Abbess Bernadette Smeyers - the Second Abbess of St Cecilia's Abbey on the Isle of Wight -celebrated her 100th birthday today, August 5. The oldest Benedictine abbess in the world, the Belgium-born nun has this year also notched up her 50th anniversary of abbatial blessing and her 75th anniversary of monastic profession. A Mass to mark the100th birthday is planned for today. It will be concelebrated in the Abbey Church by Fr Abbot Cuthbert Johnson of Quarr, Fr Abbot Pierre Massein of St Wandrille, Normandy, Fr Prior Cuthbert Brogan of St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, and Fr Patrice Mahieu, representing the Abbot of Solesmes. A Papal Blessing will to be read. After Mass, the Belgian ambassador Baron de Gruben will make a presentation to Abbess Bernadette on behalf of the King and Queen of Belgium. Her remarkable monastic century began when she was a pupil at a small school run by the community during the First World War. There she met Blessed Columba Marmion among other great figures in Benedictine history. She became Abbess of St Cecilia's in 1953 and made the first foundation for Benedictine nuns in India which took her to Rome during Vatican II. She also instigated the first recordings of plain chant in the UK. Abbess Bernadette welcomed the changes of Vatican II, recognising that the revised liturgy could be celebrated with all the mystery and beauty of the old, by the retention of Latin and Gregorian Chant. When Pope Paul VI issued Jubilate Deo (April 1974), a selection of plain chant pieces, to every bishop in the Church to encourage the singing of simple Gregorian melodies in parishes, she encouraged the Community to record the chants to support this endeavour in what was the first recording of nuns in this country. The Community thought they might find it hard to dispose of the initial 500 copies. However, they sold out within three weeks, and a second impression sold around 3,000 copies in six months. From 1980-1992, the community produced nine further recordings of their chant. Abbess Bernadette retired in 1987 but still heads the St Cecilia's procession, together with Mother Abbess, for Mass and Vespers, is present at all the Divine Office except Lauds and Vigils and helps to sort altar breads. She also takes a keen interest in all that goes on inside and outside the monastery. Mother Ninian Eaglesham, the current Abbess, said: "We are grateful for her long years of leadership and service and her continuing example, and her great enjoyment of life which has no doubt contributed to her longevity." Source: Catholic Communications Service
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