Br. John Mark Falkenhain: I wonder if we shouldn't use the term "disciplines." Hobbies… hobbies sounds too grade school, get out the glue and make a collage. I like the word "disciplines" in a way because it is something that you learn, you become a disciple of, a teacher of the discipline itself and it's just a really good metaphor for conversion. And so often, you know, our life, our Christian life, and therefore monastic life, is about conversion. It's the whole point of being a monk or being a Christian.


Novice Tony: I'm Novice Tony Wolniakowski.


Br. Joel: I am Br. Joel Blaize.


Novice Tony:  And this is our podcast, Echoes from the Bell Tower.


Br. Joel:  Stories of wit and wisdom from Benedictine monks who live, work and pray in Southern Indiana.


Novice Tony:  This week we're talking about what monks do outside of prayer and work. When we enter the monastery, we are encouraged to take up hobbies, or disciplines, as Br. John Mark would say.


Br. Joel:  Disciplines in the monastery range from caring for chickens and bees to knitting and wood burning.


Novice Tony:  We have monks who garden or fly kites and many that just collect items. Our episode begins with Fr. Augustine's story of how he began collecting stamps and why his collection is different than most.


Br. Joel:  Fr. Augustine had no intention of starting a stamp collection. When he was seven years old, his aunt worked for a company that received a lot of foreign mail and she thought someone should start saving the stamps.


Fr. Augustine:  And so I was the guinea pig. (Laughter) But like I said, I was about 7 years old and I've been saving stamps ever since. And I'm 85 now, so that's quite a few years.


Novice Tony:  When Fr. Augustine joined the monastery, he already had a pretty good collection going. He gave this collection to his mother and she continued to work on it.


Fr. Augustine: I don't know just what year it was, but my parents were living in a mobile home and it caught fire and burnt and the collection burnt in it. But my mother immediately started collecting again. She did it for a number of years and she had a good collection going. But then she was too old and she couldn't take care of it, so she gave the collection to the monastery. So it came back to me.


Novice Tony:  Like we said in the introduction, Fr. Augustine's stamp collection is different than most. When most people collect stamps, they collect one of each kind. Fr. Augustine's collection is all the stamps he can get his hands on.


Fr. Augustine:  For me, living in a monastery which has a continued history, you know the monastery will probably be going on for another 100, 200, 300 years. If you get a stamp that's worth, let's say 50 cents, well if you get another one just like, it's worth 50 cents also.

And so, with that idea in mind, why I keep all the stamps that I get. And I may have 200, 300 or up to 1,000 of the same stamp, but just replicas. So someday those stamps, even though they're all the same and don't have much value, they will gain value by time.


Novice Tony:  Fr. Augustine also files his stamps differently than most collectors. Most collectors put their stamps in albums, but albums only allow one kind of stamp. Since Fr. Augustine collects so many stamps, he puts them in plastic bags and keeps them in a box by year.


Fr. Augustine:  So I have a room that's designated the stamp room and there's just boxes and boxes and boxes of those stamps that way.


Br. Joel:  Often times as we get older, we have more time to devote to our interests. That's certainly been the case with Fr. Augustine.


Fr. Augustine:  Previously it was my spare time. It was just a hobby. But now, why I do some work on stamps almost every day, and it keeps me kind of busy. That's a good thing when you're disabled.


Br. Joel:  Hobbies serve several purposes in the monastery. They're a creative outlet, a way to express individuality and a way to relax and relieve stress. They can also help us as we navigate difficult times. Br. Giles used to collect model trains. He recently donated his train collection to the Dubois County Museum in Jasper, Indiana, but in 1977, he began to take train collecting seriously while at a treatment center for alcoholism.


Br. Giles: Well, I've always had a thing for trains. I even had trains when I was a kid. My mother, they gave me train sets, you know. And I got involved in trains and when I went up to Guest House, I took my trains with me.


Novice Tony:  Guest House is a treatment center in Michigan for Catholic clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians suffering from alcoholism, addictions and behavioral health conditions.


Br. Giles:  See, we had to have a hobby. Some people had different hobbies, you know, naturally. But I had trains. And the ladies used to have to come and see Brother's trains. The Icon Dei, they were a group of ladies that supported Guest House, you know. And I enjoyed running them.

Yep, the good ole days, but happy memories, because I got sober then. And the rest is history. How many years have I been sober? Quite a few and I attribute it all to Mary. She takes good care of me.


Novice Tony:  Some monks choose to take their talents to the kitchen. Br. André is graduating from culinary school this year, Br. John Mark bakes bread almost every day…


Br. Joel:  …with the help of Novice Tony…


Novice Tony:  …and several junior monks make beer. Fr. Julian will explain how cooking has become part of his ministry and prayer life.


Fr. Julian: Cooking has always been one of my hobbies. I refer to it as one of my therapeutic hobbies because, especially as a priest, dealing with people's lives, we don't always know how things are going to turn out. And when you're cooking, you have a beginning, a middle and an end. And you have a sense of seeing something through to completion. And I like being able to produce good things for people.

But it's also been, at different times, a significant part of my work in different assignments, as coordinator of special events, working with the kitchen, and teaching a cooking class for the seminarians during the J-Term, which for some of them is how to boil water. And for others, it's a little more advanced because they, like I, have grown up cooking and enjoy cooking.

So I always say that I grew up in the kitchen with my grandmother and that's where I learned to cook. And that's how I learned to make some of the old family favorites, that side of the family is Polish American. So, learning many things that weren't written down. She died the summer I came to the monastery. And so after I came to the monastery, it was not uncommon for my mother to call me and say, "Now how did she used to do this?" Because I was the one who hung out with her a lot of times and so I became the repository of the family recipes.

And that's one of the things I always encourage the seminarians now to learn how to make their favorite thing from their mother, their father, their grandmother, favorite uncle. So that, it's about preserving family legacy and history, and also sometimes you just want a comfort food that's going to remind you of home.

And engaging in a hobby is also a time to very much be engaged in prayer, personal prayer. That goes back to the ancient monks who wove baskets. Yes, it was part of their trade, but it was also a craft, and a little more than a hobby. But they were able to pray the psalms while they were weaving baskets, and then taking them to market to sell. So for us, it's I can be rolling out pierogi dough and meanwhile mindful of my grandmother and all those who have been a part of my life and offer a prayer for them.


Br. Joel:  Recently, in the last couple years, several of the junior monks have been experimenting with brewing beer. Br. William and Br. James started the hobby back in 2012 when Br. James' brother bought him a kit. When Brs. Jean and Nathaniel joined the monastery last year, it was the perfect opportunity to join them in what they were doing. Here's Br. Jean now.


Br. Jean: A lot of the time while we're brewing, we're just talking. We might have a movie on in the background. So it's a nice, relaxed environment, and we get to know each other a little better.


Novice Tony:  When they took up the hobby, they were using various kits that they purchased online or through brewing stores, but since then, the junior monks have taken it to another level.


Br. Jean:  We were in the brew store getting cleaning supplies, and Br. William came with us, and then he told us, "Hey, I've been working on this recipe. Why don't we give it a shot?" So, kind of within that moment, we were - okay. We needed to take this step eventually anyway, so let's go for it.


Br. Nathaniel: We no longer do kits, but we come up with our own recipes, and it's a nice creative outlet for us. It gives us an opportunity to try different things and to experiment a little bit. So, you know, we work with - looking for different hops, or different kind of grains, or barleys, or wheats in order to brew our beer with. And we like to add different things to some of our brews, too, some different spices. Or just a different combination of ingredients to see what we can come up with.


Br. Jean:  And then within the fermentation itself, there are different variables such as temperature. Recently, we started kegging. And because we've been kegging now, we're doing second fermentation. And then also within the brew process itself, there are different variables, such as the temperature that you steep the grain at, or how long you steep, how long you do the boil, when you add the different hops. So, there's a lot of different variables that factor into how the final product comes out.


Br. Nathaniel:  Yeah. Beer making on the outside seems very simple. But when you sit down and start to study the process and look at it, you start to notice all the intricacies, and all the challenges that come with making the beer itself. I mean, in a nutshell, all we're doing is trying to remove starch from grains, or other sources of sugar, so the yeast have something to eat. That's what makes alcohol.


Br. Joel:  Br. Jean and Br. Nathaniel have been serving the homemade beer to the community on Saturdays. They are experimenting with lagers, ales, stouts, a saison and a mead, which is a honey wine. They made a batch of mead using honey harvested by Novice Tony and Br. Simon last fall. You'll hear more about that process later on in the episode. They hope to serve it for Novice Tony's first profession in August.


Novice Tony:  The community really gets a chance to join in on the beer-making hobby as taste testers.


Br. Jean:  They really enjoyed the stout - the oatmeal stout.


Br. Nathaniel:  Yeah, we've been making an oatmeal stout. It's a nice, darker beer, a heavier beer. It has nice flavors of chocolate and coffee, and that's something that's gone well with our meals here. They've also really liked - we make a red rye ale, too - has nice little spicy flavors of rye. Lighter than the oatmeal stout. But it seems like the community has really liked that, too.

Honestly, I think it's all fun. It's nice to have this as a creative outlet. And to not only have that, but to be able to share it with other people within our community. I think that's where a lot of the joy comes from. And, you know, our hobbies provide us an opportunity to seek God and to learn about God in different ways outside of our traditional work and our normal, everyday schedule. So for that sheer fact alone, being able to integrate our hobbies within our everyday lives is important for us as monks.


Novice Tony:  Later in this episode, you're going to hear about how Br. John Mark makes bread for the community. Recently, I've been helping him with this project and I've been taking the beer grains that Br. Nathaniel and Br. Jean use in the beer-making process and have been using that to make bread.


Br. Joel:  As you can see, monks have a lot of carbs to burn off.


Novice Tony:  To do this, we pursue different avenues of fitness. Like Br. Nathaniel's training to run a marathon.


Br. Joel:  Several monks cycle. Fr. Rupert rode his bike till he was 93. Fr. Adrian explains why your physical health is important for your spiritual health.


Fr. Adrian: When I came into the monastery, I was 28 years old. And when I was a younger person in college and high school, I didn't really have a lot of activity in my life, except marching band, I'm a trombonist. And so I sort of began to feel the effectsS of that over time. And when I moved here to St. Meinrad as a seminarian in 1990, I started to feel the weight of my own body as I tried to climb these hills. I began to notice that I would get fairly winded, fairly quickly, actually.

When I entered the monastery as a novice, I decided at that point to integrate my life a little better, and bringing together the physical aspect of my person with the spiritual. And so that's when I took up exercise in earnest.


Novice Tony:  At that point, Fr. Adrian began weightlifting.


Fr. Adrian:  And so, I keep myself in shape, generally speaking, toned. I'm not looking to do any bodybuilding contests or anything, but just try to stay in shape, as an overall program of spiritual life.


Br. Joel:  He enjoys the physical nature of lifting weights rather than doing something aerobic.


Fr. Adrian:  While I am lifting weights, I'm not actually thinking about much of anything. I do not strive to figure things out with my mind while I'm working out with weights. Really, all I'm doing is focusing my mind on the action and trying to retain a proper posture, for example, and a proper form. But I just like giving my mind a little rest because the rest of my day, the rest of my waking hours, anyway, is taken up with reading, spiritual direction, working on retreat conferences or class notes and is a very intellectual sort of activity. So working with weights, being down in the gym, exercising, helps to let my mind off the hook for a while and just be.


Novice Tony:  Last summer he hurt his shoulder and was out of the gym for several weeks.


Fr. Adrian:  That injury, I think, was God's way of telling me "Hey, you know what? You're done with that." It's time to get on with life and balance is good. Keeping this as part of my lifestyle will be very important to me, but there's no need for me to lift anything, you know, the size of a small car anymore. I don't need to prove anything to anybody.


Novice Tony:  While we're no longer able to call on Fr. Adrian to lift small cars out of ditches anymore, we are really happy he's taking care of himself.


Fr. Adrian:  Serving one another is taking care of each other's physical needs in some ways, but also taking care of ourself so that we can be in the best shape to care for others, as well as just being a good steward to the body we've been given by God. I always insist with people is a necessary component of a holistic spiritual life, of a complete spiritual life. If it's left out, there's something very important that's been left out. And your Christian spiritual discipline limps as a result.


Br. Joel:  Br. Simon Herrmann has several hobbies. He enjoys reading and he's one of several monks who cycle around the area. He's also recently taken up beekeeping.


Br. Simon: As far as hobbies go, I think the one that's been most shocking to me, that I've learned a lot from, is beekeeping. Over the course of maybe the past 10 years, we've had upwards of seven or eight hives and we're down to one now. And I'm hoping to get two more for this season.


Novice Tony:  Br. Simon actually set up two more hives shortly after Easter. Fr. Anthony used to take care of the beehives, but Br. Simon became interested in it last March and began visiting the hives regularly around April.


Br. Simon: So I talked to Fr. Anthony about it, and he was more than happy to help out and show me the ropes. When to do this with the hive or do that? Or what time of the year to do this or that? Or when to feed them or not feed them, and when to take the honey and all that. So that's been really helpful working with him. And he said he would be beekeeper-in-residence.


Novice Tony:  Last fall Br. Simon asked me to help him harvest honey. We harvested 3 gallons of honey, but it was definitely a learning experience.


Br. Simon:  We both went over and poked around and lifted up the top cover. We are both a little intimidated by the bees and the potential for a sting. And then we got used to it and then we suited up one weekend, I think in October, and got the honey from the bees. I swear, for maybe 20 minutes, we just stared at the hive not knowing really what to do. I think we knew what to do, but we didn't want to do it because we didn't know how the bees would react.

Then we're both just like, "We're going to do it," and then we did it. We came up with a really good system of removing each frame from the hive that was filled with honey, and brushed the bees off and then put the frames in a container so the bees couldn't get to the honey and we just repeated the process. It was really great. I think those first 20 minutes were very intimidating, but then once we had a system down we got it figured out.


Br. Joel:  In monastic life, there isn't necessarily more time for hobbies, but there is perhaps more of an emphasis placed on them.


Br. Simon:  I think reflecting back on my time before the monastery, I would just get lazy after work and not want to do some kind of hobby. So now here in the monastery, I think as far as good human formation and what I think ultimately leads to good hospitality is you taking care of yourself. And for some, hobbies help them do that. And I think for most it's a good thing for them to do. And it's really encouraged among the monastery and among the brothers that yeah, it's important to find a hobby and do something to better yourself, because ultimately it will better others.

With hobbies, we bring our relationship with God into our hobbies and vice versa. So with beekeeping, I have to be very patient because the bees are very gentle and tender creatures and if I just go into their house and mess around and make a bunch of noise, they're going to get upset. So in some sense, I can take what I learn there in patience with me into my prayer and into my work, into living in community and so, in some sense, I can bring one to the other.


Novice Tony:  Br. John Mark also has several hobbies. One of his main hobbies, or disciplines, is being a musician. He began taking piano lessons at age 5 and played all the way through college.


Br. John Mark Falkenhain:  And in my last year in college, I discovered singing and then studied voice and that really became my primary instrument. And I continue to sing and that's what I like doing the most. But about seven or eight years ago, I also started taking up the cello. I really love the cello a lot and that might one day become my favorite, but I'm not good at playing the cello in the same way that I'm good at singing and so I can't rank it first just yet.

I've heard it said that the cello comes the closest to matching ­the range and the timbre of the human voice. As we age, our voices change and eventually our voices lose a lot of quality as we get older, and there's a part of me that wanted to start playing the cello so that I would have something in my older-aged years in which I could still make music and stomach music beautifully once my voice was way past its prime.


Br. Joel:  Br. John Mark is also a bread baker. He's been making bread for the community every day except Sunday for the last three years. And he's really done the research behind the hobby, studying natural leavens and the chemistry behind bread making.


Br. John Mark Falkenhain:  That's become a real interesting hobby and discipline. It becomes a real discipline when you decide you're gonna do it every single day, because it gets to a point where it's no longer fun and then you realize, well, but the community enjoys it and they expect it and there is something to be learned with just sticking with something day-in, day-out, day in, day out. It's a little bit of a metaphor for the monastic life in general.


Br. Joel:  And the thing is, while Br. John Mark was filling in for Fr. Guerric as novice/junior master, he stopped making the bread. And so there was a few months of agony and separation anxiety when we weren't getting delicious, fresh bread every morning. But now that it's back, it's wonderful. It's so nice.


Novice Tony:  Br. John Mark is also a potter. That is a hobby he took up when he first came to the monastery.


Br. John Mark Falkenhain:  In my first several months here, Fr. Harry, who was my novice master, asked what I thought I might want to do kind of for work. And as a psychologist, I said I'm interested in continuing to be a psychologist, but it causes me to spend an awful lot of time in my head. It would be nice to have something also that I might do with my hands at some point. So, a couple days later a little note on my door showed up and it said, "How about pottery?"


Br. Joel:  So Br. John Mark began studying pottery.


Br. John Mark Falkenhain:  For me, I always have to have something creative going on, whether it's creating bread or music or something like pottery. It just does something for me that I don't know what it is, but when it's not there, it changes how I live life a little bit. I'm not as happy and not quite as much at peace, I think. And so it's important to have things that we invest ourselves in and things that we enjoy.


Novice Tony:  Thank you for listening. Maybe you even heard of a hobby that you want to start. Today this podcast was produced by Krista Hall, with help by Br. Joel Blaize, Br. William Sprauer, Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Jim Paquette, Tammy Schuetter, Christian Mocek and myself, Novice Tony. Br. John Mark played the cello in this episode, and the other music was written and produced by Br. Joel.


Br. Joel:  We want to give a special thanks to Fr. Augustine Davis, Fr. Adrian Burke, Fr. Julian Peters, Br. Giles Mahieu, Br. John Mark Falkenhain, Br. Simon Herrmann, Br. Nathaniel Szidik and Br. Jean Fish.


Novice Tony:  Our fifth and final episode of this season will launch in two weeks. Tune in then to hear about what goes into electing a new abbot.

You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you liked this episode, next time you're on iTunes, be sure to take a moment to share it with friends or submit a quick review.


Br. Joel:  We have a lot of extra stories and photos to go with this episode, on our blog at



Br. Giles: And we always played with the trains. Everybody had to come down and see the trains, and then when we moved up to the monastery with them. Abbot Timothy was abbot and he'd hear the trains playing, and everybody was there watching, and he'd come over and say, "Quiet, quiet. I need some sleep." (Laughter)Yep.

On life lessons learned:


Br. John Mark Falkenhain:  I tend towards perfectionism. I hope that is, as I've gotten older, less so but I like to be good at things and I like to be good at things right away and I get frustrated when I can't make something work the way I think that I should be able to do it. And when I was a child, my family took up golf as a hobby and my parents joined this little golf club. And we would go out every day and play nine holes, and I was probably 10 or 11 or 12 at the time.

And I would get so mad 'cause I wasn't good at it. You know we just started, but I wasn't good at it and I would get so mad I would bang my club, swing the club, and my parents would always say, "You can't control your temper. You have to go to the car and sit at the car." And every single day that summer, I got sent to the car and I wasn't allowed to go into the clubhouse.

It was important because it, you know, taught me kind of anger management and how to deal with frustration, or at least that you can't be always swinging clubs. And it's internalized now that when I start to get mad about something, the little voice pops into my head, "Do you need to go to the car?"

So when I first started learning pottery - you know anytime you start something new, there's so many frustrations because you want to be better at it than you are. And so I distinctly remember one day making a pot, and I was pulling up the clay and, you know, working really hard in shaping the pot. And in just one wrong move - because it's spinning on the wheel, right? - in one wrong move, it collapses. And I had this pot I thought it was so good, and I was really happy, and I had not made a pot like this before, and then I did a little something wrong and the whole thing, you know, like buckled.

And I got so mad I scooped it off the wheel, and I had it over my head ready to throw it across the pottery shop, and the voice in my head said, "Do you need to go to the car?" And I said to myself, "I don't care." And I threw the clay. I allowed myself that day to lose it and throw the clay across the room, because it really wasn't gonna harm anybody and I don't do that habitually anymore. But it is funny how, you know, we just keep revisiting kind of these lessons.


Junior monks talk about beer names:

Br. Joel: The junior monks have also had a lot of fun thinking of names for the recipes they create. Here's Br. Jean and Br. Nathaniel again.


Br. Nathaniel: So, I mean, like our saison, we called it Bellflipper. Because in the past, when we fermented it, it had more alcohol than your traditional beer, more than 5 percent. So if you get a little too excited after drinking one of these beverages, and pull the bell rope a little too hard, you can flip the bell. So we call it Bellflipper.


Br. Jean: And then, the original name for the dark abbey ale was Wise Old Men Brown. The reason why we called it that was because it was - the dark abbey ale - we were trying to figure out the identity of it, but that version of it, it was kind of a cross between a brown ale and a porter. So, Wise Old Man, in theRule, the porter is supposed to be a wise old man - so that's the porter side of it. And then, Brown is - it was kind of like a brown, so stringing it together, it sounded kind of like a title and then a name. So, that was kind of the inside joke with that one.


Br. Nathaniel:  Our pumpkin ale, we ended up naming it Paple Staple - Paple spelled P-A-P-L-E - for the main ingredients of pumpkin and maple syrup. So, if you don't know how it's spelled and you hear the name - Paple Staple - well, some people might think of the pope. But, it's really based on the ingredients that we have within the beer.