On Thursday July 26, my second full day in Prague, I was privileged to visit the Benedictine monastery of Brevnov on the outskirts of Prague with my new friends from the bishops’ conference, along with our guide, Benedictine Father Ales.

Brevnov, the first monastery on Bohemian land, was founded in 993 (!) by Duke Boleslav and by Prague’s second archbishop, St. Adalbert. It kept its Romanesque features until the the mid-13th century and was one of the most significant institutions of the land, eventually becoming a “parent” monastery to others.

Over the centuries, with political vicisstudes, conflicts and economic downturns, the monastery struggled and its members, even for brief periods, had to leave for other convents. There were years when the priests returned, years of rebuilding and prosperity that alternated with years of struggle and hardships.

The brewery – the brewers, the malt, some tasting, the hops –

Much of what you see today at Brevnov, the many buildings used for the hotel, the restaurant, and the brewery and the many rooms available for academic groups and for pilgrims and retreats date from the 17th century.

The earliest foundations – 

From the 1950s under the communists to the 1990 return of buildings to the Benedictines, the main convent was the seat of the State Secret Police! This happened in many instances for Church property in the communist years – sometimes total destruction, sometimes partial devastation and more often ecclesiastical buildings were confiscated to use for prisons, hospitals or offices of communist officials.

The grounds –

This is all important to know when we look at the post-communist years, from 1990 on, when parishes, monasteries, convents, dioceses with their buildings and offices – all had to do enormous rebuilding, both material and spiritual.

Rooms and halls open to groups for study, retreats, etc.

Father Ales, in addition to spending hours with us and explaining every nook and cranny of Brevnov as well as the spiritual and material rebuilding, gave me a small booklet on the history of this monastery. I was still grappling with the fact I was spending the day at a living, breathing, working monastery that was 1,025 years old!

The booklet noted that, among the vicissitudes of history, “certain forms of monastic life have changed throughout the centuries. The monks had to react to the changes in society in which their convents belonged and where they were active. There is, however, one significant constant: the day of the monks is now, as it was a thousand years ago and in compliance with the Rule of St. Benedict, divided between prayer (public liturgy, ie, the Mass and the Divine Office, as well as private prayer) and work.”

The church of St. Margaret –

Today, in addition to the St. Adalbert hotel, the great restaurant and the brewery and a small publishing house, the monastery is a fully functioning parish of St. Margaret.

I immensely enjoyed my visit to this Benedictine monastery and so wished that I could have just registered at the hotel to spend a few days in the calm and peace of this abbey and the Czech countryside.

Here we are, over a post prandial coffee, reflecting on our memorable visit to Brevnov monastery –

I focus on monasteries, the ones that I visited in the Czech Republic, because, in case you did not know it, staying at a monastery in most European nations is an eminently doable possibility for travellers. Your mind will whirl with ideas if you start an Internet search on this possibility!

But start here, near Prague, at Brevnov monastery!


Happy New Year!

I am so grateful for all of you who read this column and follow me on Facebook, on my radio program, Vatican Insider and on TV with “Joan’s Rome” videos and my participation in “At Home with Jim and Joy.” I remembered all of you in prayer, those whom I know and those who are unseen, those who asked for prayers for special intentions and those whose intentions remained in their hearts.

As I wrote to a colleague: May 2018 be so special that you will have difficulty finding words to describe it!

I got back to Rome yesterday, following an amazing and fun-filled nine-day Christmas vacation in the Chicago area, meeting up with some cousins, a sister in law, several of my nine nieces and nephews and their children, and the latest of my 23 great nieces, Maren, age 5 months. I also enjoyed spending time with a number of friends from the archdiocese, and made a new friend as well, a fellow member of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

As I rejoiced over this new life (and another one due in June!), I also mourned the loss of a cousin who died of a heart attack the morning of December 24 as he was on his way to Mass! For me the tragedy of such a sudden death took on a special meaning when I considered that Tom was on his way to Mass! I hope that might ease the pain a bit for Deborah who survives him.

The one thing that bound us all together in those days was the extreme cold! The average temperature was 0 or even a bit below for most of the time I was in Chicago. And that’s not counting the so-called wind chill factor! For the first ten minutes of my taxi ride to the airport on Tuesday, in a residential area, we did not see a single human being! No one, not s single person, walking on the sidewalks, going into or coming out of stores, gas stations, etc. It was quite astounding when you think about it.

As I catch up on work, prepare Vatican Insider for this weekend and get back in the groove with At Home with Jim and Joy, I take more time than normally needed as I continue to learn the new computer, how it has changed so many ways I work, etc. I have a lot of photos I want to post and perhaps even a video I took after sunset in St. Peter’s Square bnut it is quite late and I hear a dinner bell ringing. Or is that hunger pains?

In any case, photos will be posted tomorrow, in particular of the joyful Christmas Day I spent with other volunteers for Catholic Charities as we fed hundreds of homeless! A truly inspirational and very rewarding day!


Pope Francis sent a telegram on Thursday to the apostolic nuncio in Peru to express his condolences for the victims of a deadly bus crash in Peru and to express his closeness to their families.

A bus carrying 55 passengers, the driver and an assistant, plunged 100 feet on Tuesday along a stretch of road known as Devil’s Bend and landed on a rocky isolated stretch of beach north of Lima, with no road access. The Peruvian police said early investigations showed that a truck was also involved in the accident, and Peru’s Minister of Transport tweeted that both vehicles had been travelling at excessive speeds. Police say the truck driver survived the crash and was detained.

As of Thursday, 51 people are known to have died. The Peruvian president said Wednesday he had given orders to widen an alternative route so as to close this dangerous stretch to traffic. In the meantime, busses are banned from using the road.

The papal telegram was sent by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin in the name of Pope Francis. It reads:

“The Holy Father was deeply saddened at the tragic news of the road accident which occurred in Pasamayo, claiming many victims, and offers prayers for the eternal repose of the souls of the deceased. I ask Your Excellency to convey His Holiness’ condolences, along with expressions of consolation to the relatives who mourn such a painful loss, as well as his spirit spiritual closeness to the wounded, while asking the Lord to pour upon them all the gifts of spiritual serenity and Christian hope. As a pledge, the Holy Father imparts his heartfelt apostolic blessing.”


(Prague Radio – English edition) – Pope Francis has given his consent to the transport of the remains of Cardinal Josef Beran to the Czech Republic, the ambassador to the Holy See Pavel Vošalík told the Czech News Agency on Wednesday. Cardinal Beran was persecuted by the Communist regime and was eventually exiled to Rome, where he died in 1969. He was buried in the Vatican because the Czechoslovak communist authorities didn’t approve the return of his body to his homeland. He is the only Czech buried in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.

Cardinal Beran, who died May 17, 1969, served as the archbishop of Prague from 1946 until his death and was elevated into the cardinalate in 1965. His cause of canonization commenced in 1997 and this bestowed upon him the title of Servant of God.