(Fr Placid Spearritt studied with me at Fribourg University in Switzerland. I shall always remember his acute intelliegence and his wit. We all enjoyed his company. May he rest in peace.)
The sixth abbot of New Norcia, Abbot Placid Spearritt, has died while on retreat at the Benedictine monastery at Ampleforth in Yorkshire. It was the British monastery the Bundaberg-born monk joined in 1959 and where he was ordained in 1967.
He was 75 and was to retire soon from his abbot’s role.
New Norcia is the only monastic town in Australia.
He was elected abbot in January 1997, just over 150 years after the community was first carved out of the WA countryside by Bishop Salvado. Last year he celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination as a priest but continued to regard himself primarily as a monk.
Abbot Placid was born Selwyn Spearritt in Queensland to an Anglican family — his father was a baker — and educated in Brisbane. He spent a year teaching on the Darling Downs before returning to Brisbane to work in the Queensland University library.
He became a Catholic at the age of 22, after initially considering becoming an Anglican priest. He joined the Ampleforth monastery where he was given the religious name Placid and studied for the next eight years, doing post-graduate work at the Catholic University of Freibourg in Switzerland. Returning to Ampleforth he became a teacher in the boys’ boarding school before becoming Prior of Ampleforth in 1979 and four years later, of New Norcia.
During his time as abbot, New Norcia Catholic College closed and the monastic community has gradually taken over the management of the whole town.
Abbot Placid had attended a church gathering in Rome before travelling to Ampleforth.
The election or appointment of a new superior will take place during a canonical visitation, consisting of the Abbot President of the Subiaco Congregation Abbot Bruno Marin and an appointed abbot from another monastery, in the next few months.
Benedictine Community of New Norcia Prior Dom Christopher Power said the community was deeply saddened by the death of Abbot Placid, “whose search for God was deeply rooted in his monastic vows of obedience, stability and conversion”.
“Abbot Placid’s 25 years of humble prayer, work and service have guided New Norcia into this new era, making a significant contribution to the Church and wider community of WA,” Dom Christopher said.
(excerpt from "The Western Australian", the local newspaper.)
Fr Placid Spearritt OSB
Abbot of New Norcia
EXCERPT FROM THE WEBSITE OF THE ABBEY OF NEW NORCIA:
With sadness, the monks of the Benedictine Community of New Norcia advise of the death of Abbot Placid Spearritt OSB, Abbot of New Norcia.
Abbot Placid’s death occurred at Ampleforth Monastery in Yorkshire on Saturday, October 4th 2008, in the early afternoon. His death was sudden and unexpected, and has both shocked and saddened his fellow monks.
THIS MESSAGE BY FR PLACID TO HIS MONKS AND FRIENDS OF THE MONASTERY SHOW A SITUATION WHICH IS COMMON TO SO MANY MONASTERIES, AND HIS OWN COMMENTS ARE SO TIMELY THAT THEY DESERVE TO BE READ BY A WIDER AUDIENCE:
The monks of New Norcia are under pressure. We are told that we must revive and develop connections with the Aboriginal community. We are also told that we must preserve the historical buildings, the art collection, the museum and library. We must preserve the archives and promote research and appropriate publication of their treasury of information on Aboriginal, colonial, local and church history, on the Colleges and the other religious communities who have worked in this town. We must protect and foster the ecological resources of the farm with its large tracts of uncleared bush supporting native plants and animals.
We must keep providing employment for the seventy or so people who work for us full-time or part-time. Many of them live locally and depend on off-farm employment to remain on their farming properties. If they can stay in the neighbourhood, we have a good chance of keeping the trading post open with its post office, and the roadhouse, and the hotel.
They tell us we must encourage more tourists and visitors, because without their spending the town cannot survive; and we must provide them with facilities, while at the same time controlling their numbers and their activities so that they do not destroy what they come to see, or spoil the distinctive monastic peacefulness of the town. We must bring more parties of school children to be educated by carefully devised programmes exploiting our diverse resources; and we must continue to house, in the former College buildings, residential school groups of all sorts.
We must continue to provide the highly-appreciated opportunities for adult groups and individuals to spend time in the monastery guesthouse, and in the other guest units that have sprung up across the road from the monastery as parts of other buildings become available.
These are some of the things people tell us we must do. I think that they are right; all of them.
The monastery can support all these projects, if it has its own house in order. For the house to be in order, our first priority has to be prayer, community and private prayer, the expression of our desire for union with God. Genuine love of God necessarily overflows into love of our neighbour, whom we take to be everybody in need. We must and we will do all that we can to provide for their needs, concentrating on the needs that can only or best be met by monks.
For that we need space for silence and reading, reverence for the traditions that we have received, for the holy scriptures and the sacred mysteries of the liturgy; we need intelligent, honest, and critical study of the ideas of the past and of the present, and openness to and deep respect for all the people with whom we come into contact.
And we need more monks. At present we are rather short of monks, and particularly young ones. Young people find it difficult to make a permanent commitment to monastic life, as they do these days to marriage. It is important for us not to panic in this situation, and certainty not to lower our standards of selection. The monastery can survive with a small number of monks if necessary; it is more likely to survive and flourish with a small number of good monks than with larger numbers of unstable characters. I like to hope that, as our community has had a multicultural history, its monks will reflect the multicultural composition of the church and world in which we live.
It is not quite true that the monastery can cope with all the needs I have mentioned. Good management of our resources in recent years has meant that we are able to provide for ourselves and for our religious work. But we cannot afford the outlay necessary for the conservation of the rest of the buildings apart from the monastery and the church, or for adequate provision for the art, museum, library and archive collections, or for the services and facilities that would normally be provided by a town or shire council.
We continue to apply to government and other funding bodies for assistance, and to receive much very welcome support from the Friends of New Norcia, about whom there is more information elsewhere on this web site.
We have received a great heritage from the past. We want to administer it well and contribute further to it in the present, and pass it on to the future as a living organism. The monks' community is at the heart of it, but we have always wanted to share our inheritance with the people of Western Australia, and with students and visitors from further afield.
Some readers will be disappointed not to find here a grand vision for the future. You might have heard that the vision was the Aboriginal mission from 1846 to 1900; that it was the schools from 1908 to 1991; it was the mission in Kalumburu from 1908 to 1982; it was the Abbey Nullius from 1859 to 1982. That is what the romantic historians of New Norcia will tell you. I do not believe them.
The grand vision has always been a core community of monks who lived and prayed together and were open to the practical love of their neighbours in whatever ways were most needed at the time. This is my grand vision for the future too. A monastery that is defined in terms of some one definite work has got its priorities upside down. Besides, it is more exciting not to know too much in advance which way the Spirit of the Lord and the cries of the poor will direct us in the future.
(taken from the web=site of New Norcia Abbey)
last week our class held a similar talk on this topic and you illustrate something we have not covered yet, thanks.
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