The fate of Spencer Abbey is undoubtedly linked to the Abbey of La Grande Trappe in Soligny, following the exile of French monks to America.
During the French Revolution, Father Augustine de Lestrange led a group of Cistercians from La Trappe into exile at the site of Father De Rancé's famous reform.
These refugees found a home in the abandoned Carthusian monastery of La Val Sainte in Switzerland and continued their monastic life with an austerity that surpassed even that of La Trappe.
De Lestrange, who was keen to preserve Trappist monastic testimony in the face of European hostility, turned to America and in 1803 he sent twenty monks from La Val Sainte with the aim of establishing a new foundation.
These pioneers fought for eleven years in different places before returning to France following the defeat of Napoleon. A monk, Father Vincent de Paul Merle (1768-1853), was left in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in May 1815.
By all accounts, Father Vincent de Paul was a holy man as well as a great pragmatist. By the end of the fall of 1819 he had found land in Tracadie, Nova Scotia, which suited his original purpose and made the necessary arrangements with de Lestrange, then residing at the French monastery of Bellefontaine to begin the founding of the Abbey of Petit Clairvaux. The first community had only five monks, and new vocations were rare because of the fervor with which the monks aimed to observe monastic life as embodied in the rigorous interpretation of Lestrange's Trappist reform. Between 1857 and 1862, eighteen Flemish monks left their homes and adopted the rigor of a new land and a new language by joining the ailing community of Tracadie. It was the start of a new life for the monastery.
Then disaster struck. On October 4, 1892, the abbey church and the entire cloister burned down. Although none of the monks were injured, all possessions of the community, including liturgical vestments, books and archives were lost. The monks began to rebuild in 1894. However, a new fire struck in the fall of 1896. Faced with so many difficulties, some members of the community were excused from their vows. In 1898, only twelve monks remained at Petit Clairvaux.
It was then decided to move the community and settle in the diocese of Providence (Rhode Island) with the support of the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Lac (located near Montreal). The new monastery was named Our Lady of the Valley.
But as if the Evil One was harassing them, in 1950, a fire again ravaged the monastery. The devastation was almost complete. The community then numbered 140 people and was homeless. However, by 1949 the community had acquired land in Spencer, Massachussets.
On December 23, 1950, eighty monks took possession of Saint Joseph's Abbey in Spencer. During the abbey's early years, the growth of the community was phenomenal. On August 15, 1953, the first mass was solemnly celebrated in the new church. The growing membership prompted the establishment of new foundations.
After all the hardships its community has gone through over the centuries, those of Spencer Abbey can now work, pray, and recite Psalm 90: "When I stand under the shelter of the Most High, and rest in the shadow of the Mighty One, I say to the Lord: My refuge, my rampart, my God, in whom I have all confidence!".
The brewery project stems from necessity. For over 60 years, the Trappists of Spencer have been making jams and jellies under the "Trappist Preserves" label. This activity made it possible to meet needs while offering monastic work and charitable aid to the poorest communities and people in need.
However, when looking to the future, as the community grows and ages, the monks of Spencer realized they needed an additional business that would support the community and charities for years to come.
In the course of the 2010s, one of the brothers showed interest in brewing and even took training at a local craft brewery. Over time, his passion for brewing was passed on to other monks, who readily recognized that brewing was a traditional monastic enterprise.
So, when redefining the economic path for the future of the monastery, the idea of a brewery gained momentum. However, before making a decision, the monks chose to develop the idea of the brewery in a planned and realistic way.
With the abbot's blessing, they embarked on a two-year data collection mission. They visited each Trappist brewery to learn all that was possible to learn from their European brethren. Starting with Westmalle Abbey, they slowly toured Belgium, staying in the different monasteries, receiving great advice and drinking some of the best beers in the world.
The last stop on the first trip was the Abbey of Saint Sixte, brewer of the famous Westvleteren beers; At the end of the second trip, and after more detailed discussions, they were convinced that their plan could work and decided to build a new brewery. Following the monastic tradition, the monks voted and confirmed the project with an overwhelming majority - it would be the first Trappist brewery in America. Its construction, in an ultra modern style, was completed in 2013.
Observing the Trappist tradition, they simply named the brewery and beer "Spencer" after the nearby town of Spencer, MA.