The Deacon's Bench

Animal lovers everywhere have lost a special soul: the founding abbot of The Monks of New Skete, Father Laurence Mancuso has passed away, from complications of injuries suffered in a fall. He was 72.

The fabled Monks of New Skete pioneered a sane and loving way of raising dogs, and their hilltop monastery in upstate New York was known for its unique form of ministry: breeding and training German shepherds, using a holistic, gospel-inspired approach. Their work produced a couple of popular books and videos, and gained a wide following among dog-lovers. (I gave my father-in-law their books when he got a cockapoo puppy a couple of years back, and he just loved ’em.)

The Times obit of Fr. Laurence says:

Largely through word of mouth, but also because of newspaper articles, New Skete German shepherds became so popular that by 1998, buyers were willing to put their names on a two-year waiting list to pay $1,000 for a pup. (The order says that no dogs are currently available.) Other people paid $800 to have their own frisky pets trained by the order.

Among the monks’ dog-training tenets are, perhaps not surprisingly, to cuddle and massage a pet as much as possible from the time it is born, and even to sleep with it.

Born Gabriel Richard Mancuso in Utica, N.Y., on June 30, 1934, Father Laurence was a son of Joseph and Antoinette Basilio Mancuso. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and joined the Byzantine Rite Franciscans in 1957. But in 1979, 13 years after opening the monastery and after many years of studying Eastern Orthodox theology, he and members of the New Skete community were received into the Orthodox Church in America.

At New Skete, when the monks and nuns go about their daily chores, sit for meals or wander through the woods in silent meditation, they usually have their dogs leashed to their belts. So, too, did Father Laurence.

Photos: from The Monks of New Skete

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