St. Mary's Monastery is a Roman Catholic community of contemplative Benedictine monks belonging to the English Province of the Subiaco Cassinese Congregation of Benedictines, one of about twenty congregations which make up the worldwide Benedictine Confederation, also known as the Order of St. Benedict. Our original congregation, Subiaco, united with the Cassinese Congregation in 2013. Not to be confused with the American Cassinese Congregation, the Subiaco Cassinese Congregation is now the most numerous and geographically diverse congregation in the Order.
Benedictines are spiritual sons and daughters of St. Benedict of Nursia, an Italian-born monk who lived from around the year 480 to 547. His monastic Rule has guided the lives of monks and nuns for over 1500 years. Famous for its spirit of moderation and adapted to modern sensibilities, it is still our practical guide for daily life today. It is a Christ-centered Rule as its spiritual dimension is drawn from Holy Scripture, especially the Gospels.
“...that they may prefer nothing whatever to Christ.”
Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72
While most Benedictine communities in the United States are “active”, that is, they have an outside apostolate like running a parish or school, the Subiaco Cassinese Congregation is a communion of “contemplative” Benedictine communities located in several countries. “Contemplative” means that our primary function in the Church and our primary work is living a structured program of prayer and meditation on God through the celebration of Holy Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, private prayer and the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture. Our liturgical practice reflects our love for the beauty and spirituality of Latin Gregorian chant while always being faithful to the Magisterium of the Church and the directives of the Second Vatican Council. However, as the Benedictine motto “Ora et Labora” (that is, “Prayer and Work”), indicates, a proper balance between prayer and manual labor is essential to St. Benedict's vision. Work, however, is conducted within the monastery grounds as far as possible.
St. Mary's Monastery was founded by Father Cyril Karam (d. 1990). In 1985, he and two companions, with the permission of the Bishop of Worcester, began to live the monastic life in Petersham in association with the nuns of St. Scholastica Priory, who had moved here the year before. Shortly thereafter, Father Cyril sought help and guidance from Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland, and on November 21, 1987 St. Mary's was officially established as a Benedictine monastery dependent on Pluscarden. This means that while we have a local Superior and largely manage our own affairs, we are under the authority of the Abbot of Pluscarden. When enough men have entered and persevered to solemn vows at St. Mary's, we can then seek to become an independent monastery.
The current Abbot of Pluscarden is the Right Reverend Anselm Atkinson, OSB, a monk of Pluscarden who had been appointed local Superior here at St. Mary's from 1990 until his election as Abbot on August 8, 2011. He also served as the Abbot Visitor of the English Province of the Subiaco Cassinese Congregation from 2003 to 2019. The Abbot Visitor is the highest official in the Province and exercises oversight of all monasteries in his Province primarily through conducting “visitations”, that is, traveling to each every few years, interviewing the monks or nuns, and reviewing procedures and finances. Abbot Anselm makes pastoral visits to Petersham each year.
Our local Superior is Father Gregory Phillips, OSB, who was appointed by Abbot Anselm to his office on September 21, 2011. Father Gregory entered St. Mary's in 1990 and was ordained in 2001.
An integral part of our charism is that we are one in heart with the Benedictine nuns of St. Scholastica Priory with whom we share our property. In virtue of our common origins and ideals and our close collaboration with each other, we consider ourselves “twin communities”. Each community has its own Superior, resides in its own buildings, manages its own internal affairs, has its own finances, and its own work. We are united by bonds of charity rather than by any juridical link. We come together in church to celebrate Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day, and attend conferences together. On certain holidays and Solemnities we have a festive meal together. We have an equal responsibility for the administration of our guesthouse, library, and property.