Benedictines in Orthodox America
There exist a historical thread through the Benedictine institutions in American Orthodoxy.1 All finding their origins in The American Congregation of Saint Benedict and St Dunstan’s Abbey founded in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Father William Henry Francis Brothers, OSB served as the first prior In 1911, the Abbey was moved to Waukegan, Illinois. Father William, OSB was then elected Abbot. Consecrated Bishop in October 3, 1916. The Abbey continued on in New York City when Bishop William moved the Abbey into what became St Dunstan House. For several years, the monks served a Western-Rite chapel in the Russian Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Manhattan. In 1938, Bishop William moved to Woodstock, New York. The next year, Bishop William and three members of his seven members repaired an abandoned Episcopal chapel on Overlook Mountain for use as their monastic chapel. Named to this day as the Church of the Holy Transfiguration of Christ-on-the-Mount; it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1962, Bishop William and the Woodstock monastery were received into the Moscow Patriarchate Russian Orthodox Church by Bishop Dositheus (Ivanchenko) of New York. This group was honored as the Exarchate of the Western Rite after having been an Old Catholic monastic community since its foundation in 1910.
From this point in its history there exist some conflict as to the events which followed. Without any discrimination towards an opposing view the fact as we know them is as follows. Bishop William led the small community out of the Moscow Patriarchate into communion with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Exile under Archbishop Palladios. At that time Dom Augustine (Whitfield) petitioned to remain under the Moscow Patriarchate and was accepted and blessed by Archbishop John (Wendland) –successor to Bishop Dositheus– to establish the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Royal. Archbishop Palladios assisted Bishop William in establishing the Synod of Orthodox Bishops for the Western Rite (SOBWR) which was given autocephaly by the Patriarch of Constantinople.
In 1975 Dom Augustine and the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Royal were received into the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia, by Archbishop Nikon (Rkitzsky). In 1993, Dom James (Deschene), former Prior of Mount Royal, with the blessing of His Grace Hilarion then Bishop of Manhattan, founded Christminster in Rhode Island to carry on the work of western-rite Orthodoxy in ROCOR. Dom Augustine relocated Mount Royal to Florida to retire. He was cared for in his last days by Dom David Cuthbert (Pierce); who prior to his own repose became Abbot of Mount Royal.
After years in isolation due to the fiasco over the 1964 Jerusalem meeting between Pope Paul VI & Patriarch Athenagoras I, the Synod of Orthodox Bishops for the Western Rite (SOBWR) had survived the passing of Metropolitan William (Brothers) and Metropolitan Joseph (McCormack). The former Abbot in Woodstock, NY who succeeded Dom Augustine, Abbot John (LoBue) transferred the monastic community from Woodstock, NY to southern West Milford, NJ. Himself an Archbishop in 1997 when this group (SOBWR) came into organic union with the Western European branch of the Orthodox Old Calendar Church of Greece under the leadership of Archbishop Auxentios of Athens. In 2011, the Americans and British members were given their autonomy of self-governance and were renamed the True Orthodox Metropolia of North and South America & the British Isles.
The historical thread, therefore, begins with William (Brothers) from which the historic Woodstock Church in New York State became Orthodox. To his abbatial successor Dom Augustine (Whitfield) and his Mt. Royal Monastery from which came Dom James (Deschene) founder of Christminster in Rhode Island; which relocated to Hamilton, Canada and Niagara Falls, NY out of necessity. From Metropolitan John (LoBue) before the autonomous status: came Dom David Cuthbert (Pierce) and his Holy Rood Hermitage and Hieromonk Aidan (Keller) from its Texas monastery were both received into ROCOR. Later, from The American TOC Metropolia under the LoBue leadership came the Stavrophoremonk Symeon and his Hermitage of St John the Divine received also into ROCOR in December 14, 2014 all by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral).
In short, Christminster (est. 1992) and our Hermitage of St John the Divine (est. 1999) come from different branches of the same Benedictine root planted in Woodstock, NY.
1. Referring to Our Lady of Mount Royal Monastery (Dom Augustine Whitfield) out from which came Christminister (Dom James Deschene) & the Abbey of the Holy Name (Archbishop John) out of which came our Hermitage of St John the Theologian (renamed “‘the Divine” when received into ROCOR). Both Holy Name & Mount Royal were preceeded by St Dunstan Priory in which both the late Dom Augustine & former Abbot John were residents under Archbishop William Francis Brothers in Woodstock, NY.