Brigid of Kildare was a 5th century Irish monastic foundress who is credited with having brought Christian religious life to women in Ireland. She established numerous monasteries, the most famous of which was the community at Kildare (a "double" house of women and men). The saint was highly influential with monastic, ecclesiastic and civic leaders of her day. Although she was roughly contemporary with Saint Benedict, her era predated by several centuries the advent of Benedictine monasticism in Ireland. Brigid was renowned for her good spirit and admirable character: hospitality, concern for the poor, joy and perseverance, among other virtues.
Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery is heir to a quiet initiative carried out in the 1980's by The Upper Room, an agency of the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), to explore monasticism from an ecumenical context, and has a continuing relationship with The Upper Room through its liaison. Established by Mary Ewing Stamps, St. Brigid's became a place of residence on October 28, 1999, at a house on the property of Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota—its first and temporary home. Bishop John Hopkins, then head of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, was co-presider at the blessing of the monastery on February 1, 2000, the Feast of Saint Brigid. The monastery is now located in Saint Joseph, Minnesota, a short walk away from Saint Benedict's Monastery.
In 2003, the heart and soul of Saint Brigid’s expanded with the establishment of the oblate relationship. The community is comprised of women and men, United Methodist and others, lay and ordained, young and old. We strengthen our bonds with one another through monthly formation gatherings, either locally or via teleconference, an annual retreat in July, as well as regular emails and other conversations. The guiding sources for Saint Brigid’s community are Scripture, the Rule of Saint Benedict, the Benedictine Breviary, and Methodist texts such as the United Methodist Hymnal, the Book of Discipline, and the writings of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery is an officially affiliated organization of the GBOD and participates in the denomination's group ruling federal tax exemption.
Who Are Oblates?
- Christian adults who are formally affiliated with the Benedictine monastic family in order to seek God more intentionally.
- Women and men who, in their own way of life, with their ordinary family and social duties, find support and ongoing growth in holiness through association with a particular monastery.
- Persons focused on God through prayer, work, relationships, hospitality, study, and service in the spirit of the Rule of Saint Benedict.
- Women and men who intensify their witness to Christ in the world through adapting monastic practices to their needs and abilities. They are strengthened by them in worship, reverence, humility, universal love, stability, and more vital membership in their faith community.
What Do Oblates Do?
Oblates shape their lives by living the wisdom of Christ as interpreted by the Gospels and by Saint Benedict and his Rule. Oblates are not vowed members of the Benedictine Order, nor do they live communally unless they choose to do so in conjunction with other Oblates. Rather, they seek God in their chosen way of life, becoming holy in the world through the integration of their prayer and work with their awareness that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. As people whose lives are centered on God, manifesting Christ's presence in society by their word and example, they offer themselves (the meaning of the word "oblate") for the service of God and neighbor to the best of their ability.
Oblates share in the prayer life of the monastery and in some cases volunteer their help with its ministries according to need. If they live near their monastery, they can attend regular Oblate meetings in order to experience the joy and support of sharing and growing together. Whether close by or at a distance, they can deepen their understanding of the values and spirit of the Rule and its application to their daily living situation under the guidance of an Oblate director.
Saint Benedict (A.C.E. 480-547) and Oblates: A Brief History
Saint Benedict was born in Italy in the region of Nursia of a noble family who sent him to Rome to study. Disillusioned by the decadent lifestyle he saw around him, Benedict abandoned his studies and went to live as a hermit in a cave near Subiaco. In time he acquired such a reputation for holiness and miracles that disciples gathered around him and he founded several monasteries.
Later at the large monastery on Monte Cassino, Benedict wrote his Rule which stressed the spirit of the Gospel and moderation while continuing the best Christian monastic tradition. Over succeeding centuries Benedictine monasteries flourished and spread, becoming centers of prayer, culture, and education all over the world.
As a man of his times, Benedict recognized that parents—for a variety of reasons, principally economic—would, on occasion, offer one of their children to be raised in the monastery and become monks. These children were known as oblates ("one given" or "made over to God"). This practice continued well into the Middle Ages but is, of course, no longer part of the monastic framework.
The name Oblate also came to be applied to adult lay persons who looked after the material interests of the monastery in which they lived, though not as vowed monks. These persons were referred to as "claustral" Oblates, i.e., Oblates who live in the cloister.
As time passed, lay persons living in their own homes asked to be more closely associated with the works and prayers of Christians living in monasteries. They learned to apply the principles of the Rule to their life in the world, their families, their work, and civic and social interactions. These Oblates extend the spirit of the monastic community into areas where the cloister community cannot be present.
While there are no longer child Oblates, and in most parts of the world no claustral Oblates, the lay movement known as Oblates of Saint Benedict is experiencing new growth. More and more people have come to recognize Benedictinism as a way of life and set of values which nurtures their Christian commitment to God's love, justice, and peace in the world.
About Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery and Oblates
One of the graces (and challenges!) of being a very “young” monastery is that new initiatives which spring from this context have the opportunity to draw from the wisdom of the tried-and-true while at the same time standing open to the movement of the Spirit in wider directions. Saint Brigid's has been the grateful recipient of resources and advice from sister and brother monks who have a wealth of experience with Oblate relationships.
Your input would also be eagerly received as to the type of relationship which would most suit your desires and needs. Prayers? Education? Fellowship? Retreats? Let us listen to one another with the ear of our hearts. We have a wonderful invitation to be vital, mutually supportive companions on one another's journey with God.
Can Persons Other than United Methodists Be Oblates of Saint Brigid's Monastery?
Monasticism is a way of life in which the desire and search for God is all-important. Its spirituality is a process of transformation into Christ through self-emptying in order to be totally available to God. As such it is not tied to any single Christian denomination or tradition.
Since Benedictine monasticism predates the separation of the western Christian churches, monasticism forms an ideal basis for ecumenism in today's world. The main forces transcending all our differences are the love of God, of sacred Scripture, of prayer, and our genuine love and concern for one another.
So, yes, all Christians can be Oblates and engage in scripturally based prayer, prayerful reading, contemplative union with God, and the loving gift of self for others. Anyone can practice this way of spirituality that is essentially the same as was taught by Saint Benedict over 1,500 years ago.
How Does One Become an Oblate?
Women and men who would like to explore an Oblate relationship with Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery begin by having conversation or correspondence with the monastery. If mutual discernment leads to a decision for oblation, then the Oblate candidate enters into a one-year period of study of the spirit and values of Saint Benedict under the guidance of someone on the monastery's formation team.
When the director and candidate perceive a readiness for final oblation, a ceremony of commitment is conducted, either at the monastery or locally with several witnesses, so that other persons may share in the Oblate's joy. A Certificate of Oblation and an Oblate emblem are given at this time. The oblation is not a vow but a covenant, accepted and confirmed in a sacred ritual.
For more information, please contact:
Mary Ewing Stamps
Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery
200 East Minnesota Street
Saint Joseph, Minnesota 56374-4620
Saint Brigid's Blog
Visit RB 72.11 for reflections by Mary Stamps on the Rule of Benedict and life in the Saint Brigid's community.
An Extremely Short Suggested Bibliography
Hugh de Blacam, The Saints of Ireland: The Life Stories of SS. Brigid and Columcille
Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages
Timothy Fry, ed., RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict
Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk
Esther de Waal, Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict
Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction