Tag Archives: abbot

Photographer Monk: Abbot Barnabas engages in contemplation through photography

I love photography. There is something attractive in looking at old and new, color and black-and-white photographs. And every photograph tells a story because each picture is the result of a friendship with reality. In photography I see a quality of the beautiful that is drawn out the subject: there is an innate sense of the sensual that leads me to an act of contemplation; it also leads me to a deeper sense of my own humanity and to God; the same can be said of music and taking in an art show of the renaissance period (as I did last week at the Yale Art Gallery). I think back to my friend Kevin Locke who had a wonderful eye for the beautiful as well as my friend Brother Mark Kammerer, a Benedictine monk of St Louis Abbey in St Louis, MO, who himself is an excellent photographer who discerns the beautiful in images. Kevin and Brother Mark see life with a keen eye for grace’s activity.

You’ll get a better sense of what I am talking about if you watch the Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly article called the “Photographer Monk,” which highlights the good work of Abbot Barnabas Senecal. For him, the photographer engages in a practice of monastic mindfulness that finds him being aware of God’s presence today, with me and with the world as Saint Benedict tells us to do. He’s spiritually, fraternally and intellectually nourished by taking and gazing upon pictures because they are tools to communicate, but gifts for seeing the daily activity of God and man and woman. For him, and certainly for me, photography helps us to see something God wants us to see anew. What does Christ want me to see in thus-and-such image?

abbot barnabas.jpg

There’s also an extended interview with Father Abbot Barnabas here.
The great thing about this story is that it reminds us of the need for beauty in our lives. Something Father Michael Morris at Dunwoodie Seminary always reminded me of. Plus, Abbot Barnabas keeps a live the tradition of monks doing art and advancing cultural sensibility. Where would we be without our monastic artists?
This story about the abbot made me think of the last talk the Pope gave to artists in 2009. At that time Benedict reminded us that an artist has a vocation (ministry?) to know and to engage infinity: the true, the beautiful, and the good; the artist’s vocation is about an engagement with reality that scientists don’t have because art shows us humanity’s desire for its ultimate destiny. The artist, unlike any other vocation save for the priesthood, shows the life of the soul and its that reaches out, grasps and desires to understand. My experience and perhaps yours too, is that an artist lives in friendship with his or her artwork. It is not mere blood-sweat-and-toil but a genuine flourishing of communion. Likewise, the artist is contemplative in his or her search for God and happiness and shows us the horizons –if there are any limits of the search–  in their medium. For the Pope, and I hope for us, there is a belief that an artist lives a vocation given by God. Hence, the making of art is not a career opportunity for money, power and fame, it is not about a person’s escape into an irrational, deceitful, superficial realm but art “fills us with new hope, gives us the courage to live to the full the unique gift of life.”
Abbot Barnabas’ brief interview doesn’t talk about transcendent power of beauty in art, but I think he would agree that nothing replaces beauty’s search for the infinite in our lives and the transformative power it has for heart and mind, faith and reason of humanity. My intuition is that the abbot’s sensibility tends toward the harmony between being truly human and the reality of the beautiful is made concrete in snapping a photo for the sake of whole person and not just for the sake of being creative.
Let me draw this reflection to a close by appealing to the Pope’s closing closing remarks to the artists when he said something important that I think bears repeating about art because the abbot also intimated it, and it is useful for our lectio:
… it opens up and broadens the horizons of human awareness, pointing us beyond ourselves, bringing us face to face with the abyss of Infinity, can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery, towards God. Art, in all its forms, at the point where it encounters the great questions of our existence, the fundamental themes that give life its meaning, can take on a religious quality, thereby turning into a path of profound inner reflection and spirituality. This close proximity, this harmony between the journey of faith and the artist’s path is attested by countless artworks that are based upon the personalities, the stories, the symbols of that immense deposit of “figures” –in the broad sense– namely the Bible, the Sacred Scriptures. The great biblical narratives, themes, images and parables have inspired innumerable masterpieces in every sector of the arts, just as they have spoken to the hearts of believers in every generation through the works of craftsmanship and folk art, that are no less eloquent and evocative.
The Abbey of Saint Benedict (Atchison,KS) founded in 1857 is home to 50+ Benedictine monks who, among many things, run the well-regarded Benedictine College.
The College is getting the more and more recognized as a place to live the Rule of Saint Benedict in the formation of the whole person. Recently, Benedictine College dedicated its new nursing center in honor of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and they’ve broken ground for a new academic building. May Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica intercede for the monks and laity at BC!

Abbot Thomas Confroy, RIP

Abbot Thomas Confroy.jpgA week ago today the monastic community of St Mary’s Abbey (Morristown, NJ), indeed the Church, lost a faithful monk, priest, abbot and friend. Abbot Thomas Confroy made his final passover to the Lord, his Destiny at the abbey on August 23. News of Abbot Thomas’ death can be read here.

When I lived with Abbot Thomas I knew him to be dedicated in praying the holy Rosary and his various oblations on behalf of others. But I didn’t make all the extent of his prayer life and how much it was spent interceding for others, especially his prayer for me, for those who struggle, for those who just needed prayer. How blessed we were that he lived his sacred priesthood! Striking to me was the cursus he followed:
  • Sundays: St Mary’s Abbey, especially those in most need of strength;
  • Mondays: those in religious life;
  • Tuesdays: the faithful departed and the poor souls in purgatory;
  • Wednesdays: his natural family and special requests made to him;
  • Thursdays: the pope, cardinals, bishops, suffering priests, deacons, pastoral ministers, seminarians and vocations to the priesthood;
  • Fridays: for missionaries
  • Saturdays: for himself, for forgiveness if any of his actions harmed others spiritually or emotionally.
Plus, his quite example of suffering patiently and quietly from depression since his retirement and relying upon the Way of the Cross written by Saint Alphonse Liguori.
What can we learn from Abbot Thomas? I believe his witness to Christ as a merciful good shepherd who cares intensely for the sheep, near and far, whole and broken, happy and miserable. Perhaps we ought to take his daily intentions?!?!
Benedictine Oblate and friend Lynn Gordon Latchford wrote a fine panegyric to Abbot Thomas, “God Family Country: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Monk, that can be read here: Abbot Thomas Confroy 2010.pdf.
May Abbot Thomas rest in the arms of the Good Shepherd.
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, pray for us.
Saint Benedict of Nursia, pray for us.
Saint Thomas the Apostle, pray for us.

Fr John Brahill elected 5th abbot of Marmion Abbey

John Brahill.jpgFather John Baptist Brahill, 61, was elected by his confreres of Marmion Abbey (Aurora, IL) to the 5th abbot. Abbot John succeeds Abbot Vincent de Paul Battaille who has served Marmion’s abbot for the last 18 years.

The newly elected abbot of Marmion Abbey is a 1967 graduate of Marmion Academy and has been a member of the Benedictine community since 1978 and a priest since 1982.
A little more than a year ago Abbot John returned to Marmion Abbey after serving for many years (1992-2009) as prior of San Jose Priory in Guatemala. Most recently he has served as the master of novices and as the liaison for Abbey Farms.
Abbot John will serve an indefinite term as abbot. The election was confirmed by Abbot Peter Eberle, the Abbot President of the Swiss-American Congregation. He’ll receive the abbatial blessing from the Bishop of Rockford, Thomas G. Doran, at some point in the future.
Abbot Vincent has oversee many significant projects at Marmion including the building of the abbey church (St Augustine of Canterbury), various renovation projects at the same and at the Academy. Likewise the community has grown with a number of vocations.
Marmion was settled by monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in 1933. The monks of operated a military acdaemy, staffed a few parishes and founded a community of monks in Guatamala at the request of Pope John XXIII who asked religious communities to sacrifice 10% of their community to do missionary work. Since 1965, Guatemala’s San Jose Priory educates high school seminarians in the Benedictine spirit.
You may be familiar with the name Marmion, the 19/20th century abbot who is now known as Blessed Columba Marmion. Marmion lived in the years of 1858-1923. Of Irish and French heritage the young Marmion was first ordained a secular priest for the Dublin Archdiocese before becoming a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium. His gifts recognized Marmion was a founder and later appointed prior of Mont Cesar (Louvain) and later elected abbot of Maredsous 1909, a position he held until his death.
For me, this is amazing series of events because a saintly abbot whose cause for canonization was not begun until 1957 and yet not 10 years after his death Marmion caught the eye of a monk of Saint Meinrad enough to name a monastic foundation for. Now we ask the Lord raise Blessed Columba to sainthood.
You may be interested in viewing the Abbey’s vocation video: Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Fidelity to the Monastic Way of Life, Stability, Obedience and Monastic Priesthood.

Fr Austin Murphy elected 10th abbot of St Procopius Abbey

Abbot Austin.jpgToday, the solemnly professed monks of Saint Procopius Abbey, elected Father Austin G. Murphy as their 10th abbot.

The process of electing an abbot follows the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Constitutions of the American Cassinese Congregation (the grouping of monasteries to which St Procopius belongs). Archabbot Douglas of the Archabbey of St Vincent (Latrobe, PA) confirmed the election.
Abbot Austin, 36, assumes the office of abbot immediately and will receive the abbatial blessing from the bishop of Joliet at some point in the future. Before leaving the chapter room, the Abbot President will witness the profession of faith and oath of fidelity required of all major superiors.
Abbot Austin was born in Huntington, NY, on March 25, 1974, professed simple vows on September 6, 1997 and was ordained on July 3, 2004. He prepared for priesthood at the Dominican House of Studies earning the STB/MDiv. Of late he was doing doctoral studies in Theology at the University of Notre Dame.
Abbot Austin succeeds Abbot Dismas Kalcic who has served for the since 2002. He will be moving to Marmion Abbey and Academy to teach in the economics in the school.
Saints Benedict & Scholastica and Saint Procopius, pray for us.

Fr Damien Toilolo elected abbot of St Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo

Abbot Damien.jpgThe monks of Saint Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo (CA) gathered to elect a new abbot, Damien Toilolo on June 22, replacing Abbot Francis who stepped down two years ago. The new abbas is the second elected abbas of St Andrew’s.

St Andrew’s Abbey is an abbey of the Annunciation Congregation.
Abbot Damien, until now, has served the Benedictine community as the Prior Administrator. But he’s also been the vocation director, postulant director, novice master and sub-prior.
A native of Los Angeles, Damien has experience in other things including a teaching credential. He was ordained a priest in 2005 after preparing for priesthood at Mt Angel Seminary. Abbot Damien will serve a 8-year term. 
St Andrew’s Abbey has roots in Belgium and was for a time a priory in China before it was forced to move to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It was raised to abbatial rank in 1992.
Abundant blessings!

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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