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Zan Thompson

Saluting an Autumn Festival With Soul

September 20, 1987|Zan Thompson

Just after dawn Saturday, the joyous ringing of chapel bells at St. Andrew's Priory will usher in a new day in the high desert. Then the voices of 28 priests and monks of the ancient Benedictine order will sing the night office in unison, as they have since the rule of St. Benedict was set down about AD 490.

After greeting the new day, each Benedictine will hasten to his assigned chores for the two days of the 31st annual Autumn Festival. Not one of them will stop except to laugh and greet their guests during the festivities. Hospitality is one of the tenets of the order; the method of greeting visitors to the monastery were written in Latin centuries ago.

The Benedictines founded St. Andrew's in 1956 after their missionary school in China was taken over and members of the order were publicly humiliated and banished.

The late Prior Vinciarelli wrote down their reasons for choosing California for his orphan community:

". . . Because California was, and still is, a land of pioneers--a land that needs daring men, men possessed of some spirit of adventure. And a monastic foundation is always an adventure. The weak do not undertake it.

"We thought of California because we were sure to find friends there. True, optimistic people find friends wherever they go, and optimistic we were. We did find numberless friends in California, among the clergy, among Catholics and non-Catholics and among people of many races and creeds. Our long sojourn in China had prepared us for the ecumenical movement, and to appreciate the dignity of every race and of every person. Our friends' sympathy and cooperation are the mainstay of our monastery. Without them, we would have been helpless."

Many of those friends are still helping with the Autumn Festival, the monastery's only fund-raising effort. While it started as kind of a thank-you cookout for their friends and neighbors, it has developed into two days filled with food, laughter, games and exhibits.

Father Werner de Morchoven, chairman each year, recalls that the year before last, the festival was almost smothered by success. The road leading into the priory grounds was jammed, and tempers grew short as time grew long. Last year, they opened a three-lane highway and four more acres of parking. Father Werner says it will handle the festival guests handily.

The festival begins both days at 10 a.m. and offers daylong feasting and wandering over the 500-acre priory grounds. There will be five restaurants, including a pizzeria and a restaurant featuring roast beef, and fast-food stands serving Belgian waffles, Cornish game hens, freshly made doughnuts, soft drinks and other beverages. Father Werner told me that his favorite is the Chinese tea garden, called the Teahouse of the September Moon. He is especially proud of the roof, which has a Chinese outline. A waterfall makes music beside the teahouse as it splashes into the pool below.

As in all years past, Sylvia Wu, the restaurant keeper, will contribute the food, Father Warner said. There will be Chinese chicken salad, egg rolls and other treats, ending with Chinese cookies and tea.

Father Maur will be at a sales booth signing the ceramic plaques he designs. He is pure delight as all of the St. Andrew's priests are. These men are serious and respected scholars who study and teach in the most prestigious and humble schools and universities. And each one seems to have found the secret of ungarnished happiness in his work.

The last time I saw Father Prior John Borgerding, he was hurrying across the central courtyard carrying what I think was a carburetor and grinning like a kid with a new bicycle. Father Prior takes care of all the rolling stock at the priory.

Father Werner tells me they will have the children's petting corral, as usual, with amber-eyed goats, woolly sheep, an arrogant rooster and his harem, and a brand-new calf with chocolate-drop eyes. There will be puppet shows, cotton candy and free baby sitting.

The Artists' Alley will display the works of artists in watercolor and in oil, wood carvings and photography.

Proceeds from the festival will go toward reconstruction of the nondenominational youth center.

About 400 volunteers from San Diego to San Francisco will be on the grounds. You can get there by taking the Golden State Freeway to the Antelope Valley Freeway. Then to Pearblossom and follow the signs to the priory.

Father Werner told me there are two pedestrian bridges leading to the Chinese tea garden. "One is stone and it's a fine looking bridge. The other one is wood and is supposed to have that graceful arch. Really, Zan, it's not very good."

Don't ask my friend Father Werner anything unless you want the truth.

His months of work will be spread out for you to enjoy at the Autumn Festival.

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