I’m a senior undergraduate student at SUNY Geneseo studying English literature. I became interested in the study of intentional communities through an English course at Geneseo that explored renewable futures in terms of climate-fiction (literature focused on the anxieties brought on by climate change and the future of the human race) as well as historical accounts of sustainable communities from the 1900s to present day United States. In that course, we briefly discussed Walden and the influence it had on more recent accounts of sustainable living outside of the mainstream culture. Although we analyzed the sense of obligation that caused people to establish these communities, we also focused on these communities’ overall failures or problematic developments as they grew in size. Notably, the back-to-the-land-movement of the 1970s and the tiny house movement are examples of communities that built on Thoreau’s vision but ultimately collapsed or contradicted Thoreau’s message.
Upon entering into this COPLAC course, I had never really heard the term “intentional community” used before. However, the word “intentional” encompasses Thoreau’s concept of living “deliberately.” Instead of focusing on living and working within an established system, some intentional communities strive to separate themselves. Their conscious living tends to center around larger issues; environmental concerns, rejection of national values or principles, or the scope of the relationship between individual and the larger community are some motives that we’ve read about, causing people to create their own or become members of an existing intentional community.
The Abbey of the Genesee in nearby Piffard, NY represents a well-established order of monks who seek a life of contemplative worship and quiet solitude while also participating in a profitable bread-making business. They value a simplistic lifestyle dedicated solely to worship and internalized observation of their faith. The monks’ community has thrived for 66 years, an indication to my teammate Cody and I that members are fully committed to the principles which founded the community in 1951. Although the monks are members of a larger institution, the Order of Cisterians of the Strict Observance, Cody and I think it is valuable to study the monks within the context of the local community to see how the abbey does or does not interact with the “outside” world. Through spending time speaking to the monks and touring their facilities, we will situate the monastery within the context of other intentional communities and better understand the inner workings of this esteemed brotherhood.
I am also a student at SUNY Geneseo. I am a senior political science major and my future plans are unsure but I am both interested in mission work overseas and possibly law school later in my life. I was not aware of the idea of an intentional community before this course but I was reasonably aware of the examples of what intentional communities would look like. This comes from history books plus what I learned about communes from “Doonesbury” and “Bloomfield County”. In those comics there are examples of communes, but I have since been made aware that no penguins with exceptionally large noses live in any communes today.
In the class that this project is for I was introduced to old intentional communities in America, and saw how different the communities that existed from the very religious Shakers to modern communes that may be spiritual but are not at all religious. However, when examining intentional communities I believe that one should heed the warning by Wendell Berry about them. “The intentional community idea assumes that when you say love your neighbor as yourself you have some kind of right to go out and pick your neighbor. I think that the ideal of loving your neighbor has to take on the possibility that he may be somebody you’re going to have great difficulty loving or liking or even tolerating.”
I also have had much experience with the monks of The Abbey of The Genesee due to my involvement with the Catholic Community at Geneseo. I had already been on a couple of retreats at the Monastery and had visited a handful of other times before I took this class. This experience has helped our project because I have some background knowledge on the Abbey and some idea on how the monks live their lives.
My goal for this class is to understand the relation between the Abbey of the Genesee and other intentional communities along with a better understanding on how the Abbey of the Genesee accomplishes or does not accomplish the goals that it sets out. These are both difficult because it is quite hard to understand the success of a community that does not use a common understanding of success that most of society uses such as material or emotional well being.
I found that further interviews with the monks of the Abbey was beneficial in understanding how the monastery relates to the outside world.
In the course text, Utopia Drive: A Road Trip Through America’s Most Radical Idea, by Erik Reece 2015, one chapter that pertained directly to our community was the Thomas Merton chapter. Thomas Merton was a monk at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, the monastery that helped form the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard. Utopia Drive references many other intentional communities; it is an excellent introductory source for interested readers. Merton Hall and many of the books featured at the Abbey of the Genesee commemorate his life.