Dear Friend of Holy Cross Abbey:
In this blessed season of Advent, the Church’s prayer life helps us to keep our balance against the many secular pressures of this time and not to lose sight on the coming of our Lord at Christmas. All we have to do to keep our inner balance these days is to hold onto the love God puts in our hearts for all those we care so much about. Saint Augustine’s playful ditty says it all: Ubi amor, non labor. Sed si labor, labor amator. (Where there is love, we won’t feel stress. But if we should feel stress, we will love that too.) A thought to keep in our hearts these hectic days.
In my letter to you last year I quickly summarized some of the things going on at HCA. This year I want to give you some more details — I want to make sure all our friends have solid information about the state of our monastery and our monastic community.
Our holy founder St. Benedict was pretty clear in the Rule he wrote some 1500 years ago and that we still follow: monks are to provide for themselves, meaning we are to make enough income or revenue for the monastery, in order to cover our costs and not be a burden to anyone else. We are doing pretty well with this. I can happily report to you that we are close to paying our own way thanks in large part to the generosity of our donors. We aren’t in the black yet but we’re getting closer and your gifts are the reason for that.
Our three major revenue producers, the gift shop, the Retreat House and the natural cemetery do pay for themselves. They are making a real profit. In this difficult economic time that is something we are quite proud of.
But … and this is a big but … the profit they make as a total does not cover the total expenses for the community and monastery complex. We must remember that the community itself doesn’t make money. We have to pay for our food and heating like everyone else. And while we have health insurance, of course, including Medicare, we still do have some health care costs. We also have to pay for the equipment we use to keep the buildings and grounds up to par and supplies for every day operation. In short, the revenue we make from our gift shop, retreat house and cemetery just do not cover all the expenses of maintaining the monastery.
And, as you know, we took 2014 as a year of‘re-founding’ to make some decisions about the fruitcake bakery. We are still determining what that will look like in the future, but for 2014 we lost the income we normally get from our fruitcake sales. This hasn’t been devastating because we were careful to reduce some major expenses commensurately.
We are okay financially. But we still have a way to go.
The work of attracting new monks to our community also involves expense. The truth is, like many other monastic communities, our biggest challenge is attracting more men to join us. But unlike what some communities have done, we aren’t thinking we can leave it all to the Holy Spirit (though we know it’s primarily in His hands). We have increased our communications through our diocese, through our direct communications channels like our new website and this newsletter and, importantly, we have taken steps to make our monastery — the physical plant – give a more appealing appearance to prospective monks. We know this is important to new vocations. Men coming to live somewhere for the rest of their life won’t be looking for luxury (if they are, they are in the wrong place), but they are looking for a place to live where things aren’t broken, where the church is prayerful and inviting, and the physical plant is simple but pleasing.
We started this year by first doing a complete paint job of the monastery and a serious renovation of several areas of the buildings. If you have seen our monastery recently, you have seen the beautiful new ‘sand’ color paint job on the outside of our buildings. We have also renovated our two farmhouses, the Wynkoop and Westwood buildings, for future use by the monks’ families and, someday, the public in a limited way.
Now in 2015 we must complete this work. I am excited to announce to you today that we are going to do renovations within the church and the monks’ refectory. Our church has been basically the same (or almost the same) since our founding. It is in need of some updating and upgrading. We need to replace the temporary choir stalls (yes, I said temporary — they were originally put in place with an eye toward more permanent ones coming soon thereafter. A ‘soon thereafter’ that never came). We want to re-arrange some things inside to benefit our guests. And we plan to replace the windows and lighting, which, if you have been to the church you know, need replacing.
Our refectory, where the monks take their meals, is also in need of major repairs and some of these aren’t cosmetic. Since it lacks air-conditioning, there is mold growing on the ceiling and some of the walls. We know that the lack of temperature control is causing some of these mildew problems.
We will have to spend more money this year. We can handle it, but it impacts the budget.
Speaking of which, we also did something this year that you will want to know about: we took a very long, exhaustive look at our budget and the way we handle our finances. With an eye toward everything — from what we pay our lay staff to how the monks manage expenses and pay for the everyday operation of the monastery, with major help from a volunteer who has done budgets for nonprofits in the past, we made serious cuts, opted not to replace several lay staff that left us, and have put into place a more efficient system for managing our payroll and our employees. We are being very responsible with the money you donate to us.
We have a very strict 2015 expense budget that still has us showing a deficit because of the one-time renovations that still remain for us to do, but if contributions keep up in 2015 and 2016, our goal is a balanced budget by the end of 2016.
But as I said, if contributions keep up … the truth is that fund raising is flat everywhere, not just for monastic communities. You can help us a lot if you will consider adding something to your usual gift this year. If all of our steady donors just increased their gifts by 10%, we project we will get closer to a balanced budget this year.
Will you consider this for Holy Cross Abbey as you make your year-end contributions?
On a personal note, I know how concerned you all are about my health reports. Due in no small amount to your prayers and your care for me, I am happy to report the improvement I feel since beginning my chemo (oral medication) treatment for the lung cancer. While the cancer cannot be cured, the medication is promising to prolong my wellbeing for a year or two longer. This was a matter that my community and I arrived at, after we learned of the diagnosis of incurable lung cancer. I am in excellent professional hands, and my brothers and I look upon this as God intends us to, a true grace for our community. My heartfelt thanks to each of you for all your support and your prayers for me and my community. I am happily experiencing the fruit of your great love.
Know that the monks of Holy Cross Abbey pray for you and love you for all that you are doing for us. May you enjoy the unsurpassable peace and joy of this wonderful season as we anticipate the coming of our Savior once again in our hearts.
In the love of Christ,