By NANCY CZABALA
MONCKS CORNER — Expanding a Lowcountry landmark, the Major Gifts Campaign Board of Mepkin Abbey, is pushing forward with the second phase of the $5 million Mepkin Fund Appeal begun in 1997. Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery, is raising funds for a capital building program that includes a theological library, an assisted-living wing and the renovation and expansion of the dining facilities.
The Major Gifts Campaign, building on the $2.5 million already raised, will focus on contributions from individuals and foundations from throughout the nation, particularly those in the Southeast. Norma Palms, honorary chair of the Major Gifts Board, said, “The generosity of those who understand the value of Mepkin’s availability to all as a place of sanctuary, a center for the arts and a resource for historical and environmental stewardship will assure this campaign’s success.”
The construction of The Clare Boothe Luce Library, named for the author and stateswoman who donated the Mepkin property to the Trappists in the late 1940s, began in March. In December of 1997, The Henry Luce Foundation contributed $1.6 million to the library’s construction. Henry and Clare Boothe Luce and family members are buried in the ageless gardens on the abbey property.
The 11,000-square-foot theological library will house an extraordinary collection, strong in theology, philosophy, biography, history and Sacred Scripture. The 35,000-volume collection, including 300 rare editions, is considered by scholars to be one of the best of its kind in the Southeast. Eventually the library will house 80,000 volumes, obtained through the hard work of Abbot Francis Kline, who is continually adding to the collection modern editions, as well as hidden treasures.
A climate-controlled, fireproof archives room will house some of the rarest collections, including Patrologiae-Series Latina, Patrologiae-Series Graeca, Dizionario degli Istituti de Perfezione and Source Chretiennes. The abbey has offered to house historic material, deeds, charters and church family records for small, primarily African-American churches, in the Carolina coastal region, who do not have access to a modern storage area. The offer has been enthusiastically received by local congregations.
The library will also feature private study carrels and a conference room with seating for 50 or 150 as an auditorium. Modem access for personal computers and a link to the Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET) of the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) will provide connection to virtually all university and specialized libraries of the world. SOLINET is an exclusive worldwide organization. After learning about the collection, they wanted to know how fast we could get on-line with them, said Deb Campeau, project manager. The past two years a team of volunteers have been diligently working to code and organize the collection for an on-line database.
“Our goal is to provide an excellent environment for reading, research and study by individuals of all faiths,” said Father Kline. Completion of the library is expected in the Spring of 1999.
A 12-room, assisted-living wing is being built to allow for the safe and compassionate care of the older monks and to provide additional room for new members joining the monastic community. The monks are committed to allowing their members to “age in place” in the hospice tradition, but current facilities are inappropriate for such care.
The third part of the building program involves the renovation and expansion of the guest dining room and kitchen. Hospitality is a cornerstone of monastic tradition and each year Mepkin Abbey hosts nearly 10,000 visitors, many are retreatants and others attend musical performances, lectures, religious services or just visit the Luce Gardens and award-winning Abbey Church. The expansion of the dining room and kitchen facility will help meet the demands of increasing numbers of visitors.
The 30 monks of Mepkin Abbey belong to the Cistercian-Trappists, a Roman Catholic order founded in 1098 A.D. There are 99 houses of men and 66 houses of women in the order worldwide. In 1848, Trappists established the first monastery in the United States at Gethsemani, Ky.
Established in 1949, the Mepkin Abbey community supports itself through a commercial egg, compost and tree farming operations. The monks live in community, committed to a life of prayer, scriptural study, manual labor and hospitality.