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Rev. Laurence Mancuso, 72; started dog-breeding ministry

July 05, 2007|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

The Rev. Laurence Mancuso, a founder of the New Skete Monastery near Albany, N.Y., who helped establish the monks' unusual ministry of breeding and training German shepherd dogs, has died. He was 72.

Mancuso died June 10 in a hospital near his home in Natick, Mass., of complications from a fall, his brother Norman Mancuso said. Father Mancuso lived with his brother after retiring from the monastery in 2000. He had been the superior-abbot.

Mancuso and 12 other monks opened the monastery in Cambridge, N.Y., in 1966. They planned to support themselves by farming and raising barnyard animals. In the late 1960s the monks received the gift of a shepherd dog. They named him Kyr, based on the Greek word for "Lord." When Kyr ran away with a pack of wild dogs, the monks searched for months but could not find him.

Finally, Mancuso encouraged the monks to get another dog. They adopted two German shepherds and began breeding and training them. Soon, visitors to the monastery asked about buying the puppies.

"Father Laurence had a tremendous love for dogs from the time he was a boy," Norman Mancuso told The Times on Monday. "Dogs became part of life for the monks."

About 20 German shepherds live on the monastery grounds at any given time, Mancuso said. Along with breeding, training and selling shepherds, the monks train other breeds. They also offer a three-week training retreat for owners and their dogs.

Their growing expertise led them to publish the popular book "How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend" (1978), which is in its 40th printing. It was followed by "The Art of Raising a Puppy" (1991), which has been reprinted more than 20 times.

The monks take a holistic approach to raising and training dogs based on their philosophy that knowledge, insight and respect bring the best results.

Some of the challenges they have faced as dog trainers are included in "Divine Canine," an eight-part series featuring the monks on the Animal Planet cable television channel.

Along with its kennel, the 500-acre monastery is known for its mail-order sales of smoked meats and sausages that are made from an old Mancuso family recipe.

Born Gabriel Richard Mancuso on June 30, 1934, in Utica, N.Y., he was the oldest of five children. His survivors include two brothers and two sisters as well as several nieces and nephews.

He graduated from St. Mary's Seminary in Ferndale, Conn., and was ordained a priest in the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church in 1960.

Mancuso founded New Skete Monastery with a vision to renew Eastern Christian monasticism. As part of his work he translated a number of liturgical texts from Greek and Slavonic languages into English and composed choral music for the monks. In 1979 he and his fellow monks joined the Orthodox Church in America.

Mancuso also helped to establish a convent and a residence for married couples as part of the extended community at New Skete.

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