Over at the blog formerly known as Crunchy Con, Rod Dreher has discovered Mother Noella Marcellino, the famous cheese nun of Regina Laudis Abbey in Bethlehem, CT. Impressed with an account of her rap analogizing cheese maturation to the contemplative life, Dreher asks if there’s anywhere he can buy some of the cheese she makes:
Because I’d sure like to support these holy women and their good work.
And I’d like to eat some good cheese, too.
As it happens, I was having lunch (yep, including some of that tasty Bethlehem cheese) with Mother Noella last Saturday, and I’m sorry to have to report that there’s none for sale. At this point they’re making just six cheeses a week, all for the consumption of themselves and their guests. Mother Noella, a microbiologist as well as Abbey choir-mistress, is spending much of her time these days writing articles on artisanal cheese-making in America and the history of cheese itself. She figures it originated with some Bedouin transporting milk across the desert in a dried calf’s stomach.
Holy the Benedictine nuns of Regina Laudis no doubt are. They’re also 37 of the smartest, hard-working, Ph.D.-carrying, organic-farming, Gregorian-chanting women you’re ever likely to meet. Each year, they welcome the students in Trinity’s program on Guided Studies in Western Civilization to day of work and (at least vicarious) prayer, beginning with morning Mass and ending with Vespers in their fabulous wooden church.
For the students, it’s an unforgettable opportunity to experience for themselves something of the life of those cloistered medieval people they’ve studied. (Probably the closest thing to Regina Laudis in the Middle Ages was the community of learned nuns Heloise presided over at the Paraclete.) It’s also a reminder of the central place of the vita contemplativa through most of the history of Catholicism. Amidst all the sturm und drang these days over the Church’s public actions and responsibilities, it’s worth bearing in mind that it was contemplative Mary, not active Martha, whom Jesus praised as having the better part.