Dom CrenierWe will let our founder, Dom Léonce Crenier, tell the story of the monastery’s foundation in his own words :

Having become Conventual Prior at St-Benoît-du-Lac, in the province of Quebec, I had always thought that it would be best, in time, to resign my position in favour of a Canadian-born Prior, even though I had been naturalised Canadian in 1935. But years passed and the community members, while numerous, were still young. In 1937, at a general chapter held in Solesmes, my monks unanimously requested I become abbot. I did not wish it and Dom Cozien, abbot of Solesmes, who found, quite rightly, that the community was still too young, said to me, It will be for the next general chapter. The war broke out shortly after...

At the end of 1943, I thought the time had come and I asked advice from someone who was very knowledgeable, who had given up the leadership of a large community for reasons similar to my own. He understood me and thought that I could resign in good conscience since the monastery then had several men capable of taking over the leadership. Therefore, I sent my letter of resignation to Rome where it was accepted at the beginning of 1944.

When one has been major superior for a long time and one resigns, it is wisest to withdraw, at least for a time, so that the successor is freer to make the changes he thinks necessary. Indeed, there are always changes when a new superior is elected because two men can never have exactly the same ideas on all subjects.

It was thus that I was granted permission to withdraw to the monastery of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. I would like to say, before leaving the subject aside, that Saint-Benoît-du-Lac is today an Abbey where I am happy to go when, from time to time, I need to go to Canada. It is a prosperous monastery and truly a Domus Dei a sapientibus sapienter administrata (the house of God, wisely administrated by wise men.)

The Priory of Portsmouth, which has since grown, was at the time a small monastery of an English Benedictine Congregation which ran an important college. It was a very good and charitable community, in the midst of which I spent three happy years. I gave philosophy and theology lessons to the young monks and I worked in the garden.

Soon after, a young Martiniquan, Mr Raphael de la Coste, came to stay at the monastery, for, if memory serves, nearly two years. We became fast friends and had good conversations every day. He greatly admired my way of living which was simply the way of a monk from the French congregation, even though I followed the observance of the monastery. He repeated incessantly, Ah, if only you founded a monastery in Marinique! How beautiful it would be! How we need monks there! I answered, But you don’t found a monastery just like that! I don’t have a mission to do that and I don’t feel a particular desire to do it either. He so insisted, nevertheless, that several months later when he wanted to write to the Bishop of Martinique, Mons. de la Brunelière on the subject, I did not prevent him from doing so. However, I remained sceptical and unenthusiastic.

The letter was sent and time passed. At least three months went by. I said to Mr. de la Coste, You see! The bishop isn’t answering your letter. But one day, the response arrived and it was favourable. The St-Esprit Congregation in charge of Martinique gave its blessing to the project.

So I wrote to my Superior and successor, Dom Mercure, at St-Benoît-du-Lac, who, at first a little surprised, quickly gave his approval and encouraged me. He wrote that he would help me more than I knew, as well he later did, to the point that I can say that the founding of the monastery would not have occurred without his help.

I began a long personal correspondence that I have here next to me, and I set out to find everything I needed, especially the financing. I immediately had two co-founders, the Reverend Father Dom Bernard Crépeau, a monk at St-Benoît-du-Lac, who was with me in Portsmouth, and Louis Hyde, a young American clergyman, who was also with me at that monastery.

I immediately saw that it would not be possible to implant “as is” the great Benedictine monastery life in a very poor tropical country. An adaptation would be necessary. But what should that be? That was the subject of my correspondence with Mons. de la Brunelière and of my conversations with Dom Crépeau.

Meanwhile, Mr. De la Coste left Portsmouth and I have not seen him very often since, much to my regret, even though he lives and works in Martinique. I will not linger here on the preparatory work necessary to the foundation.

In July 1946, I made my first trip to Martinique to go see His Excellency the Bishop and the piece of land he was making available to us in St. Pierre. It was the former Seminary College, destroyed on 8 May, 1902, by the eruption of Mount Pélé. The land had formerly belonged to the Jesuits who oversaw the parish. Then, it had been inhabited by Mr. Dupont, the holy man of Tours. Then, it became the Seminary College of the Fathers of the Holy Spirit, and a great number of our friends alive today studied there before the 1902 catastrophe.

Although it belonged to the diocese, the land had been practically confiscated by a renter who grew sugar cane on it and who it was not easy to evict because of the somewhat anarchic legislation of the time. Recovering this piece of land was the work of His Excellency the Bishop, the Reverend Father Vénard, then priest in St. Pierre, and of our excellent friend and neighbor, Mr. Victor Depaz. I came to see the property in July 1946 and I immediately told His Excellency, Excellency, it is far too hot for a community. There will always be some men who can not adapt to the heat. And, indeed, that is what has happened over the past 15 years.

Naturally, I was deeply grateful to the Bishop for his generosity and his goodness, but I had to the think of the future of the community. I sought therefore, over my three-month stay, another location in the hills where the temperature is much cooler. Not being from the country and knowing no one there, I found nothing in Morne-Vert, Morne-Rouge, or Gros-Morne. (Morne meaning hill, either low or high.)

In September, I received a cable from Dom Cozien, abbot of Solesmes, who, after having made a canonical visit to St-Benoît-du-Lac, was in Washington. He wanted to see me. I took a cargo ship on it’s way to New Orleans, via Cuba, and 20 days later I was in Washington, received paternally by Dom Crozien. He could not take the foundation under his patronage, nor could St-Benoît-du-Lac. Moreover, it was a very unique experiment, one with an uncertain future, in which the Congregation could not compromise itself. Dom Cozien understood that there would be adaptations to be made by trial and error, mitigations and notable changes to be brought to the usual observance of the Benedictine Congregation of Solesmes. For that reason, he preferred that Dom Crépeau and I put ourselves wholly under the responsibility of Mons. the Bishop of Martinique, at least in the beginning, which I accepted to do. With that decided, I left Dom Cozien. He blessed our mission with great benevolence and gave us, as it were, carte blanche.

We have thus seen the four people who are at the origin of our monastery : Mr. Raphaël de la Coste, then Mons. De la Brunelière, then Dom Mercure and finally Dom Cozien. This foundation which I had neither foreseen nor desired, presented itself to me as if pointed out by Providence. Several things were immediately clear to me :

All these original desires were achieved, by the grace of God.