North Dakota monks: A day in the life

What’s it like to live out a monastic lifestyle in Richardton, N.D., of all places?

Assumption Abbey and St. Mary's Church in Richardton, pictured above, are where the monks live and serve. (M.C. Amick/The Dickinson Press)
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RICHARDTON, N.D. -- Brother Michael Taffe, of the Assumption Abbey, is a monk on multiple missions. His primary mission incorporates his lifelong practice of religious asceticism through monastic living, but his new mission is to break through years of popular fiction and deep rooted misconceptions about people like him — monks.

Friar Tuck, Brother Athelstan, Frère Jacques are what many picture when they hear "monk," but it is something that those who heed the calling hope to change.

Taffe said that as a monk, he and others like him accept suffering but do not necessarily seek it out.

“We don’t seek it out, but we accept it… We have to live an ascetic lifestyle but there’s also time for celebrating… We have to be able to celebrate because life is a gift and we have to be able to acknowledge it with joy,” Taffe said.

For Taffe, being a good Christian means being able to be joyful.


Taffe noted that even with their structured everyday routine, the monks still find time to do things other people do such as sitting down together every Saturday with various refreshments, which can consist of various types of wine and beer.

Wine is even sold at Assumption Abbey, located just outside Richardton, about 25 miles east of Dickinson. In fact, the abbey has a wine cellar which Taffe said, is one of two air-conditioned rooms in the Abbey, the other being the kitchen. During the winter, Taffe said, all rooms have heat.

It should be noted that the monks do not make the wine at Assumption Abbey; Brookside Winery in Guasti, Calif., makes the wine, according to the Assumption Abbey website. The winery pays the abbey a royalty fee for use of the name “Assumption Abbey.”

Taffe said the monks are Benedictine monks, meaning they follow the Rule of St. Benedict summed up in the motto “ora et labora,” which translates to pray and work.

The monks do just that. Every day, at 6:20 a.m., they gather together to pray the psalms.

“The early Christians we know went to the temple twice a day to pray and also got together for the agape meal or what we call ‘the Eucharist’...within the first couple centuries, we know that they were gathered together in praying the psalms so we continue that today,” Taffe said.

They then have breakfast in silence which Taffe said, allows them to be open to God and others.

Taffe said this lasts for about a half-hour. After that, the monks go their separate ways for some quiet scripture meditation.


At about 8 a.m., the monks go to work, whatever that may be, whether household chores or in their normal trades.

All priests are monks but not all monks are priests, Tafe said, only those who are ordained are priests. The other monks, Taffe said, are involved in a variety of trades and occupations. Some are professors, teachers, gardeners, bakers, mechanics and more.

“It can be in the maintenance department, someone might be writing a homily, doing some writing, teaching the junior monks, cleaning, other times your gardening

Taffe is not only a volunteer EMT, he is a trained psychologist which he believes to have given him the training to be a skillful listener.

“The first word in ‘The Rule of Benedict’ is ‘listen.’ In fact, ‘obey’ in Latin, comes from the word ‘listen,’ ‘obsculta,’” Taffe said. “... As a psychologist, a lot of my training was in listening, and being able... to ask questions to help that person go deeper.”

Taffe said the skill of listening is something anyone can acquire with practice.

At 11:40 a.m.,the monks come together for noon prayer which lasts for about 20 minutes.

Taffe said they work until around 12:30p.m. and then meet together for lunch with a brief break afterwards. At around 1 p.m., Taffe and his brothers resume their work.


Work then ends at 5 p.m. and the brothers gather for nightly mass and prayer. After mass, Supper will begin at 6 p.m. during which a book is being read to all who are present.

Before 7 p.m., they are allowed some free time to do pretty much whatever they desire. At 7 p.m., they meet together again for evening prayer called, “vespers,” which is where instead of reciting, they sing psalms. After that, they spend 30 minutes doing another meditative scripture reading.

The monks meet one last time for compline at 8 p.m. Afterwards, the monks have about another one hour of free time until 10 p.m. Then, all talking and technology is put on hold for what Taffe calls “the grand silence,” lasting until the next morning.

Taffe said this silence only applies to general conversation, it can be disturbed if an emergency situation should arise.

“If there’s a fire, you’re going to talk… It has to be for an important reason… You don’t just have a conversation to have a conversation,” Taffe added.

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