PORTSMOUTH — Father Michael Brunner, O.S.B., was officially blessed by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin as the fourth Abbot of Portsmouth Abbey on Saturday, May 7, in a rite known as the “Blessing of an Abbot.”
Bishop Tobin served as principal celebrant for the installation Mass, which took place at Portsmouth Abbey’s Church of St. Gregory the Great and Queen of Peace, where he also delivered the homily.
“It is with great joy and gratitude to Almighty God that we come together to celebrate the formal blessing of a new abbot, Abbot Michael. It’s a wonderful and joyful day for him and for the Benedictine community of Portsmouth Abbey and our whole diocesan church,” Bishop Tobin said.
In his homily, the bishop said he was honored and grateful to be present for the formal liturgical blessing of Abbot Michael and thanked the other abbots in attendance representing different monasteries.
“My presence here today is another sign, another expression of the good and strong friendship that’s developed over many years between the Diocese of Providence and Portsmouth Abbey. It’s a relationship, a friendship that is as strong now as it’s ever been, I believe, and we are very, very grateful for that,” Bishop Tobin said.
The bishop said that the Diocese of Providence is richly blessed by the presence of the Portsmouth Abbey Benedictine community, and many other communities of women and men religious as well, indicating this is “a true source of inspiration and sanctity as well for this whole diocesan Church.”
The bishop noted that the blessing provides what could be considered a job description for the ministry of a new abbot.
“You are to be a spiritual father and a servant. You are to be an example of faith and love, humility and service. As the blessing reminds us, it is indeed a demanding task. But be assured, dear brother, that in this journey you will not be walking alone. You will have the friendship and support of your brothers in this community. I pledge to you the support, cooperation and prayers of our entire diocesan church. And of course, you will have the unfailing grace of Almighty God, a grace that never fails,” Bishop Tobin said before the Blessing began.
After laying prostrate on the floor in supplication in front of the altar during the Litany of the Saints, Abbot Michael received the pontificalia, or pontifical insignia.
Bishop Tobin presented to Abbot Michael a copy of Saint Benedict’s Rule; a mitre, one of three custom designed and made by Robert Trump of St. Louis as a gift to the new abbot; along with a ring which incorporates the cross of St. Benedict, and serves as a seal of fidelity; and the shepherd’s crook crozier, made of olive wood of Assisi, as a symbol of his stewardship to those God has entrusted to his care.
Father Michael Brunner, O.S.B., was elected by the monks of Portsmouth Abbey on January 17 as their fourth abbot.
A native of Rochester, New York, Abbot Michael, 71, was until recently a monk of the St. Louis Abbey where he had held the positions of pastor of St. Anselm’s Parish and Headmaster of the St. Louis Priory School, both located on that monastery’s campus.
In 2021, Abbot Michael, along with two other monks of St. Louis, transferred their vows of stability to Portsmouth, where he also serves as chancellor of Portsmouth Abbey School.
Previously, Abbot Michael held the title of Prior Administrator of Portsmouth while the abbey was undergoing a period of congregational support from the English Benedictine Congregation, in this case from the St. Louis community. His new term as abbot extends for eight years.
In 2008, a chapter written by Abbot Michael was included in the book, “Touched by God: Ten Monastic Journeys” (Burns & Oates). In it, he details a most unorthodox vocational journey which began with him turning his back as a young man on his Roman Catholic upbringing, reading the Sufi mystics along the way, and working as a hotel manager in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Miami. As a teenager, he worked for social and civil rights organizations.
He earned a degree at Howard University where he majored in sociology and early on was a “professed member of a religious order that was formed after the Civil War to serve the freed slaves.”
He notes that it “was and still is operating schools and parishes in the Black community.” In fact, from age 18 until he entered the St. Louis Abbey at age 47 after a ‘reversion,’ or return to the Church, Abbot Michael said that, “all my friends have been African-American or African.”
Abbot Michael’s brother religious believe that it is that wealth of human and humane experience, along with his hands-on work in Haiti during his pastorship, which gives him a unique perspective in his new role as abbot.
During the Abbatial Blessing, Diocesan Vice Chancellor Father Nathan Ricci served as Episcopal Master of Ceremonies and Brother Sixtus Roslevich, O.S.B., served as Monastic Master of Ceremonies. Kyle Medeiros and the choir from St. Mary’s Church in Newport provided the music for the Mass.
“We especially thank Bishop Tobin, Father Nathan Ricci and the other religious of the Diocese of Providence, who are present this morning. We thank them for their friendship and support of our work, especially in this year marking the 150th anniversary of the Diocese of Providence,” Brother Sixtus said.
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