The melodious steady hum of Gregorian chant and prayers in Latin can be heard several hours a day in Christ the King Chapel in the Holy Cross Diocesan Center.
The sounds come from the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem, a new Diocese of La Crosse religious congregation founded last year and since September housed in the diocesan center in La Crosse.
With only three members, the La Crosse group doesn't sound much like the famed French Benedictines who blew the top off the popular music charts several years ago with their Gregorian chant recordings.
"But we're working on it," said the group's founding priest, Dom Daniel Augustine Oppenheimer, a New York native who was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in the Latin Rite in 1991 in Germany.
The canons take music lessons to help with their singing and also spend several hours a day studying theology and grammar to improve their Latin, Oppenheimer said.
Besides the 52-year-old Oppenheimer, the members include Brother John Berchmans, a Canadian, and Deacon James Lane, a California native who on Tuesday will be vested in the congregation's white habit and black cowl at a special ceremony at 7:30 p.m. in the chapel.
Lane, 41, who was ordained a deacon by the bishop of the Scranton, Pa., diocese, also will be tonsured, a ritual that involves the shaving of the crown of the head to symbolize the crown of thorns the Romans placed on Jesus' head to mock him at his crucifixion.
Although the full tonsure and the liturgical use of the Latin Rite and Gregorian chant are ancient practices, the Canons Regular are not an anachronism rooted in the past, Oppenheimer said.
"We're Roman Catholics, and it's the year 2003," he said.
The group lives simply and in strict community, following the rules set down by St. Augustine of Hippo, a 4th century bishop, theologian and writer.
The canons' communal house is in eight rooms set aside for them on the third floor of the diocesan center. Meals on weekdays are prepared by the center's kitchen staff but eaten separately in their own dining room.
The group serves under diocesan Bishop Raymond L. Burke, but is self-supporting, relying on donations from supporters to pay for their food and lodging.
"We don't cost the diocese a cent," said Oppenheimer, adding that one of his constant struggles is seeing that there is enough money to meet the group's basic needs.
The men's days start early, with morning prayer beginning at 6 a.m. and daily Mass celebrated at 7 a.m. The canons also observe the liturgy of the hours throughout the day, in all spending about 4 1/2 hours each day praying in the chapel. The hours in between are filled with study and household chores. For recreation, the men take walks together or play basketball.
Some 13 hours a day are spent in monastic silence, with conversation occurring only as needed, Oppenheimer said.
Occasionally, they go as a group to take in a movie, or for a drive in the country, he said. And on weekends, rather than cook for themselves, they usually go out for a meal in a modest restaurant. The members also fast frequently and during Lent limit themselves to one meal a day.
Their quarters contain no television although there is a computer and telephone and a radio that seldom gets used.
"We voluntarily agree to do without a great deal," Oppenheimer said.
Bishop Burke, who met Oppenheimer in Rome in 1997 and helped Oppenheimer to fulfill the steps needed to found the community, said the canons regular are a new form of religious life for the diocese.
"They bring a new richness to the diocese," Burke said, but because there are so few members, the group is not very well known yet among the diocese's Catholics.
The group is devoted to sacred liturgy and to providing the Mass according to the Latin Rite, giving diocesan Catholics another option for worship, the bishop said.
They also are available to hear confessions and provide spiritual direction to diocesan priests, Burke said.
The canons feel close to the bishop and the diocese and most of their prayers are specifically for the spiritual well-being of the bishop, the priests and the people of the diocese, Oppenheimer said.
Although their numbers are few, Oppenheimer said the hope is that the community's life of prayer and devotion will draw more men to join them.
Cyril Law, a 19-year-old student at Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, already is considering becoming a canon regular when he finishes his college studies.
Law, a native of Hong Kong, said he met Oppenheimer while visiting another religious community in California, and was attracted by the uniqueness of the canons' religious life.
"The common life," Law said. "The rich liturgical life, centered around the Latin Rite."
Gayda Hollnagel can be reached at (608) 791-8224 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.