Trappist Monks

A Day in the Life of a Monk

The day of a Trappist Monk begins at 3:30 a.m. and shortly after, at 3:45 a.m., they gather for a vigil. This vigil is a call and response form. They then proceed to chant uplifting verses from the Psalms. Before the Lauds at 6:30 a.m., they have a time of personal reflection and contemplation. The Lauds is when they ask God to bless the day. At 7:30 a.m., they all receive the Eucharist, which is considered the body and blood of Christ. Before beginning work, at 8:45 a.m., they chant a short office called a Terce. They begin work at 11:30 a.m., they perform tasks such as gardening, preparing food and building. Before their afternoon session of work, the monks gather at 1:30 p.m. for None. The None is a short and focused prayer that takes place in the middle of the day. At 5:05 p.m., when the working day is done, the monks gather for Vespers. Vespers is when they give thanks to God for the day. The final gathering called Compline is at 7:45 p.m.: it is a candle lit service filled with chanting and unison singing. The monks remain silent after Compline, until after Lauds the next day.

History of the Trappist Monks

Father Ritchot had long hoped to establish a monastery on a secluded piece of parish land along the La Salle River. In 1891, Ritchot’s hopes were realized. He and Archbishop Taché of St. Boniface persuaded the Abbot of Bellefontaine, France, to establish a home for Trappist monks in St. Norbert. The Trappists were an independent branch of the Cistercian Order which began in Normandy after 1664. They strictly followed the basic tenets of St. Benedict: charity, obedience and humility. Religious persecution in France during the late nineteenth century forced many Trappists to leave Europe.

In 1892, the monks arrived at Nôtre-Dame des Prairies (Our Lady of the Prairies). For 86 years, this site provided the monks the peace and quiet they needed to live their lives of prayer and manual labour. They lived separate from the outside world and lived lives of chastity to completely focus on their faith.

Through hard work and devotion, the monks of Nôtre-Dame des Prairies built the monastery into a prosperous agricultural operation complete with a sawmill, forge, apiary, cheese house, bakery and greenhouses. Themselves vegetarians, the monks sold meat, dairy products, honey and their world-famous cheese to the outside community. The monks perfected their skills as gardeners, carpenters, ironworkers and decorative artists.

The first monastery was built in 1892: it was a three-story wooden structure with a rock foundation. It also had a chapel, bell tower and porch. In 1904, the monks moved to a larger residence built nearby and the old residence was then to be used as a guest house. By the 1960s, St. Norbert urbanization developed and because of this, the monks moved to Holland in 1975.

In 1983, vandals lit a fire, which completely gutted the chapel and monastery. The guest house was completely preserved as it was a little distance away. In 1988, the province of Manitoba, named the ruins and guest house a heritage site. The guest house is now used as the St. Norbert Arts Centre and the ruins are open to the public.