”
Sherry helped with a number of fundraisers working with Marybelle and Paul Musco, the campaign chairs. One gala alone raised $800,000 in one night.
“The Norbertines are an easy sell,” Sherry explained. They are regular men who have chosen to follow the path to God. They are compassionate, kind, and have a strong work ethic, and their dedication to God is phenomenal. “
According to her, people who attend Norbertine Masses leave renewed and thankful that they are Catholic. “That’s why they are so successful with vocations,” she said.
Different vocations crisis’
Shane Giblin was a Legate in Cincinnati, Ohio before moving to Orange County two years ago to become the Chief Advancement Officer for St. Michael’s Abbey. “We had a different kind of vocation crisis: more vocations than we knew what to do with,” he said. “When you see the faith lived, it’s attractive; when you see holiness, you want it.”
Shane arrived two years ago, as they were just at the halfway point, $60 million. “It feels like a miracle,” he said. “There’s no logical human reason to be at this point. God kept putting the right people in our path.”
Inspiration for City of Saints film
Giblin shared that one of their board members, David Zak, had been confident all along. “He said: ‘If God is providing you with all these vocations, there’s no question he’s going to provide them with the home they need.”
And so he has. Giblin worked closely with Fr. Ramos. “The priests are very humble; it’s difficult for them to speak about what they are doing. I would arrange for Fr. Ramos to come to meetings and events to explain their work.” Giblin also created a series of seven short films, City of Saints to inspire and showcase the Norbertines’ gifts. It was broadcast on EWTN television and can be seen at CityofSaints.com.
“The new property will allow us to continue to grow,” Giblin said. “The Abbey will offer retreats where people can come to 320 acres of pristine property to escape the craziness of the world and connect with God.” He also expects vocations to grow even more.
PATTI MAGUIRE ARMSTRONG, who wrote the newly published book, Legatus @ 30, is an award-winning author and Catholic journalist, TV and radio commentator, and mother of 10.
St. Michael’s Protection
The Legatus membership, in adopting the patronage of St. Michael the Archangel for its protection and sustenance, is encouraged to keep the St. Michael’s Abbey and its vocations in continual prayer for safekeeping and fruitful discipleship.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen