The Monastery : Montefano Our Mother House
St. Benedict refers to the monastery as the work shop of the Lord wherein the monk plies the tools of his spiritual craft. The family spirit forms the very core of the Benedictine life. St. Benedict’s idea of a monastery is that of a spiritual family where the Abbot is the father and the monks brethren in Christ.
Monte Fano is the mother house of the Sylvestro-Benedictine monks in Sri Lanka. Situated on the outskirts of Kandy, in a typical rural setting, Monte Fano stands in perfect harmony with its surroundings. Simple, yet majestic in appearance, it does lend enchantment to the landscape. Its remoteness from the city provides the seclusion and peace necessary for prayer and study, which the monk seek and its salubrious climate and fertile soil keep the inmates healthy and vigorous.
Visitors to the monastery have found the atmosphere awe-inspiring, but to the monks, it is their home on earth, in which is found a truly fraternal spirit and the near hundredfold, which Christ promised to those who, having left their homesteads and their possessions chose to follow Him in a life of dedicated service.
“Benedictus amabat montes” (Benedict loved the mountains) is an old saying about St. Benedict. Wittingly or unwittingly, Fr. Bonfilius Galassi OSB and Hildebrand Van Reyk OSB, then Prior and Master of Novices respectively, seem to have followed this dictum when they chose a hillock in the suburbs of Kandy –the ancient hill Capital of Lanka– as the suitable site for the future headquarters of the Benedictine Monks of Sri Lanka. The purchase of this land was not an easy affair. However, with the help of God and the assistance of the then Ordinary of Kandy, Bishop Bede Beekmeyer, himself an eminent son of St. Sylvester, who took a keen interest in the affairs of the Congregation, the Superior Major was able to purchase a secluded “Walauwa” and gradually move in with his small cenobitic band. The House was blessed on the 25th November 1927, by the Prior Major and the next day, which happened to be the feast of the Founder, Fr. Hildebrand Van Reyk celebrated the Holy Mass for the first time and brought into being “Monte Fano”, a haven for the sons of St.Sylvester. this was the humble beginning of Monte Fano, thus named after the Mother House in Italy. Not very long after this initial breakthrough, building operations at Monte Fano went on rapidly with regular shifts of the Chapel, refectory and parlour. The new chapel was blessed by the incumbent Bishop of Kandy, Bishop Regno, himself a son of St. Sylvester.
This building, which serves as the Monastery Chapel even today, stands as a fitting tribute to the originality and artistry of Very Rev. Dom Romuald Baldarelli, the erstwhile Superior Major of Monte Fano. It is very attractively built on a typical Kandyan pattern, and fits the environment to a tee. In May 1983, be decree of the General Chapter, held in Rome, Monte Fano took a new identity. It was named a Conventul Priory of St. Sylvester, Abbot. On the 9th February, 1989, a new Retreat Centre was opened at Monte Fano to meet the demands of people who sought a Benedictine environment to refresh their thirsting souls.
Monte Fano may not be the cynosure of all eyes, but in the eyes of God, it is a powerhouse of prayer, making available opportunities for all comers who seek the companionship of God.
“Through Monte Fano, may Benedictine Monasticism which is one of God’s best gifts to His Church b acclimatized in all its fullness and be a permanent factor in the life of Catholic Ceylon. Fulgens radiator….it shines…From its favourable situation on the hill-tops, may Monte Fano shine and shed around its beneficent rays, bringing to the multitudes in the plain the peace wrought of Prayer and Labour” (Servant of God Thomas Cardinal Cooray OMI, Archbishop of Colombo, 1952).
The Rule of Benedict insists on work as an important part of the monk’s labor of obedience. The Rule does not put work above everything else, however, or single out one type of work as more monastic than all others. Monks show their love by serving one another in whatever work they do, invoking God’s blessing on tasks large and small. They share in God’s continuing creation while supporting themselves by earnings and by producing for their needs.
Rice is the single most important crop occupying 34 percent (0.77 /million ha) of the total cultivated area in Sri Lanka. On average 560,000 ha are cultivated during maha and 310,000 ha during yala making the average annual extent sown with rice to about 870,000 ha. About 1.8 million farm families are engaged in paddy cultivation island-wide. Sri Lanka currently produces 2.7 million t of rough rice annually and satisfies around 95 percent of the domestic requirement. Rice provides 45% total calorie and 40% total protein requirement of an average Sri Lankan. The per capita consumption of rice fluctuates around 100 kg per year depending on the price of rice, bread and wheat flour. This paddy field belongs to the monastery it gives the monks the opportunity to work and it also gives “our daily share of bread”.