The economy of Polish monasteries: Between the charismatic and routinisation stage

Isabelle Jonveaux

Economy is a very important aspect of monastic life and essential to its existence; monks and nuns must fulfil the needs of the surrounding community. However, the economic activities of monasteries are not, for the most part, a result of religiously motivated decisions by the communities but are instead the fruit of the political and social history of the host country. The economy and work activities of Polish monasteries in the specific context of that country are presented here. For France and Italy, see Jonveaux (2011a), and for Austria, Jonveaux (2018).

In comparison to other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, for example, the Czech Republic or Hungary, Polish religious life, including monastic communities did not suffer severe suppression during the Communist era. Although we may observe a ‘revival of monastic life’ since 1989 (Gorniak-Kocikowska 2016, p. 164), it does not necessarily indicate a complete ‘restoration’ of religious orders. Polish monasteries and other religious orders had previously been subjected to a long period of disruption before Communist rule: ‘Most of them had been resolved in the 19th century and just some of them were re-established in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ (Jewdokimow 2015, p. 227). Others were reopened much later, during the 1980s/1990s, for example, the Cistercian monastery of Sulejow, which was closed due to secularisation in 1819 and canonically restored in 1993, after having been used as a hotel in the 1970s. In Poland then, we examine the first group of monasteries, restored up until the 1950s, yet another group restored only in the 1980s and 1990s and, in addition, more recent foundations. So what is the difference in the way they experience economy and work?

Poland, post-Communism, is the country with the highest number of Catholic contemplative monasteries in Central and Eastern Europe, specifically, monasteries living under the Rule of St Benedict, compared with other countries studied in this volume (Table 5.1):

In a geographic context, Poland represents an exception. In this chapter, I examine some particular characteristics of the economy of Polish monasteries, here focusing on monastic orders, not apostolic orders. In comparison with apostolic communities, monasteries are characterised by a

Table 5.1 Number of male and female monasteries living under the Rule of St Benedict in Central and Eastern European countries (Alliance Intermonastique 2020)

Male

Female

Total

Croatia

1

8

9

Hungary

9

3

12

Lithuania

1

2

3

Poland

12

62

74

Czech Republic

6

3

9

Romania

0

4

4

Slovakia

2

0

2

Slovenia

2

0

2

Source: This table was compiled from the list of monasteries for each country on the Alliance Intermonastique (AIM) homepage, http://aimintl.org/fr/2015-05-29-13-29-41/europe/sLovenie (accessed 23 January 2020).

symbolic or/and material separation from the world, stability for each monk and nun residing in the monastery, and the autonomy of the monastery within the congregation or order.

Material and methodology

This article is based on empiric data Marcin Jewdokimow, Stefania Palmisano and 1 gathered from five monasteries of different orders in Poland between 2018 and 2019. We conducted field inquiries with semi- structured interviews with monks and nuns and observation in the community, while spending a few days in each community. Observation was performed in the setting of the monastery shop, during prayer or in the refectory. It must be noted that some monasteries declined to participate in our research: for example, we could not visit the Benedictine monastery of Tyniec, but 1 was able to use some information gained in an interview that I had conducted with the former abbot in 2012, in the framework of the General Chapter of the Congregation. 1 could also obtain information about the monastery of Biskupow, as it belongs to the same congregation.

Short presentation of monasteries studied

As the monasteries presented here belong to different orders and traditions, it is important to introduce them briefly. First, the Benedictine monastery of Biskupow was founded following a split from the abbey of Tyniec in 1987. The 12 monks of the community had an average age of 39 years when it became an independent priory in 2012. Both monasteries belong to the Congregation of Annunciation, which is an international Benedictine congregation. Biskupow therefore comes from the same tradition as Tyniec but has distinguished itself through the integration of different elements of the Focolari movement. Tyniec, however, was founded in 1044 and is the oldest monastery in Poland.

The monastery of Jtjdrzejow, which brought Cistercian monks from the French abbey of Morimond in Burgundy, was founded in 1140 by the Jaksa- Gryfit family. The abbeys of J?drzejow and Lekno were the first two Cistercian foundations in Poland. At this time, monasticism - especially Benedictine monasticism - aimed to evangelise these regions (Derwich 1996). The monastery of J^drzejow now belongs to the Congregation ‘Reginae Mundi sue Polona’ of the Cistercian Order. This congregation now comprises nine monasteries in Poland and one in the US. The female cloistered monastery in our sample was founded in 1622 and closed due to secularisation in 1819. The sisters returned to the monastery in 1941.

I will also use some elements of both male and female monasteries of Jerusalem, but it is more difficult to compare them with the others because they are new monastic communities (Palmisano 2015) with a special connection to work, as they are employed outside the monastery.

 
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