Father Feeney

By DAVE O'BRIAN  |  October 9, 2009

Not surprisingly, it got to the point where fistfights between people in the crowd and the Feeneyites became more frequent and it became obvious, surely even to Feeney himself, that the press, which he had once used so well to further his cause, was turning against him and the great mass of Catholics in Boston were not going to flock to his Cambridge front door.

So to hell with them all, the Feeneyites said, and it was off to communal living for them.
 
Community Celibacy
And so, communal living it is, as Brother Paschal pointed out, in the tradition of St. Benedict—which, ironically, is much like the life-styles of some hippie communes but in the Catholic Church dates back to the fifth century.

Most of the commune’s food and milk come from their herd of cattle—only when the cows go dry are they butchered and eaten.  There are also vegetable gardens, chickens, horses, sheep, grape arbors and apple trees all nestled in the beautiful, unspoiled 160-acre tract of land overlooking Fort Devens.  Just down the road is the spot where Fruitlands, the transcendental commune of the 19th century, was located.  It’s now a museum.

The barns and buildings, as well as a dog house, are named after saints.  The statues of the Virgin Mary are everywhere, even looking over the flock of hens that, it turns out, are owned by the dissident group.

There are—or were—married couples at the commune and at first there were young children.  But, again in the Benedictine tradition, they were all required to take vows of celibacy and, quite logically, there have been no children born at the commune since.  The youngest have now reached the age of 18, get all their schooling on the farm, and there will be no more new Feeneyites to come after they’re gone, although there have been, according to the brothers, 10 or so recruits over the years.

Amazingly, however, most of the commune’s members are Harvard and Radcliffe students who have stayed with it all the way.  That’s the case with Brothers Gabriel and Paschal and with Brother Bartholomew, the only other commune member who would speak with us—though most nodded with friendly, unconcerned smiles as though reporters and photographers were a common sight.

Leaning against the wall of the gym the brothers built themselves, Brother Bartholomew, a pleasant, craggy-faced man, explained that he was a 26-year-old commercial artist at a Boston-area school in 1949 when he happened into St. Benedict’s one day and his life was totally changed.  Now he repairs all the commune’s cars, trucks, and farm vehicles—a skill he learned in the army—and he, like the others, is bursting with pride that the experiment has worked.  “It’s the belief that has kept us together,” he says, explaining that Christ founded the church on St. Peter, the rock, and all that.

“If you’re going to write about us,” he said as another Brother trotted endlessly around the track, “I hope you’ll say that we’ve made this thing work.”  Will there be any change now that it looks like the commune—or at least half of it—is finding its way back into the good graces of the church?  “None.  We’ll stay here, but maybe some of the others will come to see us.  I’ve almost forgotten what it was like to be in Cambridge—we’ve been out here so long.  But we have no desire to go back.”

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