Br. John Mark Falkenhain, OSB
Monk-Senior, Faculty, IPP
Department: Pastoral Studies
Title: Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology
Born: June 18, 1966
Professed: August 6, 2003
- PhD (St. Louis University, 1997)
- MS (St. Louis University, 1994)
- BA (Christian Brothers College, 1988)
Assistant novice/junior master, clinical psychologist and
researcher, instructor, vocal musician, potter
By Br. Francis DeSales Wagner, OSB
O Lord, how great are your works!
How deep are your designs!
The foolish man cannot know this
And the fool cannot understand.
Like the clay in the hands of a potter, Br. John Mark Falkenhain
has found freedom in not always knowing, not always understanding,
but trusting and rejoicing in the shaping force that gives him
As any potter like Br. John Mark knows, clay is capable of
becoming something beautiful in the eyes of the one who molds it,
but only through the labor of obedience. As a monk, he also knows
that true obedience is rooted in the commitment of love. Although
that is not always easy, it is why he came to the monastery - and
why the monastery came to him. The joy of that discovery is evident
in his infectious smile and the abiding twinkle in his eyes.
"I've grown to love more and more who God created me to be, not
only with my talents and gifts, but also in my limitations and
weaknesses. I'm thankful that I am who I am, and for reasons I
don't understand, being a monk is just that - who I am," he says.
"It is my response to who God has created me to be. I am grateful
for my vocation because it makes no sense to me. I don't know why I
was called, but just know that once I discovered it, I love it and
want to continue being a monk."
The capacity to trust God when nothing seems to make sense is
the key to discerning any vocation, and if that is something Br.
John Mark has given a lot of thought to, it is only because he's
had to. The younger of two brothers in a Catholic family, he was
born in Belleville, IL, and spent time growing up in Los Angeles,
Toronto and St. Louis. Religious life began to become a serious
consideration while in high school, when the Marianist Brothers,
Christian Brothers and the bishop of Memphis (now Most Rev. Daniel
Buechlein, OSB, archbishop of Indianapolis) expressed interest in
him. He began attending daily Mass and getting involved with
"That's when I began to have a more personal relationship with
my faith. Community was really important to me, or the social
aspect of faith," he said.
Still wrestling with the question, he attended Christian
Brothers College in Memphis, earning a bachelor's degree in
psychology in 1988. He took his first job as director at a
Marianist retreat center for high school students and young adults
in St. Louis, where he lived in community with the Marianists as a
lay person. "I knew that I was being called to religious life, but
kind of fought it for a while," he said.
Curious, but not knowing much about monastic life, he
participated in an observance program at St. John's Abbey in
Collegeville, MN. Although it would take a little longer for the
flame to grow and spread, that is when something ignited in his
soul. "I was totally swept off my feet by monastic life without
expecting it at all. I just fell in love with it," he said. "I was
willing to sell all I had to buy this pearl of great price."
He entered St. John's as a candidate. However, after three
months he felt the timing wasn't quite right and he left the
community, although he remained committed to further discernment.
On the train ride back to St. Louis, where he would pursue and earn
his master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology, he was
praying the Divine Office when the above passage from Psalm 92
struck him in a deep way.
"I knew then there was some design in this that I couldn't see,"
he said. "But as time went on, I just knew I wanted to be a
Year after year, he continued to examine the question as he
studied and worked. He lived again for a time with the Marianists,
occasionally visiting Saint Meinrad for weekend retreats.
All the while, he advanced professionally. Upon completion of
his education at St. Louis University, he lived on his own and
worked at Children's Hospital in Columbus, OH, as a psychology
intern, and then at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St.
Louis, first as a resident and then as a staff psychologist.
He was also an adjunct assistant professor with the Department
of Pediatrics at the St. Louis University School of Medicine. Marc
Falkenhain, as he was then known, was steadily building an
impressive career in the area of pediatric psychotherapy, clinical
assessment, consultation and research. He had a nice apartment and
Yet something was missing. Well into his 30s, he was lonely and
unhappy living on his own, and that mysterious desire for monastic
life sparked in his heart years earlier continued to grow. "I
wasn't responsible for anybody, and nobody was responsible for me,"
he said. "I hadn't made myself live for something other than
The serious illness of a good friend became a turning point.
Providing the perspective he needed, his friend told him, "You need
to do what you feel is right now. If you want to be a monk, do
So, in his mid-30s, he came to Saint Meinrad to become a monk.
Although his novitiate year was admittedly difficult at times as he
adjusted to his new way of life, Br. John Mark says he has never
been happier. "I have felt so terribly free, because I had really
renounced all the things that were important to me. It's not that
they were bad, but I just had to let go and trust, deciding to act
without knowing, believe without seeing. Eventually, I discovered
that doesn't mean rejecting things like friends and relationships,
and a career, but giving up control of them."
Full measure and flowing over, the things Br. John Mark gave up
began returning as he grew into and allowed himself to be
transformed by the monastic way of life. Having made solemn vows in
2006, he continues his work as a psychologist and researcher,
teaching courses in the School of Theology on human development and
sexuality. He also consults, researches and offers programs at
Saint Meinrad and at other seminaries and dioceses in the areas of
celibacy, psychosocial/psychosexual development of priests and
religious, and child sexual offense by clergy. In addition, he
works one day a week at Jasper Memorial Hospital, providing
psychological services to children and families. His latest
research project involved looking at the experience of monks in the
first 10 years of solemn profession.
Appointed socius by the abbot in the spring, he also assists in
the formation of the monastery's novices and junior monks.
"In lots of ways, I don't see my work as very different from
what I was doing before," Br. John Mark says. "Monks aren't
terribly different than other people. Monks are very ordinary
people who do very ordinary things - but are constantly seeking God
in the ordinary. That's what distinguishes us and makes us
extraordinary - looking intentionally and intensely at the ordinary
in our search for God."
Br. John Mark also enjoys singing and studying chant, and
contributes his considerable talents to the liturgical music at
Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Since coming to the monastery, he has also
learned to play the cello and has taken up pottery. And he has been
able to maintain - even deepen - relationships with family members
and friends. He enjoys entertaining guests, and his parents, who
had some initial doubts about his entering religious life, now make
regular and fairly frequent visits to the monastery.
"I can't imagine where I else I could live and pray and do all
the things we do here," he said.
Most importantly, his concept of and appreciation for prayer has
developed considerably as a monk. "What's really grown for me here
is my personal prayer life, without sacrificing the communal
aspect, which has also grown. It's become more contemplative."
Coming together with the community four times a day to celebrate
the Eucharist and the Divine Office is what really provides
perspective for the monk, Br. John Mark says. "You can never really
get far away from it before you have to come back to it. It
celebrates God's gift of time to us, and it forces us to stop and
slow down. When you do that, it's amazing how much time there is,
and what a gift it is to stop and live in the present. God is most
immediately present to us in the present. Singing in choir is just
being aware that God is present and that we're praising Him."
There is no overstating the significance of the Divine Office,
or Work of God as St. Benedict termed it, in serving the Church and
praying for the world, Br. John Mark says. "What we offer the world
more broadly is our prayers, which people count on, but also our
witness as people who are devoted to seeking God. Our lives should
say to people that God is important."
For those who seek Him, however, God's designs run even deeper,
and for the monk it is a personal call to commit one's very being
to a particular and diverse community united in its prayer, work
and daily life. While challenging, such commitment offers great
freedom, Br. John Mark says, because a monk entrusts his will to
God's as expressed by his brothers through the labor of mutual
obedience practiced each day. Love of God and neighbor as oneself
is what the monastery teaches.
"Being in love with these people and this life is why I enjoy
being a monk," Br. John Mark said. "Love is volitional sometimes;
it requires trying. This is my family. I don't always like them or
what they do, but I love them. That's what I came here for, to act
in the interest of others and believe that they are doing the same
Doing that requires patience, as well as trust in God's guiding,
shaping hands as they mold lumps of clay into vessels of divine
grace that pour their lives into one another. "When it comes to
vocation, it's not a vocation if it doesn't require obedience,
laying aside your own will for someone else," he said.
Br. John Mark offers straightforward advice for those who may be
interested in such a way of life, but are struggling to make sense
of the yearning in their hearts. "You can read about it all you'd
like, but you'll never really know until you've tried it on," he
said. "We can wait for the moment to be right, but the moment will
never be right. Inevitably, it involves some degree of risk, a leap
Taking such a leap, though it seemed to make little sense at
times, has given Br. John Mark freedom he never knew was
"The only thing that makes sense is Christ and that you love Him
and seek Him," he said. "When nothing makes sense except Christ,
that's when I am most a monk."