FR. GODFREY MULLEN: We must be a light on a hill so that others might come to know the glory of God. But sometimes people can’t come to the Hill where we live. Sometimes the light of the Hill has to go to them.
BR. KOLBE: 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. I am Br. Kolbe.
BR. JOEL: And I am Br. Joel. Welcome to the fifth season of our podcast! Most of the episodes for this season are about Saint Meinrad’s impact away from the Hill. We started working on these episodes about two years ago and we’re excited to finally release them. Today, we are going to talk about what it’s like for monks to have assignments away from the monastery.
BR. KOLBE: Benedictines are known for their stability to a specific monastery. And by that, I mean, I am a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Saint Meinrad, the place and the community, is my physical and spiritual home. I think it would surprise a lot of people to know that a Benedictine monastery would have so much impact away from itself.
BR. JOEL: It has been a part of our history from the very beginning to go out and minister to people in the local community and beyond.
ARCHABBOT KURT STASIAK: We were founded by the monastery of Einsiedeln in Switzerland because they wanted to extend their prayer and work to the Americas. So, in 1854 they sent two monks from Switzerland here to Saint Meinrad to pay special attention to the German-speaking population. We have certainly continued that kind of outreach.
BR. KOLBE: As Archabbot Kurt just said, today the monks of Saint Meinrad continue that kind of outreach from coast to coast, offering a variety of services to the Church. We have monks working and studying in Europe. There are monks teaching and serving as administrators at colleges and universities. We even have monks serving as chaplains throughout the whole United States.
BR. JOEL: We have a long history of staffing parishes locally and across the country. The number of men being assigned away from the Hill has dropped over the years because our community has gotten smaller. Our population and assignments fluctuate throughout the year, but as of February, we are a community of 78 monks and about 18 of us are either living off the Hill or spending the majority of their time working away from Saint Meinrad.
ARCHABBOT KURT STASIAK: When I came here into the monastery in 1974, I think there were about 150 of us monks. I have not counted this up in our book, but my recollection is that there were probably about 25 that were living off the Hill. We staffed a number of parishes and a number of chaplaincies. It also was not uncommon at all for every Friday this list would appear on the bulletin board with the names of seven, eight, 10 or 12 priest monks who would be going up into Indianapolis, or over into Evansville, or Louisville to help with weekend Mass assignments.
BR. JOEL: We currently have monks who staff five parishes, St. Benedict Cathedral in Evansville, IN; St. Isidore Parish in Bristow, IN; and St. Meinrad, St. Boniface and St. Martin of Tours parishes just down the road from the abbey. Of course, many of our monks who have assignments off the Hill still live in the monastery fulltime.
BR. KOLBE: Some of our monks spend years away from the monastery, while others are only gone for a couple months.
ARCHABBOT KURT: My largest assignment off the Hill was to do graduate work at Sant’ Anselmo, the international Benedictine university and residence in Rome, Italy. I was there in the mid-1980s for three years, got a license in sacramental theology, came back here to the Hill for four years, and then returned to Sant’ Anselmo in the early ’90s for two more years.
So that was my largest, longest assignment off the Hill. I’ve had a number of short-term assignments during the summer. And, a very enviable position, for two summers I was the summer chaplain at Yellowstone National Park, which was an absolute delight.
BR. JOEL: So, what is it like for monks who live away from the community? How do they maintain a balance of work and prayer without the Archabbey Church bells calling them to prayer? We caught up with Fr. Godfrey Mullen, who serves as rector of St. Benedict Cathedral about an hour from Saint Meinrad in Evansville, IN.
FR. GODFREY MULLEN: I can honestly say that when I professed my vows in 1989, one of the fundamental reasons that I thought I wanted to be a monk was that I would never have to live alone. So, I spent the first couple and a half of decades of my life in the monastery living there, with the exception of school. That’s what I intended to do.
BR. KOLBE: Then he got the opportunity to do parish ministry. He had been serving in an administrative role in the Seminary and School of Theology when Archabbot Justin DuVall assigned him to serve as pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Huntingburg. About a year later, he was reassigned to the cathedral. Fr. Godfrey has lived away from the monastery for eight years now.
FR. GODFREY: I think the big surprise for me is that the monastic life is still very much a part of who I am. The Liturgy of the Hours really does frame my day. I know that it’s easy to let that go, and yet it has always been such a rhythm for me in my life that I believe that’s been the real marker.
BR. JOEL: Since Fr. Godfrey has been in the parish, his personal prayer has become a richer supply for his spiritual life. It is also essential for when he presides at Mass.
FR. GODFREY: I think there is an urgency about it, because that prayer, along with the Liturgy of the Hours, is what fuels my preaching. Here, as opposed to the monastery, I’m preaching every day. There has to be, in my view, for preaching to be meaningful, there’s got to be some fruit of prayer that makes the difference.
BR. KOLBE: In the monastery, each priest monk will preside for a week at least twice a year.
BR. JOEL: Preaching every day requires Fr. Godfrey to be self-disciplined in his prayer. He says when a monk is assigned off the Hill, it’s important for him to quickly establish the rhythm of prayer and work or he runs the risk of losing it.
FR. GODFREY: For me, I will say, without any hesitation, I’ve always seen it as too important as fuel really for the work that I’m called to do to be left aside. It’s when I pray the Liturgy of the Hours that, even though I’m an hour away from the Abbey, I feel most connected to the monastic community and the fundamental work of our prayer. I think that’s helped me to be faithful to the commitment that I made to pray every day.
ARCHABBOT KURT: I think one of the first things any monk learns when he’s away from the monastery on another assignment is how much he relies upon the community, how much the community does support him. It’s something we tend to take for granted when we stay here. But then, like many things, when it’s removed it’s, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize what an effect this was having on me.”
BR. KOLBE: Archabbot Kurt says it is impossible to separate the monk from the Benedictine values. The monk has read the Rule of St. Benedict and lived the life of a monk, so those values become ingrained into who the monk is.
ARCHABBOT KURT: By the time a monk has made solemn vows, certainly by the time he is ordained if he’s going on to the priesthood, he has studied the Rule, he has heard the Rule proclaimed at least 15 times, because we read part of it at meal every day three times a year. He has lived the monastic life.
So, when it comes to the way that the monk prays, the way the monk thinks about himself as a member of the Church, the way the monk thinks about himself as serving God in the Church, I think it’s impossible for him to do that apart from thinking of the monastery of Saint Meinrad.
BR. JOEL: Fr. Godfrey is assigned to a parish that was founded by monks of Saint Meinrad in 1912. It has been under the patronage of St. Benedict from the very beginning. One of the Benedictine values he has tried to focus his parishioners’ minds on is hospitality and what it means to welcome the guest as Christ.
FR. GODFREY: We started, of course, by talking about the fact that there are 3,600 parishioners here and we were very comfortable not knowing most of them. We were very comfortable sitting next to people at Mass week after week and never knowing their names. We’ve done several things to overcome that, to create the familiarity of community that any Benedictine monastery would be known for.
BR. KOLBE: He also says the liturgy has always been a centerpiece of the life of the parish from the beginning.
FR. GODFREY: I think that marks a Benedictine attention to what we’re about as well. Personally, I will say the rhythm of life and the beauty of community are the two gifts that I’ve received from Saint Meinrad that, in a genuine spirit of stewardship, I’m hoping to pass on to the people of this parish.
BR. JOEL: All in all, when a monk steps off the Hill, whether it’s for an assignment or to go to the dentist, he is a representative of Saint Meinrad. Fr. Godfrey takes that responsibility seriously.
FR. GODFREY: No matter what I do, no matter what I’m saying or to whom I’m saying it, I’m a monk of Saint Meinrad, and in certain respects, in that moment, I’m responsible for the good name of countless monks who have gone before us and who will come after us, and I have to realize that that’s an incredible trust that has been given to me as the abbot assigned me outside of the monastery.
BR. JOEL: Many years ago, Fr. Godfrey was a young monk sitting at a community meeting. There was a discussion about the enrollment in the college. One of the older monks stood up and made a statement that most of the monks ignored. As the conversation went on, this monk became more and more agitated.
FR. GODFREY: He had to be in his 80s, if not in his 90s, and finally he stood up and went to the microphone, and made this impassioned statement that if we exist only for ourselves, then we are not living the monastic life that Benedict envisioned and we should be ashamed of ourselves. His response immediately was, “We must be a light on a hill so that others might come to know the glory of God.”
I remember, as young monk sitting there thinking to myself, I never knew that that old monk could ever say anything nice, but I was really impressed by the beauty and the passion of what he had to say. From the very beginning, starting then, I knew that somehow Saint Meinrad was about more than what happens on that hill.
BR. KOLBE: A couple years ago, St. Benedict’s Parish was replacing the roof on the church. While that work was taking place, Fr. Godfrey got the idea to light up the bell tower, similar to how Saint Meinrad’s bell towers are lit up at night. He has heard from people who are Catholic and non-Catholic that lighting up the bell tower has been a beacon of hope for the community. Through his work at St. Benedict’s Cathedral, Fr. Godfrey is taking the light of Saint Meinrad out into the world.
FR. GODFREY: If we’re truly about hospitality, then when I go to the doctor’s office or the dentist’s office, when I go wherever I need to go, am I carrying that light that is the beauty of Saint Meinrad with me? Am I carrying this life that is centered on prayer? Am I carrying this desire to notice Christ in the other everywhere I go? If I am, then I’m living fruitfully and I’m living faithfully as a monk every day that I live. Is it the same as living in the monastery? No, it isn’t. Is it a worthy way to live the Benedictine monastic life? In my opinion, very much so.
BR. KOLBE: Thank you for taking time to listen to this episode. Our next episode is set to launch in two weeks and will continue with the outreach theme. It talks about the impact of monks as teachers, and we introduce you to one monk who became known for much more than being a great teacher.
BR. JOEL: As always, this episode was edited and produced by Krista Hall, with the help of Br. Joel Blaize, Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski, Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Jim Paquette, Tammy Schuetter and Christian Mocek. The music for this podcast was written and produced by Br. Joel.
BR. KOLBE: Thanks to Archabbot Kurt Stasiak and Fr. Godfrey Mullen. If you are enjoying “Echoes from the Bell Tower,” tell your friends and subscribe to it on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher or your favorite listening platform.
BR. JOEL: You can always listen to our past episodes at saintmeinrad.edu/echoes. We have some really great episodes about chant, monastic funeral practices and even the hobbies some of the monks have. Go check them out!
BR. JOEL: Welcome to the fifth season of our podcast!