New Norcia, Western Australia


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

From Perth to New Norcia was a short 1½ hour drive. This is the only monastic community in Australia, and was created by a Spanish Benedictine priest in 1847. Our tour guide was a woman, previously a doctor from the Philippines, who lives in the village of New Norcia with her husband the chef, and her two sons 14 and 10 who serve as altar boys for the weekly mass. She told us about Father Salvado the founder of the community who was by all accounts a renaissance man: he composed original music and also transcribed indigenous music, guided the plough over unbroken fields; wrote books; set up schools for indigenous children (the school for European children was built later) and created a community with its own water system, olive grove, winery, flour mill (closed in 2008), bakery, apiary, flocks of sheep, monastery, chapel and homes for indigenous and European workers. He was respectful of indigenous culture and his goal, never realized, was to create an indigenous priesthood.

Was there abuse, as there was in so many Canadian residential schools? Fr. Salvado’s respect for the people seems to have prevented that, at least during his almost 50 years as Abbot. The local Noongar leadership has a strong working relationship with New Norcia and help teach school children about indigenous culture.

We stayed in the New Norcia Hotel (picture above) built a century ago as a hostel for parents to stay while visiting their children at school. Ceilings were 15’ high and a grand staircase designed to impress Queen Isabella of Spain, should she come for a visit, is used now for photographers to pose brides on their wedding day. The night was a cold and windy 5 degrees with a single electric heater for the room. My shower in the unheated bathroom was quicker than usual!

I went to the 7:30 a.m. mass/eucharist in the monks’ chapel. From a peak of 70 monks there are now 10. The good news is that this includes 3 novices, men who have come recently to join the monastery and who have yet to make their final vows. Chanting is Gregorian and some of the responses are in Latin. Thank you Serenata Choir for ensuring that I learned to sing the Latin mass!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s