This Ad Rem is an advance copy of my June “Letter to Friends and Benefactors.” (Get on our list here.) It informs our supporters what we Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in New Hampshire are doing amid the present crisis.
IN THE LAST few months, our lives have taken some very strange turns due not only to a much discussed virus, but also to the world’s reaction to that virus. I am operating under the safe assumption that everyone reading this has been more or less affected by the global mayhem that has stolen headlines for months now. Many of us, sadly, are still without Holy Mass, and some are more or less bereft of the sacraments due to pastoral neglect. Whatever explains the origin of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the globalist elites with their profiteering agenda, their population-control agenda, their people-control agenda, and their religion-control agenda have come out of the woodwork, promising solutions that do not engender trust in those of us who are awake to their machinations.
We Catholics know that God’s Providence is at work ceaselessly in human history, and that there is nothing His enemies can do that will not ultimately redound to His greater glory and the salvation of souls. Whatever Henry Kissinger, Bill Gates, Paul Ehrlich, Jeff Sachs, the abortion and contraception-crazy World Health Organization, the big boys at the World Economic Forum in Davos, etc., have in mind, it can only, in the end, make God’s ultimate triumph all the greater. This is not to deny that in the meantime those evil men can cause lots of unpleasant mischief, the patient bearing of which (and combatting) can be meritorious for those in the state of grace.
We are all slugging and struggling our way through this situation. No doubt, many of you have experienced some loss during this crisis, perhaps a temporary loss of income, perhaps much worse. Please know that you and all our benefactors are in our prayers during these challenging times. We pray that those who have lost loved ones to the contagion may receive the blessing of the third Beatitude: “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:5). That goes also for those who have suffered any loss due to the now backlogged healthcare system, which has been adversely affected by what I can only call a strange crisis of mismanagement.
Here at Saint Benedict Center, the first big change came to us in our school. Immaculate Heart of Mary School was reduced, for the last quarter of the school year, to a mostly online affair, though some things still got picked up and dropped off in person. This is difficult enough with high-school students — I became a digital “pen pal” to my Religion and Rhetoric students — but the challenges are Herculean when it comes to elementary-school children. Our Sisters, ever the resourceful ones, recorded lessons and uploaded them to YouTube or shuttled them back and forth on thumb drives to parents. An amazing amount of industry went into approximating normality.
You will no doubt recall that this situation comes a little over a year after the unjust, invalid, and downright abusive actions taken by the Diocese of Manchester against our community on January 7, 2019. Our case is still pending in the Holy See, which has been all but shut down since March. Besides that, very little happens in Rome in the summer, so we are not optimistic that our case will be resolved very soon. Whatever happens, our community is here in New Hampshire for the long haul, fully intending to remain true to our vows and loyal to our stated purposes. We are rooted to our cause, to our apostolate, and to this place, and have no plans of looking for greener pastures elsewhere just because of the abuse we have received here. We understand that the doctrinal crusade to which we have hitched our wagon is not popular and are prepared to take our lumps for it. In today’s ecclesiastical environment, how could defending extra ecclesiam nulla salus not be an invitation to suffer?
I just wrote that we are rooted to this place. In fact, in response to the current madness you might say that we are digging our roots in even deeper, both for survival and for flourishing. Let me explain.
One of our accustomed means of support, the two-fold apostolate we call “bookselling,” has been completely cut off during the COVID-19 “lockdowns” imposed by the various state governors. As long as this situation persists, bookselling is simply not possible. In addition to that, some of the extreme and bizarre shutdowns that have occurred are disturbing the food supply chain. It is distressing to hear reports of farmers euthanizing cattle, pigs, and chickens; pouring tens of thousands of gallons of milk down drains; and throwing eggs into fields to rot, all because the meatpackers and multiple other middle men standing between the farmer and the grocer are deemed “non-essential” by dimwitted bureaucrats.
It is a commonplace of Catholic devotional literature to cite Holy Job regarding times of trial: “[T]he Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). We must all strive to acquire the patience of Job in all our adversities. In this particular instance, the utterance of the holy man of Hus also helps to outline a practical plan of action. The Lord has taken away bookselling; He has allowed a diocesan official to defame and persecute us; He has permitted the disturbance of the food supply chain that will end only He knows when. But He also gave — has given, and is giving very generously. Among many other things spiritual and temporal, He has given us a good quantity of land (over 130 acres), some natural resources, many knowledgeable friends old and new, and the ability to work. Put all that together, and we get “Project Isidore,” named after Saint Isidore the Farmer (died: 1170, feast: March 22).
In order to feed the Brothers and Sisters and our few dependents, we have opted to raise our own food as long as this situation persists. As I write, gardens are being planted, animals fed, eggs collected, a root cellar planned, and other projects are being mapped out. Providentially, the Brothers and Sisters have made the acquaintance of people with knowhow and the practical wisdom that comes with experience in these areas. They have advised us to plan prudently and to moderate our agricultural zeal so as not to bite off more than we can chew. We are heeding their advice and planning accordingly.
Some of us have been acquainting ourselves with agricultural methods that are both labor saving and economizing. Truly “sustainable,” the methods involve working with the amazing symbioses God built into nature — among plants, animals, the land, and men. Well before determining that our present necessity demands these efforts, some of the Brothers and Sisters have been making things and growing things in old fashioned ways: an herb garden has provided us with useful herbal preparations and salves from a Sister herbalist; Sisters have kept vegetable gardens over the years; maple trees, fire, and a Brother’s hard work have provided maple syrup to sell as a fundraiser for youth activities; another Brother’s craft beer has occasionally been served to guests. We have also been heating some of our buildings with wood we cut and split on our property. Project Isidore will be an expansion and ramping up of those kinds of activities.
Only a small percentage of our 130 acres is being used for this project. What God has in His Mind for the major part of our land, still forest, is not yet known to us, though we do have ideas. Slow, methodical strategic planning is in the works as we await the unfolding of God’s providential designs. For now, we are concerned about the immediate future, the next few months.
When things return to pre-coronavirus normal, we will resume our bookselling apostolate. We are planning our agricultural activities in such a way that they can be scaled up and scaled down as needed. There are many small farmers in the area we can work with so that our present enterprise will not become a nuisance should things suddenly return to normal. Meantime, our various other apostolates continue apace, including our digital publishing work, our school, the Saint Augustine Institute of Wisdom, and the Reconquest radio show.
The agricultural work has brought some of the Brothers and Sisters in contact with some good-hearted locals who are ripe for evangelization. It is, if you will, a more “organic” kind of missionary work as it has us talking more closely with our neighbors rather than cold calling the proverbial man on the street. While both have their undeniable value, the more sustained effort among those in close proximity can have a deeper and more lasting effect.
As for our life of prayer and of study, these are absolutely non-negotiable. We know that prayer and the interior life form the “soul of the apostolate,” without which all external works are useless. And without study and reading, we become less “ready always to satisfy every one that asketh… a reason of that hope which is in” us (1 Pet. 3:15). The religious life, no matter what its particulars, is a life of “ora et labora,” prayer and work. That will always define our lives, as will our dedication to no salvation outside the Church, which mission we are only more deeply confirmed in because we have recently had to suffer for it.
The pat phrase, “times are tough,” could well be a cruel understatement for some of you. Our hearts go out to those struggling to support their families during this crisis. We ask nothing of you but your prayers, promising ours in return. Those of you who are able to assist financially are asked to consider helping us with expenses for this project. Below is a “wish list” of items we have deemed necessary, trusting God that we can make do with what He sends us.
Thank you for all of your past support for our community and our Crusade. Without you, we would not be able to do what we do. Many of you have been particularly generous during this time of crisis for us since last January 7, and we are most grateful. Be assured of our prayers.
Most of these items are to get us started and will last for many years. After the initial investment in equipment, the estimated annual cost to maintain full-scale self-sufficient food production with our current personnel will be under $3,000 a year. Assuming a return to normalcy, we intend to keep all the agricultural equipment and scale down food production to a manageable supplementary level so we can focus more on our other work.
- Tractor — for digging, moving, grating, loading, etc. $35-45,000
- Truck — (used dump-body) needed for transporting animals; hauling and dumping firewood, loam, manure, etc.; the one we presently use for snow plowing, sanding, and other chores can’t go far off the property for safety reasons and will be downgraded to “agricultural use” in order to save on registration, insurance, etc.: $35,000.
- Greenhouse — will considerably extend our growing season and can even be used in our New Hampshire winter: $7,000
- Smoker — for preserving meats by salting and smoking (shed, piping, racks, etc.): $3,500
- Root Cellar — for economic and ample secured storage of our own canned and preserved produce: $5,000
- Microgreen Supplies — for growing healthy, cost effective, and quickly available (10-14 days) vegetables indoors and year-round (seeds for a year, plus trays, harvester, and miscellaneous hardware): $3,000
- Cedar Raised Bed Kits — from a local mill, sold at a discount and providing an additional 1,100 square feet of gardening space: $2,600.00