, Muskogee, OK

August 8, 2010

Traditions continue in hills of Cherokee County

Kirk Kramer
Phoenix Staff Writer

LOST CITY — On her first full day in America, Melissa Middeldorp had just exited the monastic church at Clear Creek Abbey. The 2 1/2-hour long Mass at which her brother James had pronounced his solemn profession as a Benedictine monk was over.

James and Melissa Middeldorp are the oldest in a family of six children from Adelaide, Australia. All the incense and Gregorian chant in Oklahoma could not repress the cheekiness for which Australians are famous.

Asked how she felt after watching her brother make vows that bind him for life to his Cherokee County monastery, Melissa Middeldorp asked in response, “Apart from jet-lagged?”

She had arrived at the monastery’s guesthouse at 10 p.m. Thursday, after a day-long trip across the Pacific Ocean and half the North American continent.

It is Melissa Middeldorp’s first trip abroad. And it is the first time she has seen her brother since he left their family home in the state of South Australia six years ago to become a monk in Oklahoma.

Michael Rowe, a Catholic priest from Perth on the west coast of the country, also came for Friday’s ceremony. He has known the Middeldorps since he was a seminary student 20 years ago, when Brother James, now 26, was a small boy.

“He was always interested in the monastic life,” Rowe said of Middledorp. “A generous Australian family, the Watkinsons, took him on a trip several years ago to Europe to visit several monasteries. They also came to America and visited Clear Creek.”

Returning to Australia, Middeldorp sought Rowe’s counsel about his calling in life.

“James is a serious sort of fellow,” Rowe said. “He’s contemplative, prayerful, always looking at God’s will for his life. He decided God was calling him to be a monk.”

Middeldorp entered Clear Creek Monastery on St. Patrick’s Day, 2004.

Middeldorp’s parents, Peter and Lorna, gave their children a deeply religious upbringing. Melissa Middeldorp said the date of her brother’s profession, Aug. 6, was an important one in their close-knit family.

“It’s the anniversary of my Grandpa Middeldorp’s death,” she said. “For my grandmother, that’s made this extra special.”

A high point in the ancient ceremony of religious profession, repeated countless times since monasticism was established in the West by St. Benedict in the fifth century A.D., is the singing of the “Suscipe” by the monk making his vows.

“Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum et vivam,” chanted Middeldorp in a strong voice, with his arms raised and looking up. “Receive me, O Lord, according to thy word, and I shall live.”

Then kneeling and folding his arms on his chest, he continued with the next line from Psalm 119: “And let me not be ashamed of my hope.”

Later in the ceremony, Middeldorp received the “kiss of peace” from the abbot and all the monks. Each one embraced him and welcomed him to full membership in their monastic family.

In seclusion in the days preceding his profession, Middeldorp and his sister were reunited for the first time after the Mass.

Melissa Middeldorp will remain at Clear Creek for five days.

Later this year James Middeldorp will be allowed to visit his family at home.