Manquehue Community settle at Downside

Five young women arrived from Chile in January 2015, to set up a lay Benedictine Community close to Downside Abbey in Somerset.

They are members of the Manquehue Apostolic Movement, which is a movement that originates in Chile but which has always had close links with the English Benedictine Congregation. In various ways, members of the Movement have been coming to English Benedictine schools in special friendship for over thirty years. It has been a great pleasure to welcome members of our newly named “St Scholastica Community”; they bring a wonderful sense of spiritual joy and commitment with them.

The community that has come to settle at Downside resembles other monasteries in their care for the Prayer of the Church (St Benedict’s Opus Dei) and their shared work and mission. They bring two special evangelical practices. One is Lectio Divina, a way of encountering Christ through the prayerful reading of Scripture with shared responses to what is read. The other is spiritual friendship, where communities discover that the true foundation of their life together is friendship in Christ.

They are based in two houses on the edge of the Downside grounds which have been a dairy, music school and bursary at various times in the past. They now have their own enclosure and chapel; here they have a private area based on the model of a Benedictine monastery. They can also receive guests and offer hospitality in the true Benedictine tradition.
They are helping the Benedictine monks with their evangelical mission in their schools and local parishes, where Lectio Divina in small groups is becoming an integral part of many people’s lives. The community will be in the United Kingdom for two years and they now have the opportunity to reach out more widely. Former pupils of Benedictine schools will be able to contact the community and find encouragement and support for their own vocations as missionary disciples.

The Prior, Fr Leo said, “Having the Manquehue community close to our monastery gives us a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other and to discover fresh ways of communicating the Benedictine life and tradition to young people in today’s world.”

Downside School is inevitably the main beneficiary of their presence, as the St Scholastica team supports the active work of the chaplaincy. Head Master Dr James Whitehead comments, “What is truly special about the contribution of the Manquehue team is the way in which they communicate Gospel values to young people with a sense of energy, friendliness and joy. There is a real sense of the Holy Spirit working through them to communicate the Gospel message. The practice of Lectio Divina has therefore become an established part of our school routine and is seen to be both spiritually uplifting and useful by our pupils and staff. The benefit to the pastoral life of the school is also tangible in the high quality of the relationships formed between our pupils, based on prayer and reflection, as well as upon all the other many aspects of a busy school life. As we focus on the principle of Servant Leadership within the school, and encourage our young people to consider opportunities for service as an enriching part of their lives, the St Scholastic community embodies a living example of this principle. In an engaging, joyful way, our Chilean team helps to make living a Christ-centred life seem accessible and relevant”.