ARCHABBOT KURT STASIAK: The week before I made first profession, my grandfather died. I was allowed to go to the funeral. Because I got back late at night two nights before first profession, I gave my list of names to the novice master, who took them into the abbot. He came back within about 10 minutes and said, "You're probably the first monk in the history of our Archabbey to receive his name from the abbot in his PJs."
BR. JOEL BLAIZE: 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. We're your hosts, Br. Joel.
BR. KOLBE WOLNIAKOWSKI: And I'm Br. Kolbe. Way back in 2016, when our podcast was just beginning, we created an episode about monastic names. It's actually the third episode we ever released.
BR. JOEL: Recently, an article was written for the On the Hill newsletter about monastic names and we decided to create a part two to that episode from 2016. If you haven't heard our first episode on monastic names, we suggest you go back and give it a listen. It's number three, titled "What's behind a monk's name?" in Apple podcasts or at saintmeinrad.edu/echoes.
BR. KOLBE: What is behind a monk's name? Here is a quick recap … At Saint Meinrad we follow the Swiss tradition of a monk taking a new name at first profession. Other religious orders take a new name when the person enters as a novice and then other religious orders don't change their names at all.
BR. JOEL: At Saint Meinrad, there are a couple rules about the name a monk can take. The week before the profession, the monk making vows submits three names to the abbot. The names have to be based off a saint either from church history, monastic tradition or an Old Testament figure.
BR. KOLBE: In the monastery, there can only be one person with a name at a time. So until I die or leave the community, I'm the only Br. Kolbe.
BR. JOEL: And I'm the only Br. Joel. After the abbot receives the three names, he meets with the monk to discuss the choices. Here's Fr. Mateo. He made his first profession in August and is the most recent monk to take a new name.
FR. MATEO ZAMORA: Well, it's very interesting. When I met with the abbot, he says, "Do you have your three choices?" And I said, "Here they are." "Why don't you tell me about it?" So I was like, okay I'm holding the paper. Okay I'm going to tell the story and it's quite interesting because, obviously, the only choice that I had that had a story behind it was my first choice, Mateo. So even in the conversation, I could tell that the choice was a little skewed. I was basically begging for Mateo.
BR. KOLBE: Fr. Mateo submitted the names Mateo, Pio and Quentin to the Abbot.
BR. JOEL: Mateo was the only name that had any significance to him. The other two were simply names he liked. You'll hear the story behind his name later in this episode.
FR. MATEO: So Fr. Abbot at the end of the meeting said, "Would you like to have the name Mateo?" And when he asked me that, I was waiting for like, "Your name is going to be Mateo." When he asked, "Would you like to have Mateo as your name?" I was like, this gets to be my choice? Sort of like, why don't you choose? I could blame you if I didn't like it, you know? And I said, "Yes. Please." So that's how I got the name Mateo.
BR. KOLBE: After receiving the name, it is then kept a secret until the first profession ceremony when the monk announces his new name to the community. Abbot Kurt explains…
ARCHABBOT KURT: Oh, that's part of the custom of the house. There's always some excitement when a monk is making his first profession, and part of that very human excitement is "What's the new name going to be? What are we going to be calling you for the rest of your life?" So it's part ... It's like ... In a certain sense, it's like wrapping the gift boxes. So just getting ready for the celebration and it heightens the festivities a bit.
FR. MATEO: When I made my profession, everyone was waiting with bated breath to kind of know what my name is and so nobody, except probably the abbot and Brother Martin, who helped me with my vow chart, knew what my name was gonna be. I milked the moment and slowed down. "I. Father," and I could tell the look on everyone's face is like, "Say it now! Say it now!" "Mateo." And I as soon as I said it, it's like, okay, they moved on.
It was amazing because, at the same time as I was saying my new name, I was thinking to myself, "I can't believe that's me now." You know? It was just so surreal that, from that moment on, that was gonna be the name.
BR. KOLBE: Now you know how a monk receives his name at Saint Meinrad, but why do we take new names?
BR. JOEL: Taking a new name is biblical. We see Abram become Abraham, Simon becomes Peter, Saul becomes Paul. In the Bible, that change of name signifies a new life in Christ. Here's Fr. Christian.
FR. CHRISTIAN RAAB: As a monk enters the monastery, as part of their becoming a monk, they get this new name, and it symbolizes a new life that they're taking on.
I think it also is reflective of the idea also in the Bible that those names are often connected with missions. So Peter gets that name as he's getting a kind of calling, not just to know Christ but to do something for Christ, a new life of service. With Paul, it's similar. So with the monk taking the new name, it's both having new life and a new mission or new vocation.
BR. KOLBE: When you enter the monastery, you get a shared identity as a monk. We all wear the same monastic habit, the black clothes you see us wearing, and follow the same daily prayer and work schedule. Since names cannot be repeated, taking a new name gives us a specific identity within the monastic community.
FR. CHRISTIAN: John Paul II talked about everybody having a vocation within their vocation. So we have a common vocation as monks, but then we all have something kind of particular about us that we really are hoping to strive for and fulfill in our particular sense of identity and mission.
BR. JOEL: The name a monk takes often symbolizes the kind of ideal the monk is striving for. As we mentioned earlier, the names are also names of patron saints. So the saint is sometimes someone the monk looks up to or someone they'd like to imitate.
FR. CHRISTIAN: One of the things I like to do when I'm in choir is, if I'm there early and I'm sort of waiting for our common prayer to start, I'll sometimes look around the choir and think about who each person's patron saint is and say a quick prayer to that patron saint for that person or for the whole community. So we get this kind of image of the communion of saints by having all these people gathered in the choir, each one named for a different patron, and that inspires us to call on those saints and ask for their intercession.
ARCHABBOT KURT: It's kind of one of the standard humor things in the monastery that we suggest to novices what their name should be, and it's usually some outlandish name. For example, it was suggested when I was finishing the novitiate, several people suggested I should take the name Shadrach so that I could be Shadrach Stasiak. Shadrach's one of those Old Testament names. That was clever and humorous. It had a certain ring to it, but it didn't appeal to me much.
BR. JOEL: Here's Fr. Harry.
FR. HARRY HAGAN: I would always encourage people to take more basic straightforward names like Harry, so that you ended up with a basic name. That said, there are certainly some lovely monastic names that people can carry well. Fr. Guerric's name is not a particularly common name, but it suits him so well.
There are a few of those kinds of names at the moment that are open in the community. Aiden would be one, a nice monastic name. Cuthbert is open, but I don't know that anybody ... You'd have to have a strong personality to take a name like Cuthbert and to ring it off, I'd say.
BR. KOLBE: Over the years, a lot of religious orders gave up the tradition of taking new names like Cuthbert and Aiden, but it's one of the traditions I hope we continue at Saint Meinrad. Here's Br. Francis.
BR. FRANCIS WAGNER: It's very particular to the monastic way of life, to the Benedictine way of life. It's just one of our traditions that we've held onto. It's just like we ring the bells manually. A lot of monasteries don't do that anymore, either. But it's something that, it's good, I think. It signifies to us that we're striving for something more than what we are right now.
BR. JOEL: Now that you know how and why we take new names at Saint Meinrad, we have a couple stories to share with you. Let's start with Archabbot Kurt. He was named Walter before joining the monastery.
BR. KOLBE: Monks have all kinds of reasons for the names they choose. For some, it's a favorite saint or the name ties to family history or heritage. Others just like the name.
ARCHABBOT KURT: That was pretty much my case. There isn't a Saint Kurt, really. I chose the name because I wanted to do something that would carry on the German background from which I came, and also in a very human sense, two important people in my life were named Kurt. So that was the reason I wanted to, I chose that name.
BR. JOEL: Abbot Kurt found the name he wanted first, and then he had to find a patron saint.
ARCHABBOT KURT: So when I was coming up to first profession, I was in a mad scramble to find how I could suggest that Kurt was actually the name of a saint. I finally found, in one of these baby books, that the patron saint of those named Kurt was Constantine, who was a figure in the early Church who, he and seven or eight of his followers were being persecuted for being Christians and they went and hid themselves in a cave.
Their persecutors found them, sealed the cave up, and lo and behold, 2 or 300 years later when other people discovered the cave, these people were still alive. So in the tradition of the early Church, they were some of the early witnesses to Christians' belief in the resurrection.
BR. KOLBE: Fr. Denis Robinson chose his name for two reasons. First was because it was related to his baptismal name, Sidney, and second because he had a great devotion to Saint Denis, who was the first bishop of Paris.
FR. DENIS ROBINSON: He also has a very interesting story in that he was a martyr and he was beheaded, and according to the story, after his martyrdom and his being beheaded, he rose, picked up his head and walked with it for about 12 miles and then finally laid down and was buried at what is today the Abbey of Saint-Denis in Paris.
BR. JOEL: Fr. Denis has visited the Abbey of Saint-Denis and says, over the years, the thing he's learned most from his patron is perseverance.
FR. DENIS: Anybody that gets beheaded and just picks up his head and keeps going is a kind of patron of perseverance. And if you have a really bad day I can remember my patron and think, "Yeah, he had worse days than me probably," and it helps you to keep going. And it also, even though, of course it's a very spiritual ideal, it also provides a little bit of comic relief in many ways, and that's another thing I found very helpful in not only my monastic life, but in the world in which we live. If you can't laugh a little bit, you're probably lost.
BR. JOEL: Some monks at Saint Meinrad don't change their name at all. When submitting names to the abbot, there's always the option to submit the name you already have, as long as no other monk in the monastery has that name and you can find a patron saint. That's what Fr. Harry did.
FR. HARRY: I joined the monastery in 1971. During my novitiate year, I thought that I would change my name, and I kind of picked out Aaron. It was a good name, but the closer I got to the time of really choosing the name, the less, I don't know, perhaps the less I thought I was interested in changing my life the way that you're supposed to, but in any case, I decided that I would put down, at least first, I would put down Harry, which is the name that I have from my father, and so it's my name and it's also my father's name.
I sometimes tell the story that when I was trying to figure out what name to take that I was torn between Harry and Aphrahat. And that I finally figured out that if I got into a low-class bar and people couldn't relate to me, and I told them that my name was Aphrahat, they would be sure it was my problem, but if they couldn't relate to me and I told them my name was Harry, they would be sure it was their problem that they couldn't relate to me, because Harry is about as basic an English name as you can possibly get.
BR. KOLBE: At first profession, a monk goes from being Novice So-and-So to Brother So-and-So. Even though Fr. Harry didn't change his name, that change from novice to brother made a difference for him.
FR. HARRY: Up until that point, I was Novice Harry, and what I remember after that point is being Brother Harry. That word "brother" gave me my place in the community. Even though I had not changed my name, it had changed by the addition of that title, and I somehow felt more at home and felt that I was beginning to create a space where I could be and live.
BR. JOEL: Fr. Christian was actually advised not to take the name Christian during his first visit to Saint Meinrad.
FR. CHRISTIAN: It's funny, though, because when I came on my first vocation visit, the then-vocation director, he out of the blue says, "If you ever come to Saint Meinrad, don't take the name Christian." I said, "Why?" He said, "Well, some names are cursed, and we've had a couple people with that name leave the community. So you want to take the name of somebody who's never left."
To top it all off, those two guys had four-letter last names that started with R, and my last name was four letters and starts with R. Anyway, I ultimately just said I'm not going to be superstitious and let something like that stop me from asking for this name. So I went ahead and did, and I haven't left. Fifteen years, so I think maybe I have salvaged the name from its cursed state.
BR. KOLBE: Since the name was supposedly cursed, why did Fr. Christian still want to ask for it? He was named Dan before he came to Saint Meinrad, but Christian was his middle name.
FR. CHRISTIAN: I really liked the idea that it was a name that I had always had but by which I had never been known. There was a kind of parallel there to my sense of vocation, that my vocation is something I've always had but had not yet been known by. Of course, the name Christian means follower of Christ, and so I really liked that it would call me to follow Christ. Just the meaning of the word, follower of Christ, meant a lot to me.
BR. JOEL: Fr. Christian submitted his name because of the meaning, follower of Christ. He then had to choose a patron saint.
FR. CHRISTIAN: The one that I chose was a 12th-century Irish monk who became a bishop. I liked that he is somebody who brought together the ideals of monasticism with priesthood and ecclesiastical service by being both a monk and a bishop.
BR. KOLBE: He chose the saint, Christian O'Connerky, whose name ironically sounds similar to the two monks who founded Saint Meinrad.
FR. CHRISTIAN: Christian O'Connerky, I found myself one day thinking about that name. It started to sound familiar, and I couldn't figure out why. Then it dawned on me that the first two monks of Saint Meinrad were Ulrich Christian and Bede O'Connor, and I thought that was so neat that my patron saint, his name actually brought together the two first monks of Saint Meinrad.
BR. JOEL: We heard from Fr. Mateo at the beginning of this episode. His story is unique because he has had many names throughout his life. He grew up in the Philippines and was baptized Emmanuel.
FR. MATEO: In the Philippines, everyone would have a nickname. My nickname growing up, at least in my mother's side of the family, was Noel, but in school I was always Emmanuel, and I got tired of being called Emmanuel in school. So by the time I got to college, I wanted to go by Noel.
BR. KOLBE: When Fr. Mateo came to the United States in 2001, he decided to only go by Noel. That worked out for him until he came to the Saint Meinrad to study for the priesthood for the Diocese of Lexington.
FR. MATEO: And we have our Fr. Noël Mueller here in the seminary and so, to avoid any confusion, I decided to go by "Nole" so that people would be able to distinguish us. And "Nole" has a certain kind ofje ne sais quoi, a certain kind of pizazz to it. So I said I'll go by "Nole," so I went by "Nole" and even when I was a priest in the Diocese of Lexington for 10 years, people knew me as Fr. "Nole."
BR. JOEL: Our custom at Saint Meinrad is that men entering the monastery go by their baptismal name, but when Fr. Mateo entered the monastery, he was already known at Saint Meinrad as Fr. "Nole," spelled N-o-e-l. Fr. Noel actually wanted to keep his name, but Fr. Noël Mueller already had it.
FR. MATEO: So each night when we have our evening meal, when we have dinner, the reader reads the necrology passage from theRule, but he also reads about the saint whose feast we will be celebrating the next day.
BR. KOLBE: Fr. Mateo is talking about our custom of table reading during supper. Every evening a monk reads aloud while the community eats. We talk more about this custom in Episode 17 of our podcast titled "Word with a Capital 'W.'"
FR. MATEO: A lot of times, we would hear all of these weird names. And when I was a novice, the other junior monks would kind of turn to me and say, "Mm, that's a good name." You know? Eberhard or something nice like, let's say, Anselm. Hm. I keep on asking myself, can I see myself as an Anselm? No. Or an Eberhard? Certainly not. So I was thinking, how do anyone come up with names?
BR. JOEL: In Fr. Mateo's family, names are not repeated. So he was looking for a name that had never been used in his family. Finally, during his first Christmas Vigil Mass at Saint Meinrad, the name Mateo came to him.
BR. KOLBE: When Fr. Mateo was working in a parish for the Diocese of Lexington, his favorite Mass of the year was the Christmas Vigil. He really enjoyed the energy of the families and children.
FR. MATEO: I was feeling kind of parish-sick, you know a little homesick, and I was yearning for that kind of energy that the parish has on Christmas Vigil and here I was in the Archabbey Church and it's a very different kind of energy. Right there, we were supposed to have the Gospel for the Christmas Vigil Mass, and the Gospel for the Christmas Vigil Mass is also my favorite gospel.
It is the genealogy of Jesus, which, of course, most priests and deacons just hate because it's a list of names that nobody knows how to pronounce, but I've always been fascinated by it. I just love this reminder of how God has been faithful through every generation.
BR. JOEL: At the Christmas Vigil Mass in the Archabbey Church, we chant the Gospel. That year, Fr. Jeremy, Fr. Tobias and Br. John Mark were proclaiming the Gospel.
FR. MATEO: It was like hearing this Gospel for the first time and I was mesmerized by it and I thought to myself, "Oh my gosh. This is such a gift. My favorite Gospel being proclaimed in this way." Finally, once we got to that pinnacle, that Gospel ends with the prophecy from Isaiah, "The virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel," which is my baptismal name.
And at that moment a light bulb went on and I thought to myself, "That is the name!" Not Emmanuel, but basically, since this Gospel was from Matthew, I thought, "Matthew is my name," but I wanted to Philippine-ize it since I'm originally from the Philippines, I wanted to take on the name Mateo.
BR. KOLBE: Fr. Mateo says even though he's been known by different names, he's still had to go through a transition of getting used to his new name.
FR. MATEO: Some of the students were calling me, "Hey, Fr. Noel." I said, "Who? That person is dead now. This is the new me. I'm Fr. Mateo." It's a very great reminder really, of the kind of a new life that I have embraced.
CREDITS:BR. JOEL: Every monk has a story behind their monastic name. We hope you enjoyed hearing a couple of them in today's episode. We couldn't fit all of the stories we gathered in this episode so Fr. Noël, Br. Francis, Br. Stanley and Br. Kolbe will tell their stories in a shorter episode set to release next week.
BR. KOLBE: Our editor and producer is Krista Hall. This episode came together with the help of Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Tammy Schuetter, Jim Paquette, Christian Mocek, Br. Joel Blaize and myself, Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski. Br. Joel wrote and produced the music you heard in this episode.
BR. JOEL: We also want to say thank you to Archabbot Kurt Stasiak, Fr. Denis Robinson, Fr. Harry Hagan, Fr. Christian Raab, Br. Francis Wagner, Fr. Noël Mueller, Br. Stanley Wagner, Fr. Mateo Zamora and Br. Kolbe for sharing the stories behind your names.
BR. KOLBE: We have a couple of pictures in the blog post for the episode of some of the monks with an item that symbolizes their name or patron saint. There's a picture of me with a Polish coin. You'll have to go check it out and listen to next week's episode to find out why. The web address is saintmeinrad.edu/echoes.
BR. JOEL: If you're enjoying our podcast, share it with a friend and don't forget to check back next week to hear more stories behind our monastic names.
BLOOPER:FR. MATEO: I thought it would be nice as my voicemail, "This is QZ, I'm busy, leave a message." Well apparently, the abbot was not very impressed with that story.