Monday, December 30, 2013

My article about things to do this winter in January issue of WNY Family Magazine

Here is a link to my article about fun things to do in the winter, both outdoors and indoors, in the January 2014 issue of Western New York Family Magazine

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My article on the Abbey of the Genesee in the National Catholic Register

RURAL RETREAT. The rural setting of the Abbey of the Genesee and quiet church invite visitors to prayer; the bread shop — stocked with fresh-baked bread and other treats by the monks — is also a draw for visitors. Christine A. Smyczynski      
Feast on Monks’ Bread and Prayer in New York State
By Christine A. Smyczynski
Nestled in the tiny village of Piffard, among the gently rolling hills of the Genesee River Valley, about 35 miles south of Rochester, N.Y., stands the Abbey of the Genesee, a community of contemplative monks, Cistercians of Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappists. The brothers have dedicated themselves to a cloistered life of prayer and manual labor. They also observe silence, only speaking when necessary.
The 35 monks gather for prayer five times a day, beginning at 2:25am and ending in early evening. The public is invited to join them for prayer in the church, which is open daily from 2am-7pm.
On my most recent visit, I joined about two dozen other people in the church. The church is very peaceful, dimly lit on purpose, and silence must be observed. It is the perfect place to come and contemplate all the things on one’s heart.
The monks slowly and silently filed in; at the appointed time, a bell rang, and they began singing hymns, which were followed by a reading and the Our Father. They then all filed out in silence.
The Abbey of the Genesee is probably best known for the physical nourishment it offers. When the abbey was first established in 1951, Brother Sylvester, one of the abbey’s founders, began baking bread for the monks and visitors, using his own recipe. Soon, guests started asking to purchase the bread to take home. The monks decided to start a small bakery and began making “monks bread.”
The operation grew, and the monks began operating a large modern bakery, which supports the abbey financially to this day. The bread is sold at the abbey’s bread store, as well as in major supermarkets in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.
“The bread was made fresh this morning,” Steven, the cashier at the abbey’s bread store, told me. It smelled great in the store, and I had a difficult time deciding which kind to buy. Varieties include white, wheat, raisin with cinnamon, sunflower with rolled oats, maple cinnamon, 20-grain, 20-grain with golden raisins and rye. They also make a holiday bread, a sweet loaf with candied fruit peel and cinnamon, during the Christmas and Easter seasons. Because of their unique texture, the breads freeze very well, so visitors stock up.
The monks also make a variety of sweets, including brownies and fruit cakes. They also carry fruit spreads, jams and candies produced at other monasteries, as well as locally made Once Again nut butters, at the store. They even have several cookbooks, most written by monks. Can’t make it to the abbey? The bread and other items can be ordered online at
In the foyer outside the bread store, a variety of books about saints and other Catholic topics are available for purchase. Keeping up with technology, they even had “the Bible to Go” — the New Testament on a USB flash drive.
If spending an hour or two at the abbey doesn’t seem like enough time, silent monastic-style retreats are offered to both individuals and groups.
“These are not themed retreats,” said Father Jerome Machar, prior of the abbey. “People are encouraged to just come and pray with us.”
Retreatants are encouraged to participate in the daily prayers; however, they are not obligated to. Time is allowed for quiet contemplation and walks on the grounds of the abbey. The retreats are offered throughout the year at the on-site retreat houses.
As I put the fragrant bread in my car, I knew I couldn’t possibly wait to get home to have some. I sampled both the rye and the 20-grain. Then, eyeing the nut butter I bought, I remembered that I had some plastic cutlery in the car, so I made myself a nut-butter sandwich on 20-grain slices. Delicious.