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St. Gregory's Abbey, Three Rivers, Michigan
St. Gregory's Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan, is not located in the Diocese of Northern Indiana, but the histories of the two are closely intertwined. In 1939, during the episcopate of Bishop Campbell Gray, two Benedictine monks, Dom Paul Severance and Dom Francis Hilary Bacon, took up residence at the bishop's invitation in Valparaiso, Indiana. They were given charge of three diocesan missions: St. Andrew's, Valparaiso; St. Stephen's, Hobart; and St. Augustine's, Gary. The bishop believed their coming had been God's response to fourteen years of earnest prayer, since these missions had been difficult to administer due to the severe shortage of priests in the Depression years.
In 1935, Rolland F. Severance, an American Episcopalian and Professor of Apologetics at Nashotah House Seminary, joined the Rev. Trevor Bacon of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and a group of others who went to Nashdom Abbey at Burham, Buckinghamshire, England, for training by Anglican monks in the Benedictine life. Once their training was completed, Severance, taking the name of Dom Paul Severance, became a life-professed monk and returned to the United States in search of a permanent place for establishing an Anglican-affiliated Benedictine house. Bacon took the name of Dom Francis Bacon. Together they had investigated Rye Beach, New Hampshire, as a possible location but without success. Canon Vivan Peterson, rector of St. James Episcopal Church, Cleveland, introduced Severance to Bishop Campbell Gray, and Gray was happy to provide the monks with housing in exchange for their taking charge of three missions in the Calumet area. The Anglo-Catholic liturgical life of the diocese made it a perfect fit for a Benedictine house.
Arriving in Valparaiso during Easter week, 1939, Severance and Bacon rented a house and converted the dining room into a small chapel. They called it St. Gregory's House, and in time, Bishop Gray was invited to be its Episcopal Visitor. Two other monks, Fr. Leo Patterson and Fr. Meinrad Black, made their solemn profession there on 29 June 1941, but the subsequent outbreak of World War II forced a cutback in the number of men. By 1942, only two monks, Severance and Bacon remained. The three missions were greatly enriched by their service. Black took over services at St. Andrew's, Valparaiso, while Bacon served St. Stephen's, Hobart, and St. Augustine's, Gary. The monks published a newsletter titled Benedicite, which drained their treasury.
Bacon and Severance had a strong interest in the arts. Bacon became a noted ecclesiastical artist and designed mosaics that were installed in various churches. He also created religious carvings. Severance was a musician and had taught music prior to taking religious orders.
In 1946, the Abbot of Nashdom House determined that the monks needed to leave parish ministry. "It proved ... too soon to be involved in this kind of work," writes Simon Bailey. "The community had not developed any stability or a life of its own and needed first to concentrate on that. In time the bishop [Reginald Mallett] saw this and effectively pushed the monks out to get on with developing the Religious life itself."
Severance and Bacon moved to a rural area near Three Rivers, Michigan, where they purchased 126 acres and an old farmhouse, converting it into St. Gregory's Priory, a space barely large enough for the monks to perform their duties. Bishop Mallett gave them his blessing and remained their Episcopal Visitor. He was there to bless the cornerstone of the first building they erected, a chapel, on 20 October 1950. His successor, Bishop Walter Klein, would bless the cornerstone of a second building in 1967. Severance suffered a brain hemorrhage in 1947 and died in 1949, dealing a severe blow to its early development. During the priory's first thirty years, it remained under the close pastoral care of Nashdom Abbey. Dom Gregory Dix arrived from there in February 1947 to take charge of the priory, raise additional funds for the construction of new buildings, and see to it that Severance received proper nursing care.
In 1969, the priory had grown sufficiently in size and independence to become officially known St. Gregory's Abbey. Accordingly, its prior, Dom Benedict Reid, was installed as its first abbot. Bishop Klein, as Episcopal Visitor, presided at the ceremony and celebrated the Eucharist. Many visitors attended the installation, including Bishop Richard Emrich of Michigan. Reid, who had a colorful career as an author, speaker, and pastoral mentor, resigned in 1989 and was succeeded by Abbot Andrew Marr, the present abbot.
Over the years many bishops, congregations, and other church members from Northern Indiana have made retreats at St. Gregory's, and in turn, Abbot Reid and Abbot Marr have visited the diocese to preach and conduct workshops.
Simon Bailey, A Tactful God: Gregory Dix, Priest, Monk, Scholar (England: Gracewing, 1995).
Andrew Marr and Abraham Newsom, Singing God's Praises: The First Sixty Years (Three Rivers, Michigan: St. Gregory's Abbey, 1998).
Dom Francis Hilary Bacon
Dom Francis Hilary Bacon (originally named Trevor Wilbur Bacon) was born on 2 October 1903 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, the son of Alfred Taylor and Beatrice (Bailey) Bacon. Little is known about his educational background, but in 1930 he was working as an artist in Los Angeles. In 1935 he decided to become a Benedictine monk and traveled to Nashdom Abbey in England for study. He took the name Francis Hilary in 1937 and made junior vows in 1938. He returned to the United States in 1939, settling in Valparaiso, Indiana, where, with Dom Paul Severance, he established St. Gregory's House. They were joined by two others, Dom Leo Patterson and Dom Meinrad Black, but both would leave in 1941. Bishop Campbell Gray assigned Bacon to St. Augustine's Gary and St. Stephen's Hobart, sharing duties with Severance, who also had charge of St. Andrew's in Valparaiso. Bacon was a gifted artist and wood carver. He created paintings, carvings, and mosaics that were displayed in many Midwestern churches. He and Severance left Indiana in 1946 and established St. Gregory's Priory in St. Joseph County, Michigan. Severance was its first prior, but after he became ill, Bacon was the de facto prior from 1947 to 1949, when he was replaced by Dom Patrick Dalton. He continued to work inthe monastery until crippled by illness. He died in Centreville, Michigan, on 4 September 1967.