“We safeguard the abbey’s religious aspect"
Filip Noël, a monk and financial administrator at Abdij van Park, still lives together with four Norbertine monks at the abbey. “If we weren’t here, it would just be an old abbey.”
Filip Noël (53, Eeklo) first visited the abbey site in 1985. “While serving in the national services, I was stationed not too far from here at De Hemptinne barracks. I came here often in the evenings. I’d already entered the order and ate with the monks, held evening prayer here, etc. I liked the peace and quiet. This abbey is very special – a hidden gem.”
What makes it such a wonderful place? “The abbey has been amazingly well-preserved. I’ve travelled throughout Europe, visiting numerous old abbeys and ruins. But something like this, that’s been so well-preserved, since 1129? No; I’ve never seen anything else like it.”
“This site just exudes history,” adds Father Filip. “You can also easily see the cultural-historical evolution here. We continue to renovate the site, too, like the peace carillon that will ring here once more on 11 November.”
Father Filip is also a member of the Averbode Abbey. “That will be my home for the rest of my life. I did live at the Abdij van Park, as a student, in the early 1990s. The monastery was already mostly empty at that time – but there were still 12 monks. The rooms might have been old and a bit run-down, but it was exactly what I wanted. We even had a ping-pong table!” he laughs.
Fellow students also really enjoyed the abbey. “A lot of my roommates spent their entire career here. Brother Frans was living in the Coach House, which was still a farm back then. If one of the students had a birthday, we would throw a party. Those would last into the wee hours,” reminisces Father Filip.
Life at the abbey
What does a day in the modern-life of the monks look like? “We rise early, which is necessary for morning prayer and the Eucharist. Otherwise, we just try to run daily life at the abbey. We make it work, thanks to our loyal staff. The abbey isn’t just a workplace; it is full of life. Everyone has their specific job,” explains Father Filip.
Noël is the abbey’s financial administrator. “In addition to the Averbode publishing house, I also monitor the Park’s cemetery, among other things. Father Jef, the prior, is responsible for all the daily concerns. He cooks during the weekend and also focuses on musical study. Father Peter is a pastor in Rotselaar and regularly helps preside over the Vespers.”
The monks pray together at scheduled times. “We have our communal prayers in the church every day. The times are worked around our schedules. Because there are only four of us here, we cannot hold a full choral prayer, unfortunately.”
The fathers are all very happy that the abbey’s undergoing renovation now, “because the patrimony must be safeguarded. And we aren’t too bothered by the work. They start in the mornings around 7 – but we’ve already been awake for a bit at that point. We don’t stay in the abbey permanently either.”
The monks also safeguard the abbey’s religious aspect. “That’s why we moved here in 2013. We carry out the pastoral care, provide services to the surrounding municipalities, etc. If we weren’t here, it would just be an old abbey. This will be the challenge in the long term,” adds Father Filip, “because fewer people are being called to the church.”
There are currently two vocational students right now, from India and the Congo. “This is thanks to our strong ties with KU Leuven,” states Father Filip. “The theology programme there brings people from all around the world to Leuven. So, there’s a possibility that young Norbertines will enter our order in the Abdij van Park,” adds Father Filip.