An event of historic significance in the life of the Catholic Church took place at a private ceremony in France last month, witnessed by a small number of Tyburn Nuns, the order of contemplative Benedictines whose mother house stands just yards from the site of the gallows where more than 100 martyrs died during the Reformation.
The venue was a newly opened chapel within “Maison Garnier”, the birthplace of Marie Adèle Garnier, foundress of the order, in Grancey-le-Château, near Dijon.
Mother Marilla Aw, superior general of the Tyburn Nuns, approached two kneeling priests and presented each with a medal depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady and also a crucifix which they kissed as she prayed aloud: “Escuchad, mis hijos, la llamada de Cristo como uds toman su cruz para seguir a Él …”
Crucially, she referred to them as “mis hijos” – my sons – and it was from that moment that the two priests became Tyburn Monks, the first postulants of a male branch of the order which, from London, has spread rapidly around the world over the past century.
Even just five years ago, the prospect of such male equivalents lay beyond the imagination of the most senior nuns; and the way it came about is truly astonishing.
Fr Manuel Agudelo Marin, 52, and Fr Hector Nagles Santa, 53, are from Colombia, and were respected and valued in the diocese where they exercised a “very active pastoral ministry”, with about half a century of combined experience working in parishes, teaching in seminaries and assisting their bishop. After leading highly successful retreats in Spain and Latin America, centred on the living presence of Christ in the Eucharist, they found themselves transformed by a powerful devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
This devotion extended to “dwelling with the Eucharistic Jesus”, the very essence of “Garnier spirituality” and the founding charism of her order, properly called the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre.
The two priests also felt drawn to the Order of St Benedict as they searched the world, without satisfaction, for a spiritual home where they could combine Eucharistic Adoration with contemplative prayer.
They knew nothing of the Tyburn Nuns until, following a novena, they made a deliberate effort to search online “for what we believe God wanted of us”.
“Opening the computer we found the whole screen filled with a photo of a nun – Mother Marie Adèle Garnier,” said Fr Manuel. “Then we searched for her identity and discovered the website of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart. In 2013 we contacted these Sisters and we believe that we are being led by God.”
The priests met Mother Marilla and her assistants in Rome that year, certain of their vocation as Tyburn Monks. But the nuns were hesitant, having no idea about how to establish a male order. In Colombia, the priests would also soon experience opposition from their bishop, who was reluctant to lose two of his finest men.
Negotiations continued tentatively for nearly four years until the archivist at Tyburn Convent discovered among the possessions of a recently deceased Sister a document from 1903 which changed everything. It was entitled “The Monk of the Sacred Heart” and was written by Marie Adèle Garnier. Over 33 pages it set out in detail her vision for the Tyburn Monks, even down to the colours of their habits and scapulars.
Not only was this congregation desirable in the eyes of Mother Adèle, a mystic whose Cause for Canonisation was opened in 2016, but it must be considered as established by Our Lord himself for the complete reform of the Church in the present age.
The monks, she declares, have been awaited by the Church for generations. They will be the “apostles of the end times”, like “arrows soaked with love”, and they will lead a “renewal of the flame of faith and the revival of an ebbing love”.
They will, she says, present the Church with a “remedy for the last times”, preaching the Gospel with a “new eloquence” and “through them the Divine Heart will make the coldest of hearts melt in His love.
“The time has arrived: faith and love is everywhere ebbing away,” she wrote. “Christians are succumbing to heresy, many people are detaching themselves from truth and there are so many who have not yet seen the light. The hour has come to preach the Sacred Heart and the love which so inflames Him. The Divine is calling.”
The document was found in December 2017 and that same month the two priests transferred to another Colombian diocese where the bishop agreed to the establishment of their monastic contemplative community. They became Tyburn Monks in Mother Adèle’s childhood home just eight months later – on August 16, the day after her birthday.
They have now returned to Colombia to serve a postulancy of about six months, a period of prayer and reflection in preparation for their novitiate, in which they will “learn a spirituality” under the Rule of St Benedict and the charism of Mother Adèle, liaising closely with nearby Tyburn Nuns of the monastery at Guatapé. After two years as novices, they will make their temporary professions and three years later they will take their final monastic vows.
Already, they are attracting other men to their fledgling community with one young priest, a possible third member, joining them from November.
So what will a Tyburn Monk be like? They will spend their lives in adoration, contemplation, silence, reparation and solitude. Yet they will also be apostolic, with their mission seen as a “matter of urgency for a return to true holiness on the part of individuals and nations”. They will do this by uniting themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus hidden in the Eucharist, and suffering with Christ himself.
“The problem with the world,” explained Fr Manuel, “is the lack of God – the lack of God in the hearts of the people, in the institutions, in government and, at times, also in the Church. In the absence of God, man becomes lost, not being able to discover in his life where he has come from or where he is going.
“Man is a constant seeker, he is searching and searching. The catastrophe of today’s world is that people are searching but don’t find anything except more indecision, more sadness and more loneliness.”
Our Lord recognised this when speaking to St Margaret Mary Alacoque in June 1675, and complained of the coldness and contempt for Him in “this Sacrament of Love”, Fr Manuel said.
The challenge for the Tyburn Monks therefore is to become “little victims” united to Christ, honouring His heart in the Blessed Sacrament and teaching others to do the same, so that, as intended by Our Lord, Divine Love should expand and shed in abundance its influence over all humanity, to the glory of God and for the salvation of the world.
Simon Caldwell is a freelance journalist
This article first appeared in the September 7 2018 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here