By Ann Marie Foley - 17 August, 2017
The Cistercians at Mount Melleray Abbey have elected Dom Richard Purcell as their new Abbot. He is currently in the middle of a six-year term as Abbot of Mount St Joseph Abbey near Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, which is a daughter house of Mount Melleray Abbey.
“Normally we cannot vote for an Abbot from another house, but since Roscrea is a daughter house we are entitled to do that,” Fr Donal Davis, Bursar, Mount Melleray Abbey, told catholicireland.net.
“Mount Melleray has a concern for the other houses in Ireland, to assist them to plan their own future. So Richard is part of the Pontifical Commissary of Mellifont Abbey and the Father Immediate of Roscrea so he will have oversight there as well. We are hopeful of God’s help in this. We have discerned it as our way forward.”
Fr Davis explained that Mount Melleray, Co. Waterford, like the other Cistercian monasteries in Ireland, has been discerning and planning for the future.
“The community is doing quite well here. The spirit in the community is good and we have people coming to the monastery in good numbers. We have people interested in joining us,” he said.
He explained that this was confirmed by an Abbot and Abbess on visitations recently at the request of the Abbot General in Rome ahead of the General Chapter of Trappists in Assisi in September 2017.
“So they came here because there has been an issue in Ireland with dwindling numbers. There were five Cistercian monasteries in Ireland and for a good number of years there has been a dialogue among those monasteries to plan the future. They thought that some houses might have closed but that did not arise,” said Fr Davis.
“Just recently it was decided that Mount Melleray would be a good community going forward into the future. We needed an abbot and we elected Richard and he accepted.”
Dom Richard Purcell came to prominence in 2009 when he was described as Ireland’s youngest Abbot. He was then 33 years of age. Special permission had to be sought in order for him to become Abbot at Mount St Joseph Abbey, as he was younger than the required 35 years of age and he had not been professed for the required seven years.
It was necessary for him to secure a two-thirds majority for his election. He also had to get dispensations from Rome from the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and from Eamon Fitzgerald, Cistercian Abbot General in Rome, who dispensed with the minimum age requirement and confirmed Dom Richard as the eighth Abbot of Mount St Joseph Abbey.
Now he becomes Abbot at Mount Melleray. There are just eight men living in the community at the moment. Two more are in nursing homes, and one is living as a hermit near St Mary’s Abbey of Cistercian nuns in Glencairn, where he offers Mass at least once a week for the sisters.
There are people interested in joining the community or “knocking on the door” as Fr Davis puts it. The noviciate has been closed for a number of years, and a monk will have to be relieved of current work to perform the task of novice master. However, lay people are taking on more of the practical work at the Monastery such as running the café, shop and guesthouse. The farm has been leased out to a farmer.
“We have a steering group and they meet with us every month about the running of the monastery, in particular in relation to the businesses,” said Fr Davis. There have also been meetings with the local community to look for more volunteers. Some already help with guided tours, running the shop and keeping the website updated. The audiovisual presentation in the heritage centre also needs volunteers to help update it.
“The biggest thing is we believe the Lord is in this and it gives us the confidence to go forward,” said Fr Davis.
Dom Richard Purcell will no doubt be very much part of that. He is a native of Dublin, and entered Mount St Joseph Abbey, Roscrea in 1997, having previously studied music, French and Italian at UCD. He completed philosophy studies in Maynooth and theology at Oxford.
At the time of his election as Abbot in 2009, Dom Richard was Prior and Bursar at Mount St Joseph. In 2014 he was appointed Pontifical Commissary of Mellifont Abbey by the Holy See and is also President of the Cistercian Region of the Isles, a grouping of 11 Cistercian Monasteries of both monks and nuns in Ireland, the UK and Norway.