BR. KOLBE: Alexa, play "Echoes From the Bell Tower."
BR. KOLBE: Hi, I'm Br. Kolbe.
BR. JOEL: And I'm Br. Joel. You're listening to Echoes from the Bell Tower, stories of wit and wisdom from Benedictine monks who live work and pray in southern Indiana. Today, we bring you more stories of how people came to Saint Meinrad. Did you miss our first episode of stories? You should go back and give it a listen. It's Episode 14 in iTunes.
BR. KOLBE: Our stories today include a near-death experience, a search for knights in shining armor, arriving at Saint Meinrad during the Second Vatican Council, and a little nudge from God that caused a retired beach bum to move across the country to play the organ.
BR. JOEL: We are going to get started with Archabbot Kurt.
ARCHABBOT KURT STASIAK:
BR. KOLBE: Archabbot Kurt says he came to Saint Meinrad somewhat by accident. He was a high school seminarian, studying for the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, in 1970.
ARCHABBOT KURT: At that time, Richmond was sending its college seminarians mainly to, as I recall, St. Mary's Seminary on the East Coast and St. Bernard's, a seminary down in Alabama.
BR. JOEL: That year, the diocese decided to try a few extra seminaries, so they did some research, and some staff visited Saint Meinrad and others visited the Pontifical College Josephinum. They came back with brochures and pictures and information, and they asked the high school seminarians to look it all over and report on where they wanted to go for college seminary.
ARCHABBOT KURT: I did that, very dutifully, very obediently went through all the material, and in a week's time went back to the vocations director and said, "I've made my decision. I want to go to the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus." And he said, "Why?" I said, "Well, they have a varsity baseball team there that I think I can get on to," and Columbus at that time was the city that hosted the AAA team of the New York Yankees, which was my favorite team.
He looked at me as though I had three heads and he said, "Well, you know those aren't reasons to choose a seminary." I looked at him as if he had maybe two heads and I said, "Those are my reasons. They're good reasons. They're my reasons."
BR. KOLBE: The vocation director told Abbot Kurt to think about it some more and come back in a week.
ARCHABBOT KURT: I did. I came back in a week and basically told him the same thing. I want to go to Josephinum for those same reasons.
Well, as it all came out, he said that he and the bishop had met and they really talked about me for quite some time. All things considered, they were going to send me to Saint Meinrad. They were hopeful that the tradition of the Benedictine influence would be good on me. That's how I ended up at Saint Meinrad, and I'm still trying to figure out if that Benedictine influence has been good for me.
BR. JOEL: When Abbot Kurt arrived at Saint Meinrad in the fall of 1970, he intended to go through four years of college at Saint Meinrad and then go on to study for the priesthood at one of the East Coast seminaries and then return to Richmond, Virginia, to serve the diocese.
BR. KOLBE: As it happens sometimes, a turn of events changed the course of his vocation.
ARCHABBOT KURT: I must admit I wasn't a very serious student. I wasn't really serious about anything at that time except baseball, but one of those weird things happened early on in my November year.
I and three of my friends were in a car accident not too far from the Saint Meinrad property. The accident was my fault. I ran off the road. There was no alcohol, or drugs, or anything like that involved. It was just a case of reckless driving on the part of me, an 18-year-old.
BR. JOEL: No one was seriously hurt. As a result of the accident, he did a lot of thinking.
ARCHABBOT KURT: Probably more thinking than that 18-year-old had ever done in his life. I just started wondering: if I had been killed that night, what would my life have to show for it?
BR. KOLBE: He ended up making a number of decisions that slowly turned his life around. He changed his major from English to biology, which for him was a more challenging discipline.
ARCHABBOT KURT: And I really enjoyed that. That wasn't just a change of a major. It was also the change of an approach to study and learning. I had to learn how to be a student.
BR. JOEL: People began to see the good things Abbot Kurt was doing at Saint Meinrad and they suggested he get involved with student government and helping people in the community through our community outreach programs. The accident, the change in major, becoming more involved in student government, were all ingredients that led him to joining the monastery.
ARCHABBOT KURT: All of those things over a period of the next two and a half years helped bring me out of myself, helped certainly develop some skills and talents that I didn't know I had or just weren't paying attention to. As I like to say, I think it's mostly true, in those four years I grew about eight and a half years.
BR. KOLBE: George Hubbard is an assistant in the Liturgical Music Office and one of our four regular abbey organists.
GEORGE HUBBARD: I'm the one who does not have duties that would get in the way of playing. But Fr. Jeremy, who does the scheduling, knows that unless I have signed off to be away, I'm available.
BR. JOEL: He plays the organ for two or three Masses a week and Vespers a couple of days.
GEORGE: It's never the same twice. You look at it, and you think, "It's just the Mass, and the Vespers, the Mass, and the Vespers, the Mass, and the Vespers." But with the varying themes of the liturgy, and with the varying temperaments and vocal abilities of the cantors, it's never the same two days in a row, and that makes it interesting.
BR. KOLBE: Like a lot of the people we talked to for this episode, George has multiple connections to Saint Meinrad. He is an oblate and retreat attendant, and this winter he will be a co-worker for three years.
BR. JOEL: George visited Saint Meinrad for the first time in 1967. He was living in Louisville at the time.
GEORGE: A friend of mine that I worked with in Louisville was a good friend of Fr. Eugene Ward, who was the abbey organist at the time. We would frequently come over on Sunday afternoon for Vespers. It's an easy drive. Even though 64 wasn't finished then, it was easy to get here. We did that quite a lot. It just got to be sort of one of those things you did on a nice Sunday afternoon.
BR. KOLBE: George ended up on the mailing list for retreats and started attending a couple of those a year. After several years, he moved from Louisville to Charleston, South Carolina, and it wasn't as easy for him to get to Saint Meinrad.
BR. JOEL: George introduced one of his friends from Charleston to Saint Meinrad.
GEORGE: He said, "You ought to be an oblate." I was like, "Well, I never thought about that." So I did. Started that process. Two days after I made my oblation, which was on a Saturday, I was going to leave on the Monday morning to drive back to Charleston, and had breakfast with Fr. Jeremy, just really by chance, because he was sitting at a table in Newman, and there was a space there, and so I sat down.
BR. KOLBE: During that breakfast, Fr. Jeremy kept talking about how he was about to lose one of his regular organists and didn't know what he was going to do. George asked him about it, but didn't commit to anything.
GEORGE: All the way back to Charleston on that 12-hour drive, something kept saying, "You ought to apply for that; you can do that." So I wrote him an email when I got home, and told him a little more about myself than I had before, and said, "Are you interested in pursuing this?" And almost before I hit the send button, it came back saying, "Yes!"
BR. JOEL: That was in July. George came back to Saint Meinrad in October and spent a week learning more about what the job would entail.
BR. KOLBE: He decided he would like the job, so he closed up his home in South Carolina, sold a bunch of his stuff, and moved to Saint Meinrad in the middle of January, right before a terrible snowstorm.
BR. JOEL: We asked him what brought him back to Saint Meinrad after all these years, and he said that when he was in college, he thought he had a monastic vocation. He spent a couple months at a small priory in Michigan.
GEORGE: I had not finished college at the time. The director they gave me was a pretty gruff old guy, and he said, "There's no way we would accept you." He said, "You haven't even finished college." He said, "And we're certainly not gonna pay for you to finish it."
He said, "Go finish college, and come back and we'll talk some more." I never went back. Other things happened. Life happened. Maybe that planted a seed. And there's just something about being around a monastic community. The hill is very magnetic.
BR. KOLBE: He says it was the grace of God prodding him along that brought him back to Saint Meinrad to live and work.
GEORGE: I had thought that I was retired. I was living in Charleston working a little bit here and there, but basically a beach bum. I lived a block and a half from the ocean. Something kicked me in the seat of the pants, and said, "Here's a job that needs to be done that you can do." From the day I said yes to that, I never looked back and thought I had made the wrong decision. It felt right then, and it feels right now.
BR. JOEL: Janis Dopp became the oblate director in June after Fr. Meinrad Brune retired. She is an oblate, and a co-worker of Saint Meinrad and she's been a student, but her connection to Saint Meinrad is much deeper than that.
JANIS DOPP: This place is so much a part of my life when I'm in Bloomington that my husband sometimes will look at me and say, "I think you need to go back to Saint Meinrad for a while."
BR. KOLBE: She first heard of Saint Meinrad about 35 years ago from a friend who used to come down to visit a couple times a year.
JANIS: Because she thought it was so peaceful. She would just be here for a day to soak up the peace of the place.
BR. JOEL: Janis told her husband about it and one summer day they decided to go for a drive with their young children through the Hoosier National Forest.
JANIS: I said, "Maybe if we come across it, we could stop at Saint Meinrad and see what this place is all about." My son, who was probably 6 or 7 at the time, was very much into knights and shining armor and castles and kings and everything. And when he saw the spires of Saint Meinrad, he was convinced that was a castle and he wanted to go and meet the king. At the very least, he figured there would be some knights in shining armor that would be riding around on horses.
BR. KOLBE: So they drove up the Hill to Saint Meinrad and walked around the grounds for about an hour, went through the church and looked for the king, but they did not see a single person during the whole visit.
BR. JOEL: A couple of years passed and a group at her parish in Bloomington, St. Charles Borromeo, decided to come to Saint Meinrad for an overnight visit and Janis decided to join them.
JANIS: I came with them that Sunday afternoon and had an uncanny feeling, when I stepped out of the car, that I was in a place that I knew intimately, but I didn't, but I felt like I knew the place.
BR. KOLBE: Janis decided to get up early Monday morning and go to Vigils and Lauds to pray with the monks.
JANIS: I remember running in the darkness to get over to the church and the bells were ringing and the light was streaming from the windows and I remember running up the steps of the Abbey Church and hearing my footsteps echo in the darkness. The stars were still out and it was just like one of those moments that is frozen in your mind for all time. It's just there and you never forget it.
Then, I walked into church and within moments, they got up and they began vigils and were singing the Invitatory and I felt like I was in heaven. After that, I knew I would come back to Saint Meinrad. I just didn't know when it would be.
BR. JOEL: A couple more years passed and she and a friend were thinking about joining a third order. They were looking into the Franciscans, who were an hour away in Indianapolis, but they couldn't quite seem to make the leap.
JANIS: That was the closest group and we, somehow, couldn't commit to that hour drive, so I felt something was wrong if we couldn't do that.
BR. KOLBE: Her friend had been down to Saint Meinrad and came back telling Janis about the oblate program. Janis knew almost immediately that was exactly what they were looking for.
BR. JOEL: They planned another trip to the Hill and put in a request to be an oblate. In those days, you would let Fr. Gerard, who was the oblate director, know you were interested in becoming an oblate and then you had wait three months before actually becoming a novice.
BR. KOLBE: Three months later, Janis came back and made her investiture and a year after that, she made her final oblation. There were enough people from her parish who did the same, so an oblate chapter in Bloomington was created.
BR. JOEL: At this point, Janis was coming down to Saint Meinrad once a month for oblate events and spiritual direction. When Fr. Meinrad took over as the oblate director, he asked several oblates, including Janis, to serve on a council for him. Janis chaired the council for 18 years.
JANIS: During that time, a hundred times it must have come into my mind at one time or another, how wonderful it would be, it would be almost miraculous to be able to work at Saint Meinrad, but I never thought that was possible.
I just thought about the wonderful connection that the co-workers had with the monastery and what a deep respect there is in the monastery for the co-workers and how wonderful it would be to be part of that family. After 18 years on the council, 25 years as an oblate, I have this wonderful opportunity to serve in this capacity.
FR. NOËL MUELLER:
FR. NOËLMUELLER: Hello, I'm Fr. Noël Mueller, a Benedictine monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. I am known as a lifer.
BR. KOLBE: Fr. Noël went to seminary for 12 years. He spent half that time studying for the Archdiocese of Louisville at St. Thomas Seminary.
BR. JOEL: The summer after high school, he began to realize he was not only called to the priesthood, but also to community life. So he began looking into different monastic communities.
FR. NOËL: I was downtown once and went to the cathedral for Mass at noon, and right across from the cathedral in Louisville, at that time, there was a religious goods store. I came out of the cathedral, went down the steps, and crossed the street and went into this store.
And no one was up front but on this glass case, there was one book. I went over and yelled out "Hello?" and then eventually someone came, but the book was amazingly theRule of St. Benedict. That summer, I read theRulefor the first time.
BR. KOLBE: The following summer Fr. Noël visited Saint Meinrad for the first time with three other seminarians just to see the place. And on that visit, he felt that call to monastic life even more.
FR. NOËL: The other seminarians slept in every morning, but I would get up early and slip into the back of the church and sit there and listen to Morning Prayer, which was, at that time, in Latin.
BR. JOEL: On that first visit, a monk suggested Fr. Noël contact the novice master, who at that time was Fr. Damasus. Fr. Damasus came to St. Thomas Seminary to visit Fr. Noël.
BR. KOLBE: When he graduated from St. Thomas, he asked the archbishop for permission to join the community at Saint Meinrad.
FR. NOËL: I came to Saint Meinrad in July 1962. It was very exciting. I was one of 13 novices, 11 of us were professed, four of us made solemn vows and the four of us were ordained, and today, only two of us are still in the community, Fr. Ephrem and I. My time at Saint Meinrad was a time of great change.
BR. KOLBE: Fr. Noël came to Saint Meinrad during the Second Vatican Council. As the documents were released from the Council, the theologians in the monastic community would present them for study.
BR. JOEL: When one came out on religious life, it said that there should not be divisions in the community.
FR. NOËL: When I came to Saint Meinrad, we were actually three communities. There was the brother community, the father community and I was what was known as the frater, a seminarian.
BR. KOLBE: Each community had their own recreation room and their own space to live in. They had meals together, but followed different prayer schedules. After the Second Vatican Council was over, all of the monks worshiped together.
FR. NOËL: During those years, one of the huge changes was we broke down what is known as separation, those three communities. Everyone had the same rights.
BR. JOEL: Before the Vatican Council, the monks wore the same habit, but brothers wore a leather belt, while the priests wore a sash, and the fraters wore a sash but it didn't have a side panel.
FR. NOËL: In those early days, if you wanted to know if a person was a brother or a father, you kind of got up to the side of them and looked. But we did away with all that. We went to one habit. We went to one common life, and for me personally, that was an immense blessing.
BR. JOEL: Tony Cecil is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Louisville in Kentucky and he's in his third year of studies at Saint Meinrad. His first time on the Hill was for an end-of-summer retreat in 2011 with the Archdiocese.
TONY CECIL: And, I remember, I was riding with another seminarian and kind of driving that long, windy road back here and wondering, "Are we ever getting here?" Kind of feeling like we were lost. And, then we turned a corner and there's those big spires for the Abbey Church. And, we were like, "Okay, we made it. We know we're not lost."
BR. JOEL: Tony had never heard of Saint Meinrad, but he grew up close to the Abbey of Gethsemani, so he was familiar with what monasteries and monks were. He says being at Saint Meinrad that first time was still an amazing experience.
BR. KOLBE: Tony attended college seminary at Bishop Simon Bruté Seminary in Indianapolis. So he would come to Saint Meinrad twice a year, once on retreat with the Archdiocese in the summer and once with Bishop Bruté in the winter.
BR. JOEL: He also served the "One Bread, One Cup" program as in intern in 2012 and 2013. He heard about the program from a friend he had in seminary. He was hanging out in his room one day and noticed a poster hanging on his wall.
TONY: And the poster was a photograph of him and other college students and some older people and, on the bottom it said, "OBOC." And it had, you know, messages and people's signatures and all that; kind of like a yearbook-type thing written around it. And, it just kind of stuck out to me because, you know, he had like, photographs and artwork on his walls, then this random piece of poster board. So, I figured it must be something significant for him to put it up.
BR. KOLBE: His friend explained that he had been a "One Bread, One Cup" intern and that the OBOC internship is where college students come to Saint Meinrad for the summer, live in community, learn about the Catholic faith and run four five-day conferences for high school youth.
TONY: My initial reaction was, "Oh, that's pretty cool." But, I had never worked with youth before. My friends joke that I'm like an old man in a young person's body. So, the thought of working with high schoolers, especially, I was like, "No, that's not for me." Then, one day, I went up to my room and he had actually printed out an application for the program and put it on my desk, because he wanted me to apply. I was like, "There is no way they are gonna hire me."
BR. JOEL: His friend kept bugging him so he went ahead and applied, and to his surprise he was offered an interview.
BR. KOLBE: He came back to Saint Meinrad in the fall for that interview and was hired for the internship.
TONY: So, that was a big surprise for me, but it's been a big part of my life and kind of a big part of helping me discern my vocation to the priesthood, having that ministry experience early on.
BR. JOEL: When Tony applied to be a seminarian, he was told he would go to Bishop Simon Bruté for college and they would talk about where he would go to study theology later.
BR. KOLBE: There were two seminaries the diocese was thinking about sending Tony to; one of them was Saint Meinrad.
TONY: It kind of came down between: these are two good places. So, what would be the best for me? And, I think, more importantly, what would be the best for the people that I will minister to in the future?
BR. JOEL: Tony was able to have an open dialogue with his archbishop and vocation director to help discern where he should go.
TONY: Ultimately, I kind of wanted to come to Saint Meinrad because of that familiarity and because I knew it was such a good place to be. But, I left it up to my superiors, of course. So, I kind of said what I thought and I said, "Wherever you send me, I'll go." I was not disappointed when I got the phone call and was told to apply to Saint Meinrad.
BR. KOLBE: The monastic community was one thing that surprised Tony about Saint Meinrad. He heard monks cracking jokes and met monks who were younger and closer to his age, and he says all of the stereotypes he had about religious and even the priesthood were shattered.
TONY: Just seeing that they are normal people, who just wanted to follow what they thought God was asking them to do. And, I think that's a really noble example for everyone. Especially in studying to be a diocesan priest, I think seeing their dedication to staying in this one place, and dedicating themselves to the ministries here, is a good example for us to stay firm in our own ministries back home.
BR. JOEL: All in all, Tony has enjoyed his time studying at Saint Meinrad. He calls it the Holy Hill, where people come to connect with God and deepen their relationship with him.
BR. KOLBE: One day Tony was heading to the library. The library is directly across from the Memorial Lobby, so Tony was walking through the Memorial Lobby and was about to go out the doors and down the steps to the library when a thought occurred to him.
BR. JOEL: Memorial Lobby is where all of the seminarians are dropped off at the beginning of the school year to move in.
TONY: Just thinking of all the men that had come through those doors, since this place has been founded, to deepen their relationship with God and to discern his will of whether or not they should be a priest.
To think of all the youth that come here through "One Bread, One Cup" and all the visitors, whether they're Catholic, or Protestant, or atheist, whatever they are, all the people that have come through those doors and seen the beautiful murals and come into this beautiful place and felt God's presence.
It was just a normal day going to the library and it's something that just hit me, like, wow! Not very many people have gotten to call this place home. It's really a blessing to get to be able to call it home and to be among those people to walk through those doors on a regular basis.
BR. SIMON HERRMANN:
BR. SIMON HERRMANN: What brought me to Saint Meinrad is, of course, God and the Holy Spirit and a life centered on Christ, but really what it all boils down to is our Christian vocation is to love, and what I'm realizing now, in hindsight, is that this place is where God is teaching me how to love and, by a series of many different events, it all led to here, to learning that.
BR. KOLBE: Br. Simon Herrmann's connection to Saint Meinrad began through "One Bread, One Cup," the liturgical leadership conference for youth held at Saint Meinrad during the summer. He first came as a youth participant, and later he served the program as an intern.
BR. SIMON: When I was first here at "One Bread, One Cup" in high school, I'd never seen monks before in person, so I was wondering who these Jedi-like guys were in these black robes.
BR. JOEL: Fr. Anthony was the first monk he met.
BR. SIMON: I remember that a priest from my parish back home in Ohio had given me a little prayer book and had written something in Latin in it and I didn't know what the Latin phrase was.
BR. JOEL: He took the book to Fr. Anthony to translate the phrase and found out it said, "Let us pray for one another." When Br. Simon applied to be a college intern for "One Bread, One Cup," Fr. Anthony was his boss.
BR. SIMON: When I was living here in community as a college intern, the place grew on me, or maybe rather God was growing on me, especially through the means of this place, so that's when the questions of monastic life were like, "What is this all about?"
BR. KOLBE: During his internship, Br. Simon was able to spend some time with Br. Francis, who is a monk originally from Findley, Ohio, where Br. Simon's from. They went fishing a couple times during the summer and played catch and Br. Simon had a chance to ask him questions and learn more about monastic life.
BR. JOEL: At the end of his second summer serving as an OBOC college intern, he made a monastic observance and stayed in the monastery for two weeks.
BR. SIMON: It was a cool experience and it was a great way to meet more members of the community, but when it was over, I was like, "No way. This life is not for me. They're too quiet and they don't get to go anywhere." But in hindsight, looking back, I had a lot of growing up to do.
BR. KOLBE: When Br. Simon graduated college, he worked for a couple years and ended up back at Saint Meinrad as a co-worker in the Development Office. That's when he began to mature and to realize it's okay to stay in one place and thrive and grow in God.
BR. JOEL: So, how did he end up joining the monastery?
BR. KOLBE: He was actually thinking about being a diocesan priest, a priest who works in a parish of a diocese. When he was at Mass, the thought kept pervading his mind "What would it be like to be here as the priest?" Eventually, he decided he was ready to be a priest, so he contacted his vocation director back in Ohio.
BR. SIMON: Well at this time, this was kind of a very excited decision, not quick, but I was like, "Yeah, let's do it." I'm like, "Okay, maybe I should slow down a little bit and start going to Mass during the week and praying with the monks, Liturgy of the Hours," 'cause that would be something I would be expected to do as a priest.
BR. JOEL: As he spent more and more time going to Mass and praying with the monks, something started to click.
BR. SIMON: There was that sense of love here, like these guys have something going on and I think I want to be a part of that or at least explore it more.
BR. KOLBE: Br. Simon made his first profession as a monk of Saint Meinrad in January of 2016. He is currently studying for the priesthood.
BR. SIMON: So I like to joke with people that I was here in high school as a "One Bread, One Cup" participant. I was here in college helping with the "One Bread, One Cup" program. I worked here professionally. So I think God was like, "Why not become a monk?" and I was like, "Well, okay. Sure." I think God's grace subtly clicked here and has really drawn me in and I like to tell people I said "yes" to monastic life but it's an ongoing "yes." There's something mysteriously profound and deep about this life that I think keeps pulling us monks in.
BR. JOEL: Thank you for listening to this second episode about how people came to Saint Meinrad. If you missed the first episode, I recommend you go back and give it a listen. You can find it, and all of our past episodes, on our blog at saintmeinrad.edu/echoes.
BR. KOLBE: Today's podcast was edited and produced by Krista Hall, with the help of Br. Joel Blaize, Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski, Br. William Sprauer, Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Jim Paquette, Tammy Schuetter and Christian Mocek. The music for this podcast was written and produced by Br. Joel.
BR. JOEL: Thank you, Archabbot Kurt Stasiak, Fr. Noël Mueller, Br. Simon Herrmann, Tony Cecil, Janis Dopp, and George Hubbard for sharing your stories with us.
BR. KOLBE: We are beginning to work on the third season of the podcast. If you have enjoyed Echoes from the Bell Tower, subscribe to it on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.
BR. JOEL: You are always welcome to visit Saint Meinrad, even if it is just to walk around and look for knights in shining armor.
BR. WILLIAM: Alexa, can you tell us a joke?
ALEXA: Why did the cannibals decline to dine at the country club?
They can't stand tennis elbow.
BR. WILLIAM: That's kind of gross. That's a kind of gross one.