Monks à la mode

Elizabeth Kerin, Staff Writer

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Names: Father Robert Maguire, Father Thomas Esposito

EK: What is the history of the Cistercian habit?
FM: Well, this we call a “tunic” [gestures toward white garment] wasn’t originally a habit, per se. It was a working garment and as time passed as monks were working in the field, they’d come back to the abbey and the habit was dirty. And it got dirtier and dirtier and dirtier. So, they put a scapular over the habit and then the scapular became dirty. Just doing work! So, somebody came up with the idea to dye the scapular black so that the dirt wouldn’t show. And eventually it became stylized. So it’s black on the outside and white underneath.

EK: Where do your garments come from?
FT: They’re purchased when you sign over your life to become a Cistercian. You can’t buy them in a store. They’re made for each of us when we join. This is the same habit that I received when I started 11 years ago. The material for our cincture, the belt, comes from Rome. I bought it myself while I was over there. There’s a little tailor shop near the Pantheon where we got this belt material.
FM: Our material is bought. The abbot buys a large bolt of cloth and gives it to a seamstress. When I started, there was a Hungarian lady who made our habits, Mrs. Haosh. And then Mrs. Haosh retired, Mrs. Lovosh took over and then we’ve had several seamstresses since then. And they’re usually pretty good!

EK: So, how many tunics do you receive?
FT: Two of each. So, two habits, two scapulars, two cinctures and two collars. And the collar is detachable. It’s a distinctive sign of our Hungarian roots. Most monks will wear hoods instead of this collared-thing. But because we come from a Cistercian congregation in Hungary, they started wearing the collar about 250 years ago when the Austro-Hungarians made them become useful to the state and start teaching. Originally, they were just doing the monk thing: plowing fields, writing books, things like that. But they eventually began to teach. And to distinguish themselves from the monks who did not teach, they decided to start wearing this distinctive and elegant white collar.

EK: It’s come to my attention in the time that I’ve known you, Fr. Thomas, that the one garment that is up to you is your socks!
FT:[laughing] I figured this would come up!…It’s really the only aspect of our outfit that we can accessorize and get creative with!

EK: So, how do you feel about fashion as a means of expression?
FM: Fashion reveals the soul. Fashion makes the invisible visible. And we control people’s view of us by the way we dress and by the way we walk. So there you go! And sometimes I wear my happy socks. One of the fathers in the house gave me a pair of checkered socks. And I did wear that to school one day and I’d like to wear them again this semester. [They] don’t exactly go with a habit, but they are fun!

EK: Fr. Thomas, are you wearing cool socks today?
FT: I do have my Jonah socks on. They’re Jonah for religious audiences or Moby Dick for more secular audiences, because they’re whales.
FT to FM: Have you been mistaken for anyone? I’ve been mistaken for a Jedi knight many times, especially in Rome and Greece. The Asian tourists would come up to me and bow politely, thinking that I was a samurai dude or a knight of some sort.
FM: I did have an experience like that in Rome. It was during the Carnival season. And I was simply out for a walk and a lady asked me if I was out for Carnival, in disguise. And I said, “No, this is the real thing!”

EK: Do you have any fashion advice for the reader?
FM: Modesty dresses one so as to express the dignity of the person. And I think something very important to the clothes [is] don’t wear contrary lines. In other words, if you know the shape of your body, you can buy clothes that fit. And a lot of people don’t and that’s why they look bad.
FT: I like bow ties. I would like to see more bow ties. I wish I could wear one. But I can’t obviously with the habit. I really liked what Mrs. Crider said in a previous edition about the respect that she wants to communicate to the people she encounters. She dresses so as to indicate her respect to everyone. I think that’s worth repeating.

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