Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

18 August 2011

Sic Transit Curia, Monday

Our headquarters in Rome (called a "General Curia" in the arcane terminology of the R.C. Church) was built around 1900 and last remodeled around 1950. Even to us, who tend to classify the events of 1759 as "recent history", the time seemed ripe to remodel the old monastery. Much has changed in the last 60 years. Take the whole concept of personal hygiene, for instance. Gone are the days (thank God!) when a weekly bath was deemed sufficient. Usually, said bath was taken on Saturday afternoon, so as to be "clean and fresh" for Sunday's Masses. There were still one or two brothers clinging to this tradition when I started working here in 1988, and believe me, you did not want to be within 50 meters of those guys on a Friday, especially in the summer. So back then it was sufficient to have two or three showers in each wing of the building. With the increased level of hygiene, however, one sometimes arrives to find all the showers occupied.

It was also once the case that no one except a brother or perhaps the occasional visiting prelate would get beyond the ground floor of the monastery. Given the complete privacy, it made sense to intersperse offices with bedrooms on the first and second floors. That way, one could go right from his riposo to his work. Today, however, it has become necessary and common to invite consultants, technicians and other experts to our offices. This has occasionally led to an awkward moment, as an outsider encountered a towel-clad brother on his way to the shower.

We decided, therefore, to re-organize and modernize our building—new wiring, new plumbing, new climate control and energy efficiency. Given the scope of the work, we must completely vacate the building for around two and a half years. We have already moved out tons of books and paper—some to our new, temporary location, and some to the recycling center. We have probably supplied toilet paper to all of Italy for the next five years! The immanence of the move really hit me when they packed up the portraits of our former general ministers and carted them off to storage. Ghosts of the portraits are still clinging tightly to the wall outside my room. Come to think of it, that is probably a metaphor for my own reluctance to leave a place that has been the background for so many pieces of who I am.

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