Society of Saint John the Evangelist re-opens Harvard Square monastery to public

September 20, 2011

The Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE) Sept. 17 re-opened its Harvard Square monastery with a "service of thanksgiving" to celebrate the conclusion of a 2-year $11 million renovation of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, building.

The buildings, complete with 1930s original wiring, plumbing and asbestos, had deteriorated to the point where they needed "urgent and major work," according to a fact sheet from the society. Electrical, plumbing, fire protection, heating, windows and ventilation systems were all modernized during the renovation for greater safety and efficiency. The building has been made code compliant and is now far more accessible for the physically challenged, the fact sheet said.

In addition, the stained glass windows received their first cleaning since 1936 and 75 years of accumulated coal soot (from the original heating system), paraffin (from candles) and particulate matter (from incense) was removed from the chapel walls.

A Coptic cross, made in a foundry in Cairo, will become the monastery's processional cross. The Monastery Bell has been refurbished and fitted with a new clapper for a brighter, more brilliant chime. The bell rings seven times for the office, 12 times for the Eucharist. The chapel was fitted with new wrought iron altar gates.

"Our experience of having to raise money and rebuild this monastery has actually helped us to understand more deeply the vital mission to which we believe we have been called by God," Brother Superior Geoffrey Tristram said during the service. "It has also helped us to understand just how much we brothers need all those who have stepped forward to help us, how much our friends and supporters are an integral part of our mission. What a blessing it is to know our need for one another as members of the body of Christ."

Founded in the parish of Cowley in Oxford, England in 1866, SSJE was the first stable religious community of men to be established in the Anglican Church since the Reformation, according to a press release. The society was founded with the intention to be both contemplative in prayer and actively responsive to the world. The brothers' decision in 1936 to locate a monastery in Harvard Square is an example of their mission to offer a place of calm and contemplation in the heart of the city. The monastery was built on land purchased for the society by philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner.

"Our mission is to stand in the full flow of the modern life whilst at the same time inviting men and women to stop, to be still, to reflect and in that quiet place to know and receive the love of God," Tristram said in the release.

Worshippers and retreatants are welcome to come and pray and remain completely anonymous, if they wish. Guests typically, like the 17 brothers, spend most of their time in silence. The monastery is open six days a week. SSJE has an international community of associates in the Fellowship of Saint John. They maintain a retreat house in West Newbury, Massachusetts, in addition to the guesthouse at the monastery in Harvard Square, and welcome more than 2,000 guests each year.