Go Back   Migration Help > Living in Australia > Migrant stories


Thread Tools Display Modes
Australia's last Spanish Benedictine monk dies
Old 19th January 2010, 05:38 PM   #1
Migration Help
Migration Help's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Australia
Posts: 517
Default Australia's last Spanish Benedictine monk dies


A man believed to be Australia's last remaining Spanish Benedictine monk has died at the age of 99.

Dom Paulino Gutierrez migrated from northern Spain to the West Australian Benedictine community of New Norcia as an 18-year old.

For more than 50 years, he baked the monastery's daily bread in a traditional wood-fired oven and more recently helped produce New Norcia's olive oil.

The monastery's Abbott John Herbert says Dom Paulino gave extraordinary commitment to the Benedictine community.

"In terms of work he was an extraordinary man, he was the baker in the Monastery baker for fifty years, he was involved in making the flour in the mill for a very long time," he said.

"Just about anything that you could think of work that had to be done around the monastery, Paulino was well and truly involved."

Abbott Herbert says Dom Paulino was loved and respected for his commitment.

"I think Paulino was an absolute perfect example of a very humble and a very holy monk. He said yes to everything that was asked of him, for the good of the community and of course more centrally more internally it was his way of saying yes to God," he said.

Dom Paulino will be laid to rest in New Norcia on Friday.


A must-place-to-visit if you come to WA.

Australia's only Spanish Town, New Norcia is situated 132km north of Perth, a drive of about one and a half hours. The drive also takes in the beautiful Swan Valley. New Norcia is named after the birthplace of St Benedict, the founder of the Order of Benedictine Monks. New Norcia is situated on the Moore River, in the Victoria Plains.

New Norcia is a spectacular oddity. It is Australia's only monastic town; every building is owned by a small community of Benedictine monks, including the surprisingly lively pub.

The town was founded in 1846 by a group of Spanish monks fleeing persecution in their homeland. The key figure in the early years was Dom Rosendo Salvado, who established the town as a farm and educational centre. He died in 1900, after writing extensive diaries in Spanish, English and the seven Aboriginal languages he learned. These are now being translated and may be considered one of the most comprehensive versions of Aboriginal history ever committed to paper.

The town got its Spain-in-the-bush look under Salvado's successor as abbot, Fulgentius Torres. The new leader was something of an architect and he persuaded the Vatican to send artisans to decorate his handiworks. The murals splashed over the interiors of most of those listed buildings are by Father Lesmes Lopez and they're considered to be among Australia's finest works of art.

Under Salvado, New Norcia was a mission, but in the 20th century, education was the town's major industry. Those schooled included Aboriginal children removed from their parents' custody at the behest of the governments of the day. New Norcia tour guides tend to gloss over the links with the Stolen Generations, however. If you don't ask, you'll not be told.

The two boarding schools - St Gertrude's College for Girls and St Ildephonsus College for Boys - created a relative population boom. At one point, about 250 people - both monks and staff - lived at New Norcia. When the schools were closed abruptly for economic reasons in 1991, the community was left without a purpose or an income. The population dropped to about 50 almost overnight.

Dom Chris, the prior, procurator and tourist glad-hander-in-chief at New Norcia, says: "It was a great crisis. It wasn't an easy thing for us to reinvent ourselves.

"These lovely buildings cost a huge amount in upkeep and insurance, so we couldn't just sit on our hands."

In accordance with St Benedict's rules, the town is self-sufficient. It gets no state or federal government funding. And with the school gone, the monks decided to return to other traditional industries making olive oil, bread and wine. Now, New Norcia's bread is regarded among the best in WA while the nutcake is sold in David Jones and Harrods.

The monks also decided to develop tourism, or "hospitality" as Dom Chris prefers to call it. The museum and art gallery were improved, guided tours set up and those that book in advance can "meet a monk". In practice, this is usually Dom Chris again. He seems genuinely keen to enlighten his curious audience, responding with verve to questions he must have heard a thousand times before. Yes, they do have lighter-weight habits in summer. Yes, they are allowed to drink and, no, they haven't taken a vow of silence - that's the Trappists.

Dom Chris explains the daily routine (highly structured, 5am starts, prayers seven times a day, plenty of silence and a surprising amount of wine) and the process of becoming both a monk and a member of the community. It's a drawn-out affair that involves, among other things, a vow to stay as part of the community for life and a year spent doing all the crappy jobs while a novice.

Dom Chris has been at New Norcia for 27 years, a stretch he describes as "creditable but nothing to brag about". He says he became a monk after training as a priest and deciding that it wasn't quite right for him. Another member of the monastery comes from Nigeria and others have been bankers and jackaroos.

But despite healthy visitor numbers - about 75,000 people a year - New Norcia faces a tremendous struggle to survive. It's estimated that $15 million is needed just to repair the decay in the heritage-listed buildings and the community has dwindled to just 12 monks. Four - including the abbot - have died in the past year. 99-year-old Dom Paulino, who had to give up his passion for riding quad bikes at full speed while overseeing the olive harvest, was the last remaining Spanish monk.

New Norcia belongs in a different time and place, one seemingly doomed to extinction.

But, for now, the monks battle gamely on, by force of habit, trying to keep afloat a community and a unique artistic treasure trove.
Migration Help is offline  

Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are Off
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
First Maltese mayor of Australia dies, aged 90 Migration Help Migrant stories 0 18th October 2009 07:53 PM

All times are GMT +11. The time now is 03:28 AM.
A vBSkinworks Design

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.4
Copyright ©2000 - 2020, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.