I - General picture of the foundations since Second World War
II - Various stages of the Statute of the Foundations
III - Approval of a foundation by the General Chapter
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I - General picture of the foundations since Second World War
A quick look at the list of monasteries of the Order, according to their foundation date, at the end of the Elenchus Monasteriorum, shows that the last sixty- five years of the Order have been very fertile as far as foundations go.
Among the present monasteries of monks, 56 already existed before the Second World War, and 15 of those were founded after 1892. Of the 26 monasteries of nuns at the same time, were founded after 1892. Since the war there have been 47 new communities of monks and 46 of nuns. Among these, 5 communities of monks and 8 of nuns are incorporations. All the others are foundations.
Before the war, only 12 monasteries of monks were situated outside of Europe (7 in America, 3 in Asia, 1 in the Middle East and 1 in Africa). In that same time period, only 4 monasteries of nuns were situated outside of Europe (2 in Japan and 2 in Canada).
Among the foundations of monks made since then, 8 were made in western Europe, 1 in eastern Europe, 10 in North America (9 in the USA and 1 in Canada, which was closed soon after); 7 in Latin America (5 in South America, 1 in Mexico, 1 in the Caribbean); 9 in Asia/Oceania; and 11 in Africa/Madagascar. Among the foundations or incorporations of monasteries of nuns in the same period, 17 (8 of which are incorporations) are in Western Europe, 1 in Eastern Europe, 5 in the USA, 6 in Latin America (4 in South America, 1 in Mexico, and 1 in Central America); 7 in Africa, and 5 in Asia/Oceania.
An interesting phenomenon is that, whereas the number of monasteries is continually on the rise, there is a continuous drop in the number of monks and nuns. Many foundations were made between 1944 and 1960, when vocations were numerous and the number of monks and nuns in the Order continued to grow. But, whereas there was a radical change in the number of vocations, beginning in 1960 for the monks and several years later for the nuns, the making of foundations has not stopped, even if it has certainly slowed somewhat. The average number of monks per monastery in 1960 was 55; now it is 23. For the nuns, these numbers are 46 and 25 respectively.
The main consequence of this phenomenon has been that a certain number of founding houses experienced a serious lack of vocations almost immediately after having made foundations, and for this reason were not able, in certain cases, to give these foundations all the help that they needed, especially in the area of formation.
1) According to geographical areas
Of the 8 foundations of monks made in Western Europe during this period, 2 were made in the 1940S, shortly after the Second World War: Nunraw by Roscrea in 1946 and Bethlehem by Mount Melleray in 1948. These two foundations were made in areas of the United Kingdom where Cistercian life was not yet present, namely, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This was not the case for Bolton, founded in 1965 in the central part of Ireland, not very far from Mount Melleray and Roscrea, nor for Sobrado, founded in 1966 on the west coast of Spain, not very far from Oseira. Two others were made in Spain later on, both by La Oliva: Las Escalonias in 1994, and Zenarruza in 1996. We have to add the incorporation of Boschi in 1996 and that of Myrendal in 2002, as well as a recent foundation in Eastern Europe, i.e., Novy Dvur in 1999.
During the same period, several Spanish monasteries of nuns were incorporated into the Order: Vico and Arévalo in 1951, Avila and Benaguacil in 1954, Carrizo in 1955, and Tulebras in 1957. Brialmont, in Belgium, was incorporated in 1976, and Donnersberg, in Germany, in 2002 and Géronde in Switzerland in 2008.
Besides these incorporations, 9 foundations of nuns were made in Western Europe during this period: Nazareth by Soleilmont (1950), and Maria-Frieden by Berkel (1953). Valserena by Vitorchiano (1968), La Paix - Dieu by Gardes, Klaarland by Nazareth (1970), La Palma by Alloz (1976), and Armenteira, also by Alloz (1989), Tautra by Mississippi (1999), and Meymac by Laval (2007). We must add the foundation of Nasi Pani in Eastern Europe by Vitorchiano (2007).
Although one hesitates to separate these European Foundations into different categories, one can see evident differences between those made shortly after the Second World War, with the particular problems of that era, and those made in the 60S and 70S. Maria-Frieden, founded in Germany by Dutch nuns only eight years after the end of the war is a good example of the difficulties encountered by the first group. La Paix-Dieu and Klaarland, both founded in the same year (1970), can bear witness to attempts at a new, simplified expression of the Cistercian charism made in the 70S.
Concerning the incorporations of nuns' monasteries during this period, it might be useful to reflect on the way they were carried out and on the difficulties encountered, since we might have certain similar cases in the future. During the first centuries of the Order, when incorporations of monasteries were frequent, a significant group of monks or nuns were often sent to the monastery that was going to be incorporated, in order to help the community to grow in the Cistercian spirit and charism. The Order has not taken this kind of pastoral measure in recent cases: perhaps it was not seen to be necessary.
b) North America
In the United States of America, three houses of monks were founded in the middle of the nineteenth century, and they developed slowly up until the Second World War. Before and after this war, there was in these houses, especially at Gethsemani and Spencer, a surprising growth in the number of vocations. Several foundations were made in a few years, just to take care of the abundance of novices. Gethsemani made 5 foundations in the USA between 1941 and 1955, and Spencer 3 between 1948 and 1956. In Canada there were 4 houses. In 1977 a new foundation was made by Oka in Ontario to receive English-speaking vocations coming from the west and central parts of Canada; it was closed in 1998.
The first foundation of nuns in the USA was made at Wrentham in 1949 by Glencairn, and the second at Redwoods in 1962 by Nazareth. In the following 30 years, Wrentham made 3 foundations in the USA: Mississippi (1964), Santa Rita (1972), and Crozet (1987). The two monasteries of nuns in Canada have not made any foundations. Mississippi founded Tautra, in Norway (1999).
These North American foundations owe much of their vitality to the growth and the new role of the American Catholic Church in the decades following the war. Especially in the 70S, they were a creative force in the Order, which creativity has generally been welcome, even if it has sometimes been felt as threatening.
Aiguebelle founded Atlas in Algeria in 1934. Next, in 1951, the foundation of Grandselve (now Koutaba), also by Aiguebelle, was the beginning of a long series of foundations made in Africa by several communities of the Order. The following monasteries of monks were founded: Mokoto, by Scourmont in 1954; Victoria, by Tilburg in 1956; Emmanuel, by Achel in 1958; Maromby, by Mont-des-Cats in 1958; Bela Vista, by San Isidro in 1958: Bamenda by Mt. Saint Bernard in 1963; Kokoubou by Bellefontaine in 1972; Awhum adopted by Genesee in 1978; Nsugbe in Nigeria by Bamenda in 2000 and Illah, also in Nigeria, incorporated in 2005 with Genesee as mother house.
The foundations of nuns in Africa/Madagascar during the same period were as follows: La Clarté-Dieu by Igny (1955); Etoile Notre-Dame by les Gardes (1960); Butende by Berkel (1964); Grandselve by Laval (1968); Abakaliki by Glencairn (1982); Huambo by Valserena (1982); Mvanda (Kikwit), an African foundation by another African Foundation, l'Etoile Notre-Dame (1991); and Ampibanjinana by Campeneac (1996). Kibungo, in Rwanda, was founded in 2002 by a group of sisters who had to flee Murhesa (La Clarté-Dieu) in the Congo because of the 1996 civil war.
One of the common characteristics of African foundations is the difficult economic situation they are facing at the present time. Almost all are reduced to subsistence living, scarcely producing enough to feed themselves, whereas several years ago some of them had a flourishing economy and were self-sufficient. This situation is due to the general state of affairs in Africa, which is determined by the world economic system and local socio-political factors. Some have lived for years (as in Angola) or are still living (as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in a war situation. The generosity with which they are faithful to their monastic life is admirable and, in some cases, truly heroic.
Another characteristic of many of these houses (not all, however) is that they have numerous vocations, even if discernment is much more difficult in a cultural context where there has not been a long monastic tradition, and especially when this discernment still needs to be made by the founders from another culture. Connected to this, for many of these foundations, there is a great need for assistance in this area of discernment and formation, but often no assistance is to be had, because the motherhouse is itself terribly short of personnel. Many monasteries need at least a few more persons to help with formation, or simply need a few solid and mature monks or nuns to model monastic values for the young people in formation.
Our African monks and nuns certainly have a special contribution to give to the local Church in the area of inculturation, as Pope John Paul II reminded them at Parakou fifteen years ago. Perhaps the quickest way for this inculturation to happen is to provide a solid basic monastic formation to all the young Africans who come to the monastery.
d) Latin America
Almost immediately after having made three foundations in the USA, Spencer made two more in South America: Azul in 1958 and La Dehesa (later called Miraflores) in 1960 (Miraflores was passed on to Gethsemani later). Then, we had to wait 20 years before other foundations were made in Latin America: Novo Mundo by Genesee in 1980, and Jacona by San Isidro in 1981. Several years later, Los Andes was founded by Holy Spirit in 1987, and Evangelio (Jarabacoa) by Viaceli in 1989. Almost ten years later San Isidro founded Paraiso.
As for the nuns, Ubexy founded EI Encuentro in Mexico in 1971. Then there were three foundations made by Vitorchiano in South America: Hinojo (1973), Quilvo (1981), and Humocaro (1985). Recently Tulebras founded Esmeraldas in Ecuador (1992). In 2001 Hinojo founded Juigalpa in Central America and Quilvo founded Boa Vista in Brazil in 2009.
In South America there is now a solid and well-established monastic presence. The Cistercian Regional Conference (REMILA), as well as different monastic conferences of Benedictines and Cistercians of the Common Observance in Latin America, are active in providing formation for their members. Even though distances between houses are great, the means of transportation are certainly much better than in Africa. The number of vocations has diminished a bit in the past ten years, but there is already a solid core of South American monks and nuns in each community.
Another reason that the foundations in South America met with many fewer difficulties than those of Africa is that this Church has roots going back more than 500 years, even though monastic life as such was not present during the period of colonization, except in Brazil. The small number of vocations coming from South American ethnic groups is a question that deserves reflection. Naturally it is linked with the history of colonization and evangelization of the continent.
Asia / South Pacific
Consolation in China, Phare in Japan, and Latroun in Israel were founded in the nineteenth century. Consolation founded Lantao in 1928. In 1953, three years be-fore founding Victoria in Africa, Tilburg founded Rawaseneng in Indonesia. Then, several years after founding Nunraw and Bethlehem, Mount Melleray founded Kopua in 1954 in New Zealand, and Roscrea founded Tarrawarra in Australia the same year. Several years later, in 1968, Sept-Fons founded Our Lady of the Isles, hoping to revive a foundation made in New Caledonia a century earlier, and in 1972, the American Region founded Our Lady of the Philippines. In 1980 Phare founded Oita in the central part of Japan, and in 1991 Vina founded Shuili in Taiwan. We could mention Saint-Sauveur here, founded in Lebanon in 1998 by Latroun and closed in 2006.
The series of foundations of nuns in this part of the world during this period began with three Japanese foundations made by other Japanese communities: Imari, by Tenshien (1953), Nasu, by Nishinomiya (1954), and Miyako (now Ajimu), also by Nishinomiya (1981). There was also a foundation in Korea, Sujong, by Tenshien (1987), and Gedono in Indonesia by Vitorchiano in 1987. Next came Rosary, a foundation made by Nishinomiya in 1993, and then adopted by Gedono; Matútum in the Philippines was founded by Vitorchiano (1993), and Ananda Matha in India by Soleilmont (1995).
It is impossible to make any general remarks about this group of monasteries, for they represent a great variety of cultures and situations. Although faced with rather difficult situations, Lantao and Shuili courageously continue the Cistercian tradition established by Our Lady of Consolation, which was one of the largest monasteries of our Order shortly after its foundation. The Japanese monasteries of monks and nuns are witnesses to a solid implantation of the Cistercian charism in Japan for almost a century. Kopua is holding firm with courage, while Tarrawarra and Our Lady of the Philippines have been blessed with numerous vocations and other graces. Rawaseneng and Gedono also have a good proportion of their communities in formation. Our Lady of the Isles in New Caladonia, founded in 1968, was closed in 2001.
A common trait in many of these monasteries is the great geographical distance that separates them from the motherhouse. Our Lady of the Philippines is an interesting case, since it is a foundation prepared and taken on by an entire region.
2) A few complementary reflections
a) Relationship with the Founding House
According to the Cistercian tradition, a community is founded by another community, which hands on to the foundation it its particular expression of the Cistercian spirit. For a foundation to be successful and grow, it is usually necessary for it to have been wanted and warmly supported by the motherhouse. When a foundation is the personal project of an abbot or a small group of founders, without being accepted by the entire community (or at least a large part of it), it has little chance of growth. There are some cases of foundations that began as a personal adventure and have developed well, but only because they were accepted and adopted by the community of the founding house at some point.
The relationship between the motherhouse and the foundation during the first years of the foundation-that is, until the time of autonomy-is also essential for the healthy development of the new house. A community should not make a foundation if it cannot foresee the possibility of continuing to support the foundation for several years financially, or at least in personnel. Paternity must be responsible.
b) Collective Responsibility
In spite of what has just been said, it happens that communities that seem to be quite capable of making a foundation, suddenly find themselves experiencing a lack of vocations or an economic crisis in their own community, and are no longer able to help their foundation adequately. According to our Constitutions, when the General Chapter approves a foundation, all the houses assume a collective responsibility in its regard. It must be said that there is great generosity in the Order, especially when a foundation needs material help. But at present there are quite a few foundations (and also older communities!) of the Order who are in extreme need of help in personnel, especially of persons capable of forming young monks or nuns, and this help is not available to them.
c) Number of Founders
In the Order the traditional number for a foundation is twelve monks or nuns. In former times, often a greater number was sent. In our recent Statute on Foundations, no more than six persons are required, and sometimes an exception is requested even on this point at the moment of approbation. Is there an ideal number? When a large group comes to a different culture, especially in the young Churches, there is a danger, from the beginning, of transposing large imported structures that will be difficult to adapt to later on. A smaller number of founders was adopted later on, not only because there was less personnel available in the founding houses, but also because it was felt that a smaller group could adapt more easily to a different culture. But experience has shown that if we want to establish our type of Cistercian common life somewhere, the group should not be too small. Not only do six seem to be a minimum, but also, besides the superior, these six should include a good administrator or cellarer, a novice master, and a person capable of being second superior. To create a situation where the superior of the foundation has to assume all these tasks alone does not seem fair to the superior or to the foundation.
d) Adaptation and Inculturation
Any reflection on foundations of the Order in the young Churches must involve the topic of inculturation. On February 9, 1992, during his trip in Africa, the Holy Father mentioned the importance of this topic to our monks and nuns of Parakou:
"The monastic life is a great spiritual force for a particular Church .... I know the vitality of the communities of this diocese, one of which has already made a foundation outside of Benin. I invite monastic communities to offer their contribution, especially in the area of inculturation" (Osservatore Romano, weekly edition in French, February 9, 1993).
However, when speaking about inculturation, people often think only about adaptation. There is an important difference between the two terms. Adaptation is something necessary and important but it remains superficial. When one arrives as a stranger in another culture, it is normal to adapt to the customs of the local population. And we can say that, on the whole, the founders of our Cistercian houses mentioned above have been courageous and generous in adapting to local situations with regard to food, clothing, buildings, etc. The same applies to the use of local musical instruments in the liturgy, which has been done to a large extent. Inculturation is something much deeper. It is something that happens on its own when the representatives of a culture have integrated the experience of faith and the monastic experience. The important point is that what is inculturated is not a series of external customs but an interior experience.
When one visits monasteries of the Order in the young Churches, it is a privilege to see a number of "authentic" monks and nuns among the local vocations, and this helps us affirm that an authentic process of inculturation is well under way.
II - Various stages of the Statute of the Foundations
The Constitutions of 1894 and 1924 include few elements about the manner of making a foundation and about the process to be followed in reaching the stage of autonomy. The General Chapters, especially after 1925, took a certain number of measures in response to particular situations.
It was in 1953 that the General Chapter, in response to the new situation created by the post-war foundations in America and the new surge of foundations in Africa, drew up a first Statute on Foundations for the monks' communities (Acts, pp. 39-42). A Statute for the foundations of nuns was approved the following year (Acts, pp. 24-26). Curiously these two Statutes were written in Latin, whereas the 1953 Chapter approved documents of a similar kind, including the Statute on the Liturgy Commission, written in French.
The surge of foundations in the following years meant that the General Chapters had to make numerous changes to this legislation. The particular situation of several new foundations led the Order to write up a "Statute on Distant Foundations" approved ad experimentum in 1967 (Acts, pp. 170-71) and revised in 1969 (Acts, pp. 326-27). It was intended above all to address the problems these foundations encountered in the process of attaining the rank of an autonomous house. It also spoke about "simplified foundations" (See Acts of 1965, pp. 105-6 and of 1967, pp. 146-47), although no special statute was written for them. But the approval of these simplified foundations was left strictly to the General Chapter.
The need was soon felt to extend to all foundations the special norms drawn up in 1967 for "distant foundations:' Moreover, the notion of "distant foundation" was in itself problematic. Distant from what? The 1974 General Chapter of Abbots approved-ad experimentum, obviously-a new Statute that eliminated the juridical distinction between ordinary foundations and so-called distant foundations, and granted all foundations the possibility of an intermediary "semi-autonomy" stage, even though this notion too was extremely problematic.
At their 1975 Chapter, the Abbesses, using the monks' Statute, but modifying it on some points, voted in their own Statute (Minutes, PP.25-28), which led the Abbots to approve a new Statute on Foundations (Minutes, pp. 42-44) in 1977> rather than confirm the one they had approved ad experimentum in 1974. The difficult point remained the notion of "semi-autonomy:'
Because of a certain number of changes made in the legislation during the writing the Constitutions, a new Statute had to be drawn up. It was presented and voted on quickly at the end of the 1987 General Chapter, without giving the Capitulants time to examine it well (Minutes, pp. 307-10). It was now a single Statute for the monks and the nuns. The text was presented in three languages (English, French, and Spanish), but with a number of differences-in some cases more than just a matter of nuance-between the three versions, and none of the three was indicated as the original text. This is why the Permanent Council, in 1996, was led to present a harmonized version of these three texts for the approval of the General Chapters (Minutes, p. 43).
Various modifications of the Statute were voted on at the 2002 and 2005 MGM’s. They had to do mostly with determining the moment Father Immediate's approval is needed for a foundation of nuns, and with the right of vote about professions when a house is not yet autonomous.
The evolution of this Statute during the last half century is a good example of the way in which the evolution of life leads to a constant readjustment of the legislation.
The insoluble problem of semi-autonomy
At the beginning of the Order, when a foundation was being made, the abbot was chosen and blessed before leaving the founding house. He then left with a dozen companions (often more), and the foundation was, from the first day, an abbey. When, toward the middle of the twentieth century, there were more and more "distant" foundations, i.e. foundations in a country or continent far from the founding house, and thus in a different culture, it became difficult to send a large contingent of founders. It was also thought that the presence of numerous founders might make the integration of local vocations and the process of inculturation more difficult. It could therefore take a number of years to reach autonomy, which required the presence of twelve solemn professed.
The 1967 General Chapter thus invented the notion of "semi-autonomy;' a rather shaky term from a juridical point of view. In reality, the semi-autonomous priory was a sui juris house, whose members had stability there and elected their own superior, who was a major superior and a member by right of the General Chapter. The motherhouse's obligations toward this autonomous priory, however, were similar to its obligations regarding a foundation. Moreover, in the 1967 version-corrected on this point in 1969-the abbot of the founding house was designated as "founding abbot" and not as "Father Immediate:' At the same time, the 1967 and 1969 General Chapters granted to non-autonomous foundations rights that normally belonged to the founding house, especially with regard to voting for the admission of novices to profession.
The new Statute on Foundations, approved ad experimentum by the 1974 Chapter of abbots, upheld the notion of semi-autonomy, and reduced to six-and no longer twelve-the number of monks required for a house to be raised to this rank. In the Statute that they wrote during their 1975 Chapter, the abbesses kept the essential characteristics given to this new type of house, but withheld the title "semi-autonomous;' which led the 1977 Chapter of abbots to reconsider the question.
This notion of "semi-autonomy" was a juridical anomaly. Already the Law Commission of 1976 (see Report, p.16) noted that such a house was generally not conceived of as being "totally autonomous" in the Order, whereas, from the canonical point of view, it was just as autonomous as an autonomous priory or an abbey. Dom Vincent Hermans therefore drew up a new version of the Statute for the following Chapter of abbots, eliminating the convoluted notion of semi-autonomy. But the majority of Capitulants, indifferent about juridical fine points and wanting to give these young communities the right to receive help from the founding house, voted to reintroduce this notion into the Statute, and the abbesses did the same the following year (1978).
In the Constitutions voted on by the monks at Holyoke in 1984 and in those voted on by the nuns at EI Escorial in 1985, the expression "semi-autonomous priory" was replaced by "simple priory" (to distinguish it from a "major priory"). But the juridical reality remained the same. When the text of our Constitutions was presented to the Holy See, one of the remarks made by the Congregation of Religious was that we needed to drop this distinction between two categories of priories, since both expressions indicate a sui juris, and thus fully autonomous, house. We insisted on keeping this distinction in Statute 5.A.C of our Constitutions (approved in 1990) with a footnote (the only footnote in the entire Constitutions) saying that it was "according to the proper law of the Order;' a law going back to 1967. As a result of which, still today, in the mind of many members of the Order, including some Fathers Immediate, the "simple priory" is not completely autonomous!
In the masculine branch of the Order, when a foundation attains autonomy, it becomes the daughter house of its founding house. In the feminine branch, a special problem is posed by the fact that, when a foundation attains autonomy, it loses all juridical links with the founding house, whereas the latter has special obligations toward the foundation until it acquires the status of major priory or abbey. This problem led several Regions and the Central Commissions at Cardeña (2007) to request a study of the possibility of maintaining a juridical relationship in these cases. It is difficult to conceive what this relationship might be, unless we opt to move toward a system of filiation in the feminine branch like that of the masculine branch.
At the same time, the requirements for approving a foundation are becoming less stringent, and are sometimes interpreted quite broadly, so that certain foundations remain in this status for many years. As a result, local vocations make their profession-including solemn profession-for the motherhouse, which might be a place they have never visited on another continent. At recent General Chapters solutions were sought, and sometimes the decisions of the two Chapters have converged regarding canonical votes for admission to profession. The suggestion has been made not to accept candidates for solemn profession as long as a community is not sui juris. Some answer that this measure would be unjust to candidates who sometimes have nine years of temporary vows and would like to make a life commitment. Others say that it is not just to allow them to commit themselves for life when the house where they live does not yet have a juridical existence or a certain future, and when they have no intention of going to live in the founding house with another language, another culture, and on another continent.
The evolution of the Statute on Foundations is an example of legislation that has constantly evolved in order to respond to the new demands of life. It also shows the danger of introducing new juridical categories that have not been well thought out, thus creating unsolvable juridical and human problems later on. The Order will doubtless need to rethink this whole question in the years to come, not only in light of the history of the past fifty years, but also in light of the entire tradition of the Order from the twelfth century until today.
III - Approval of a foundation by the General Chapter
1) Importance and meaning of this approval
Our Constitutions, after a short but important First Part, entitled Cistercian Patrimony, and a much longer second part, entitled The Household of God, the Monastery, have a third part which describes how all the autonomous monasteries are united in one Order.
The first Constitution of this third part (C. 71) describes how the Superiors of the Order exercise a collegial responsibility over all the monasteries of the Order, in particular when they assemble for the General Chapter.
According to C. 79, entitled the The Competence of the General Chapter, the very first responsibility of the General Chapter is “to approve the new foundations of monasteries”.
The approval of a foundation by the General Chapter is not therefore a simple formality to be filled at some unspecified moment during the process of foundation, but a thing of a very great importance, since it is the first responsibility of the General Chapter, before even the election of the Officers of the Order or the acceptance of their resignation or the approval of the changes in the Constitutions, etc.
What is then the meaning of this approval that makes it so important? C. 69 says it in a very brief way: “When they give approval to a foundation the abbots are to encompass the new offshoot with fraternal care.” The Statute on Foundations says it in a slightly more elaborate manner: “The foundation can be recognized as such only after the approval of the General Chapter. In doing this the Abbots/Abbesses welcome the new foundation into the communion of charity which unites all monasteries of the Order and they commit themselves to assist it in a fraternal way.”
2) The Moment of this Approval
Since the Superiors of the Order, by approving a new foundation, assume a collegial responsibility in its regard, it is essential that they can do so with full knowledge of the facts and can examine whether all the conditions enumerated in the Statute on Foundations are observed. They must, therefore, in communion with the founding community, make a collegial assessment of the appropriateness of making the foundation at such a place and at such a time. Collegially they must especially ensure that the founding community is in a position to make a viable foundation without endangering its own balance.
For all these reasons, the vote of approval of the General Chapter loses all its meaning and becomes a simple legal formality if the request for approval is made at the time when the foundation is already realized in an irreversible way.
3) The pre-foundation or the Cistercian cell?
Two “projects” of foundations of nuns had been developed in 1978. The first one consisted of a group of young Angolans in formation at Benaguacil, in Spain. The second was that of Mother Agnese of Vitorchiano in Venezuela. The General Chapter of the Abbesses of 1981 asked the Abbot General and his Council “temporarily to assume responsibility for the ‘pre-foundation’ in Angola”, delegating to them the power to approve it as a foundation when the situation would allow it (votes 58 and 59). The concept of pre-foundation was thus introduced.
The foundation of Humocaro constituted a more difficult situation. Started as a “diocesan foundation”, it was gradually assumed by Vitorchiano. The General Chapter of the Abbesses of 1985, after difficult and painful exchanges, approved the steps made by the Community of Vitorchiano in view of a regular foundation and in the same way entrusted to the Abbot General and his Council the approbation of the foundation when all the conditions were realized.
The strongest reserves concerning this last approval (i.e that of Humocaro) came from the Superiors of REMILA, who did not want to hear of a “pre-foundation” considering that a pre-foundation was a reality external to the Order and thus did not need the approval of the General Chapter.
These painful discussions led in 1987 to the introduction of a section entitled “A Cistercian cell (or Pre-Foundation)” into the Statute on Foundations. The goal was to allow a small group of at least two people to go to the place of the future foundation in order to get to know the local culture and, if need be, the language, and to prepare (but not to realize) the foundation. A not-negligible aspect of this formula, and in fact the first reason for its introduction, was to be able to consider this “Cistercian cell” as a “religious house” according to the norms of the law so that nuns could go there in order to prepare a foundation without having to ask for an indult of exclaustration (as it has been necessary to do before).
However, what happened was that, ever since, people constantly used this formula to realize foundations before even asking for the approval of the General Chapter. In very many cases, when the request is made for the approval of the General Chapter, the land has been bought, the monastery has been built (at least partly, if not entirely), the Community life has begun, often with an imposing celebration of the local Church. What can the General Chapter do then if not give its blessing to the accomplished fact, without being able to exercise at all its role of discerning? It is not surprising then that the collegial solidarity with regard to these foundations, when they are in the need, is less and less obvious.
4) Required conditions to make a foundation
The Statute on Foundations enumerates a certain number of things that must be borne in mind during the discernment process by the community that wants to make a foundation, before one can be undertaken. The first condition mentioned is that the community has what is necessary in terms of qualified personnel and material resources. It would obviously be going against the spirit of the Order and the Statute on Foundations to undertake a foundation without these conditions being met, counting on the fact that the other monasteries of the Order will come to help.
To respond to new situations, the Statute on Foundations (which did not cease being modified at practically each General Chapter) envisages, since 2002, the possibility for two or several houses to join together to make a foundation. Some good examples exist. For example, two communities can join together to set up a founding group of six people, by each providing three members. Alternatively, a community that has the sufficient personnel but does not have the financial resources can work out a joint project in partnership with another community which does not have the personnel but can bring the necessary money.
In order that a collegial project of this kind have meaning, it must really be a “joint project”. It is necessary therefore that all the communities concerned are equally implied in the discernment process from the starting point and at each stage of realization. If a community goes ahead in a completely autonomous way with a foundation, making all the decisions, and simply leaves the other community the task of providing the financial means, this could not in any way be considered a situation of Cistercian solidarity or collegiality.
5) Financial aid coming from the Mutual Assistance Fund of the Order
For a few years the Order has had a Mutual Assistance Fund, to which the monasteries that wish to can contribute what they can each year, These sums are then redistributed to the monasteries of the Order in need which make a request.
At the beginning of the year 2009, the commission responsible for managing this Mutual Assistance Fund saw itself confronted with a certain number of requests to finance the starting or the development of foundations not yet approved by the General Chapter. After exchange and consultation with the General Abbot and his Council, the Commission considered that the money that had been given for the monasteries of the Order could not be used for financing foundations on which the General Chapter had not yet been able to exercise its responsibility of discerning in a collegial manner. All that has been said above explains the basis for such a decision, which the next General Chapter will obviously be able to call into question.
To the author of this note, it seems urgent that the General Chapter reaffirm in a clear way at what moment of the process of making a foundation the approval of the General Chapter must be given and what it is licit and legitimate -- or not -- to do before this approval, if we want a foundation to be Cistercian.