Kopua is a hidden treasure of the Church in New Zealand. That it is hidden is not by chance. It’s a Cistercian monastery, and so seclusion is part of its nature and purpose.
That doesn’t mean that Kopua, tucked away in the rolling hills of Tararua, is enclosed. In fact, part of the Cistercian charism is to offer hospitality through the monastery guest house, and all are welcome to the seven times of prayer which punctuate the monks’ day.
Kopua (www.kopuamonastery.org.nz) has been enjoying something of a revival in recent years. Parts of the monastery have been rebuilt, in a contemporary rendition of the ancient Cistercian principle of noble simplicity, which extends to the design of all that makes up a monastery. Also, a native tree–planting project now offsets the dairy farming on the fields that make up the property.
With this physical revitalisation, there has also been a welcome increase in the number of monks at Kopua. Notwithstanding visa hurdles, four monks have arrived from the Cistercian monastery on Guimaras Island in the Philippines. Brothers Aelred, Anselm, Gregory and Raphael are all surviving the New Zealand winter, have happily settled in, and have applied for stability; the monastic equivalent of permanent residency. For them, among the many blessings of Kopua are the deep silence of the countryside and the dark star-lit night skies.
God’s providence has brought a further blessing to Kopua in the person of Brother Jonathan Craven. He is a local vocation. Jonathan grew up in Marton and went to Palmerston North Boys’ High School, before university, work and time overseas. Recently he “received the habit” (part of it actually, as the black full-length scapular comes further down the formation track). This is a sacred ritual that marks the transition from postulant to novice.
Jonathan has enthusiastically embraced the life of prayer, contemplation, study, manual work and hospitality. He says: “It’s been easier than I imagined to enter into the simplicity of the life. In its own way, it’s joyful, and the community has helped me in the practical aspects of the life. Thanks be to God, I feel at peace here”.
If a travel bubble opens with Australia, Jonathan will continue his novitiate at Tarrawarra Abbey near Melbourne, where there are other novices, before returning to Kopua.
Otherwise, who knows, please God someone may join him in formation here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
This article featured in the N.Z. Catholic paper.