The Trappist monk from Goa

by Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas

[This piece was written by Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas in January 2002. Additional inputs and photos are from the website of the Abbey of the Genesee]

At the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, NY, lives a community of 33 Cistercian monks, seeking God and following Christ. Among them is Fr Gerard D’Souza OCSO, whose roots are in Saligao. The Abbey of the Genesee is a community of contemplative monks belonging to the worldwide Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO), more commonly known as Trappists.

Gerard is the son of Charles Anthony D’Souza (son of Manuel Joseph D’Souza and Mariquinha Fernandes, both from Saligao in Goa) and Maria Imelda Sequeira e D’Souza (daughter of Aniceto Sequeira from Siolim and Maria Hermenegilda Rego from Verna in Goa). Gerard was born on 24 May 1958 in Doha, Qatar (UAE), where his father worked for British Petroleum. They returned to India in 1963.

Gerard did his schooling at Sacred Heart Boys’ High School in Santa Cruz, Bombay. After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Bombay, he joined the seminary in Bombay in 1979. Four years later he discontinued studies because of the exigencies of the family business. In 1988 he went to the United States and took a degree in Religious studies (MA from the Institute of Religious Studies of St. Joseph Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York). He also studied the Syriac language and Patristics at the Catholic University of America, Washington.

Monks of the Abbey of the Genesee, in 2005. Fr Gerard D'Souza is fourth from left in the front row.

Monks of the Abbey of the Genesee, in 2005. Fr Gerard D'Souza is fourth from left in the front row.

Gerard entered the Abbey of the Genesee on 15 October 1992, took the Simple Vows on 9 April 1995 and Solemn Vows on 24 May 1999. He was ordained a priest on 23 June 2001.Though a professed monk, he was allowed by his abbot to return home in April 1997 to attend to his father who was seriously ill.

In August 1997 he went back to the monastery after his father’s death, winding up the family business and settling other family matters. During his sojourn in Mumbai he gave a talk to the staff and students of the seminary in Bombay (St Pius X College, Goregaon) on 28 July 1997. His talk was published in Vidyajyoti, the Jesuit journal.

Life at the Abbey

Located in the picturesque and historic Genesee River Valley the Trappist monks live close to the rhythms of nature. Within the monastic enclosure are some 1,200 acres of forest, ravines, rolling hills and a meandering creek. Wildlife indigenous to Western New York abounds. In addition, the Order has another 1,200 acres of woods and farm lands which serve to maintain their rural solitude.

The Cistercian community belongs to a monastic institute wholly ordered to contemplation. At the Abbey, Friar Gerard D’Souza and the other Trappist monks dedicate themselves to the worship of God in a hidden life within the monastery under the “Rule of St Benedict”. They lead a monastic way of life in solitude and silence, in assiduous prayer and joyful penitence.

The Goan monk lives among other 33 members spanning several generations. About a quarter of them are priests. Necessary to the contemplative monastic vision is the creation and maintenance of an environment conducive to contemplation. To this end Friar Gerard and the other Trappist monks observe silence, speaking in a limited way, and excluding the use of radio and television and other irrelevant media. The well-stocked library of over 50,000 select volumes is designed to foster growth of the interior life. A few select journals, magazines, newspapers and limited use of the Internet keep the Trappist monks in touch with current events.

Monks’ Bread

Monks’ Bread” has been baked at the bakery on the Abbey premises since 1953 and the revenues generated from its sale are used to sustain the Abbey and surrounding property. The Goan monk Fr. Gerard and all the other able-bodied Trappist monks have a share in the common work of baking Monks’ Bread. In addition Fr Gerard and the other monks help out with farming, cooking, hospitality, formation, teaching, and care of the infirm, among other required tasks.

Monks’ Bread is a specialty loaf in which only the finest ingredients are used and baked according to the old-fashioned fermentation process. Currently the Trappist monks bake thrice a week and produce nine varieties of Monks’ Bread.

Monks’ Bread revenue also sustains monasteries in Africa and Brazil and the monks donate bread and money generously to various soup kitchens and charities in western New York. In an article on a news website, Goan monk Fr. Gerard was quoted as saying: “We are not just another loaf on the shelf. With Monks’ Bread, comes the entire package.”

Saligao remembered

Fr. Gerard says: “Since there has been a felt need among the many of our friends and associates we have formed two lay groups known as Genesee Lay Contemplatives and Associates.” In his letters to my friend and co-villager Jose Remedios of Mumbai/Tabravaddo, the monk from Goa Fr. Gerard, who hails from Arrarim in Saligao, says: “I remember Saligao and pray for our villagers’ welfare in the silence of my abbey.”

A transcript of the homily of the Trappist monk from Goa, Fr. Gerard D’Souza, for 18 December 2011, the 4th Sunday of Advent, is available here.

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