In Ages Past
Thomas Verner Moore and the Carthusians
He found his answer in the Benedictine community, whose motto is Ora Et Labora ("pray and work"). Since the Middle Ages, the Benedictines balanced a love of learning with a rich communal prayer life. In his late forties, Moore left the Paulists to undergo monastic training in Scotland. Back in America, he founded St. Anselm's Abbey near the Catholic University campus. He continued teaching there, and he headed the psychiatry and psychology department.
During his long academic career, he would write over twenty books, many of them dealing with the relationship between religion and psychology. At a time when many Catholics were skeptical of the new science of psychology, Moore set out to show that science and religion were not incompatible, but could reinforce and help one another. Another focus of his research was child psychology, and he was particularly interested in working with developmentally disabled youth.
In 1947, at age seventy, Moore retired from Catholic University. For several years he had felt a call to live the contemplative life more deeply, so he applied to the Carthusians, the strictest of all monastic orders. There were none in the United States, however, so he applied to a Spanish charterhouse. When he left the United States to begin his training, he never expected to return home again.
The Carthusians are something of a contradiction, a group of hermits, living in community. In a day punctuated by manual labor, Mass, and common prayers, the monk's primary work takes place in his cell, where he lives alone with God. The schedule has changed little in the last millennium. In their solitude they are "dead to the world." So complete is their anonymity that all gravestones read only, "A Carthusian." St. Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuit founder, considered it the highest form of religious life.
Under the name Dom Pablo, Moore was the first American citizen to make solemn vows in the order. Soon his superiors suggested he start an American charterhouse.
In Vermont, one Elizabeth Pierce planned to join a religious community, and she wanted to dispose of her 550-acre estate called Sky Farm. Moore's friends Louise and Robert Hoguet arranged for its transfer to the Carthusians. In April 1951 the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration received official approval.
For ten years, Moore lived at Sky Farm, until failing health and age forced his retirement to Spain, where he died at ninety-two. A year after his death, the American charterhouse moved to a larger and more secluded spot at Mount Equinox, Vermont, where it remains today, still the only Carthusian monastery in North America.
Thomas Verner Moore excelled in whatever field he pursued: teaching, medicine, or ministry. From the post-Civil War South to bustling Manhattan, from sunny California to the fields of France, from Washington, D.C., to postwar Spain, his was a life of multifaceted activity, in all of which he made his mark. But it was also a progression toward the fullness of contemplation, a journey toward the "Great Silence" where one lives alone with God and is seen no more to the world.
[The website for St. Hugh's Charterhouse in the United Kingdom offers an outstanding look at the Carthusian life.]
Dr. Pat McNamara is a published historian. He blogs about American Catholic History at McNamara's Blog.