The Brilliance Of Monasphère
Last summer, when I was in Paris on a book tour, I had coffee with two young Catholic entrepreneurs, Damien Thomas and Charles Wattebled. They are businessmen who, in conjunction with their investor colleague Pierre-Edouard Sterin, were in the process of launching a project called Monasphère, a creative attempt to live out the Benedict Option. The idea is brilliant: they are trying to make it possible in practical ways for Catholic families who want to live near monasteries to make the move. As they explained to me that morning, they already had about a thousand families on their list, and had the cooperation of a number of monasteries around France. I was thrilled to hear it all. This is the kind of thing I dreamed about when I wrote The Benedict Option.
Well, they must be doing a great job, because I just did an interview with Le Figaro for a story the largest French daily is doing on the project. It caused me to go to the Monasphère website to see how they’ve progressed. Y’all, if you have a Chrome browser, it will translate the site into English for you. It’s incredible. I’m going to quote from it below, in the Chrome translated version.
From the mission page:
At Monasphere, we took the time to meet and question nearly 1,000 people, both individuals and organizations, to better understand their aspirations. Their desire to deploy a simpler way of life and resolutely focused on the essentials won us over: 62% of them aspire to settle near spiritual places located outside the big cities!
To meet their expectations, we founded Monasphere, the first company to design and carry out real estate projects near spiritual places in extra-urban areas, for individuals and organizations.
In 2021, half of the French population lives in large cities. However, many of us aspire to a better life balance: 54% of Ile-de-France residents want to leave their region as soon as possible. This growing trend is particularly notable among Catholics: nearly 80% want to reconnect in one way or another with rurality and get closer geographically to Christian spiritual places.
Monasphere is committed to this dynamic and supports the deployment of these projects, by designing suitable real estate offers near spiritual places in extra-urban areas .
Our projects combine a fully autonomous private life, fraternal neighborhood with other Christian families and anchoring within a territory, for a true relational and spiritual ecology.
Monasphere acts in a spirit of communion with monastic, religious or priestly communities, at the service of the common good, with public authorities and territories. Our ambition is to allow the deployment of 100 living spaces on a human scale in the next ten years.
You are the first and the main player in your life-changing project!
Monasphere works alongside you to help you make it happen.
The Monasphere team,
Charles, Pierre-Edouard and Damien
Here are the monasteries and other collaborators in the program:
Take a look at this page on the site: it shows you the properties that are listed as part of Monasphere, and helps you find what you’re looking for. And here are the reasons they offer to choose Monasphere:
Charles and Damien are providing the necessary link between the Benedict Option concept and its realization. Sometimes I get complaints from people who want to know why I haven’t built any Ben Op projects. Leaving aside the particular challenges of living where I do, and being a communicant of a very tiny church, the greater challenge is that I am a terrible organizer. I am pretty good when it comes to ideas, but the execution? I’m awful. Monasphere shows what can happen when Christians who buy into the vision apply their practical skills to making it possible for families to make it work.
We can’t have Monasphere in the US, at least not in the same way as the French can, because we don’t have many monasteries. But we do have some! The Clear Creek project out in rural eastern Oklahoma is an American example. I hope, though, that Americans who like the Benedict Option idea, and who have organizational skills, can draw inspiration from Monasphere, and figure out how to do something similar fit to American realities.
Again, here is the Monasphère website. Charles and Damien really are wonderful, modest, faithful Christians, and practical visionaries. To sit with them at a cafe and hear them talk about their faith, and their hopes for Monasphere, is to be filled with hope.
UPDATE: Heard from Damien Thomas, who would like me to put a link to more information about the first Monasphere “village” in L’Île-Bouchard: click here to see the properties available, and tour them via 3D. If you would like to be in touch with the Monasphere team, write them at: firstname.lastname@example.org
My interview about Monasphere appeared this morning on the Figaro website. It’s in French, but if you browse with Chrome, it will translate automatically. A counter-piece ran from someone named Laurent Chalard, who criticizes Monasphere as an example of the “Americanization” of France. I did not realize until reading Chalard that this first Monasphere housing project has been built in a rural town that is declining. The Monasphere team is trying to revitalize French village life, which is dying, by doing as Pope Francis said, and “going to the peripheries.” But this offends Chalard, a devout French republican. Excerpt from the Chrome translation:
If we should not draw hasty conclusions from a case which will perhaps have no future if it does not prove to be successful, the fact remains that it reflects the influence more and more significant within French companies of Anglo-Saxon marketing models, which are based on a segmented vision of the population, leading to the offering of special offers dedicated to certain clienteles, including in the field of housing. Indeed, across the Atlantic, living with people who look like you is the norm and is one of the selling points of a property. It is not so much a question of living in a place because it is beautiful, pleasant, lively… But, first of all, we favor to a very high degree the profile of our neighbors, the objective being to meet only similar people.
This territorial compartmentalization is reflected on the political level by increasingly irreconcilable positions on a large number of social issues between populations who do not mix and therefore do not speak to each other, sharing diametrically opposed values. All-out communitarianism ends up destroying national cohesion, membership in a “tribe” outweighing the sharing of collective values. This is one of the explanatory factors, among others, of the deep division of American society, the pros and anti-Trumps living in different societies with divergent interests within the same state.
This territorial compartmentalization is reflected on the political level by increasingly irreconcilable positions on a large number of social issues between populations who do not mix and therefore do not speak to each other, sharing diametrically opposed values. All-out communitarianism ends up destroying national cohesion, membership in a “tribe” outweighing the sharing of collective values.
This is one of the explanatory factors, among others, of the deep division of American society, the pros and anti-Trumps living in different societies with divergent interests within the same state. This territorial compartmentalization is reflected on the political level by increasingly irreconcilable positions on a large number of social issues between populations who do not mix and therefore do not speak to each other, sharing diametrically opposed values. All-out communitarianism ends up destroying national cohesion, membership in a “tribe” outweighing the sharing of collective values. This is one of the explanatory factors, among others, of the deep division of American society, the pros and anti-Trumps living in different societies with divergent interests within the same state.
Well, let’s begin by stipulating that I know as much about the French social and demographic situation as Chalard does about the American one. American readers, does his description of the root of American social division ring true to you? It is certainly the case that Americans have been sorting themselves for some time, but I would argue that the division in housing patterns — which he exaggerates — is not the cause of social division, but the reflection of it.
If you are like me, you live in an ordinary subdivision, but you don’t know many, if any, people who live there. We didn’t choose to live in this neighborhood because we would find conservative Christians here. I have no idea what the people who live here believe. We bought this house six years ago because it was affordable, and the neighborhood seemed safe and convenient. We Americans are certainly divided, but the idea that we are split because we sort ourselves by housing patterns is to confuse cause and effect. Remember, I lived for five years in New York City, very much as a social minority (conservative Christian). I loved it, but that was almost 25 years ago, and I would not do it now because America has changed, and I perceive that the liberal majority there would be far more hostile to people like me than they once were, and because the general ethos of our society has changed, and I would not want my kids growing up in a place where the majority believes as liberal New Yorkers do.
I perfectly understand that a liberal New Yorker may wish to avoid living in deep Red America for the same reasons. I respect that. Our children are not to be sacrificed for the sake of a small-r republican, small-d democratic, abstraction.
Besides, who is Chalard kidding? Everybody knows that France’s poor Arab and African populations are housed in big-city suburban ghettos. Is he criticizing them for being anti-republican? Does France really have the kind of social solidarity that M. Chalard idealizes?
In truth, it is perfectly normal for people to want to live around those who are like themselves. This is human nature, and though it could express itself in a negative way, it need not. I asked the Monasphere guys about this when I spoke with them last summer. They do not want their clients to be a closed-off commune, and have not designed their projects to be such. They see these communities in part as evangelistic efforts, in which French Catholics live in community, embedded within wider communities, and seek to know and serve their neighbors. What’s wrong with that?
The truth is, if Christians continue to live dispersed in post-Christian (and in some cases anti-Christian) communities, without the support of Christian fellowship, and without being able to raise kids in a habitus conducive to Christian life and formation, the chances of passing the faith along to the next generation are quite diminished. I would rather be a faithful Christian than a good American, if being a “good American” means living in a way that is likely to assimilate my family out of their faith. The same must be true in France.
Besides, it would seem to me no bad thing at all for people to move out to a dying rural town and try to revitalize it. Is the problem here the fact that they are Catholics?
In America, our divisions have far more to do with the effect of the Internet and social media, and the news media in general, heightening those divisions. We American conservatives know all too well what the Left means by “diversity”: total ideological conformity with the principles of the Left, but with a superficial sense of ethnic diversity. You can be any color or gender you like, as long as you think like everybody else. “Diversity” in America is a sham. I wonder if it’s like that in France.