Four Reflect on Year in Novitiate

The feast day of Saint Benedict, patriarch of western Monasticism and co-patron of Europe, is celebrated each year on July 11. Focused around that feast day are other events within the monastic community that hold special significance for those in formation.

At the beginning of that month those men who are accepted as novices into the monastic community arrive at the monastery to begin a year of contemplation and study designed to discern their vocations as Benedictine monks.

On the eve of that feast day the following year, the novices who have completed their year of study make their first profession of vows, also known as simple vows, before the Archabbot and the monastic community. They renew those simple vows each year for three years prior to professing solemn vows, or vows for life. Profession of solemn vows occurs on July 11 on the feast day of Saint Benedict.

This year’s novices, who made simple vows on July 10, each provided some brief reflections on the year just completed:

Father Killian Loch

“I arrived at Saint Vincent last July, two months shy of my 31st anniversary of ordination to the priesthood,” said Father Killian, of Wilkes-Barre, who was a priest in the Diocese of Scranton prior to coming to the Archabbey to discern a monastic vocation. “I arrived with expectations that the novitiate year would be a combinaiton sabbatical and intense retreat. What I experienced met and surpassed these expectations. This has been a year of spiritual renewal, especially in appreciating the gift of priesthood. It was a time to learn monastic history and the various aspects of monastic life at Saint Vincent. Most importantly, it was living monastic life.

“It was the call to community life that brought me to Saint Vincent,” he continued. “As the year progressed I was struck with the realization that our coming together each day to pray is essential to our monastic life. Each time we gather we reaffirm our faith in God and recommit ourselves to the importance of living in community. Regardless of rank, education or assignment, when we gather for prayer we pray as one. We are all in this together and our prayer unites us together as we praise and converse with God. This experience of community extends itself from choir to refectory to recreation and to all aspects of our lives. More and more I am being drawn into this and wonder how I could go back to living otherwise.”

Brother Canice McMullen

“On July 1, 2010, two months after graduating from Penn State, I arrived at Saint Vincent eager to begin monastic life,” said Brother Canice, of State College, who has a bachelor of science degree in accounting. “I began my religious transformation by being invested with the monastic habit, receiving tonsure and taking the religious name Canice in honor of Father Canice Welsh, O.S.B., a close friend of my family and a monk of Saint Vincent who passed away in October 1999.

“Since that day,” he said, “the novitiate has been unlike anything I have ever experienced or expected. It has been a time of spiritual renewal nourished through praying, working, socializing, and studying with my brother novices. Although we came to the monastery with diverse backgrounds, the desire to seek God has brought us together to share a common life. Now that the end of our novice formation approaches, the time to make vows and give ourselves to God in a radical way has come. I am looking forward to the day when I will stand next to my brothers, raise my hands and pray ‘Sustain me, O Lord, as You have promised that I may live; and disappoint me not in my hope’ (Ps. 119:116). The novitiate has been a wonderful blessing and this experience will continue to be a foundation for the rest of my life.”

Brother Joachim Morgan

“The novitiate is the monastery on a smaller scale,” said Brother Joachim, of White Lake, Michigan, who has a bachelor of science degree in French from Central Michigan University. “Four people have followed different paths with family, friends, educations and other life experiences. Our paths are different and unique, but they have all led us with the desire to love and know God. We all have come here, the workshop or school as Saint Benedict calls the monastery, to learn to pray, work, study and live together in fraternal charity. As cenobites, we acknowledge that we are not going to get to God on our own. A story that best demonstrates this is Saint Gregory the Great’s account of Saint Benedict’s death. At the end of his life, Saint Benedict was too weak to stand, so he called his brothers to lift him up so he could praise his Lord one last time and then he died.

“With the help of many brothers, we will get to God,” Brother Joachim said. “I have already personally seen this with my classmates; from bringing a nine foot bookcase from the sixth floor of the monastery to the basement to praying together to sharing distressing and joyful moments. So, as my classmates and I enter the community more fully and we no longer have the same classes and work assignments, I have no doubt that there will always be three people that I will share all moments, thick and thin with.”

Brother Gregory Zimmerman

Brother Gregory of Elm Grove, Wisconsin, is a 1999 graduate of Brookfield East High School and studied history, philosophy and religion at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, graduating in 2010.

“The novitiate has been a wonderful opportunity for prayer and contemplation and strengthening my relationship with God,” said Brother Gregory. “In doing so, I realized how great of a blessing my vocation is, and also how much help I have received from so many family members and friends. I would like to express special gratitude to my parents, my godparents, my confreres and all of the many people who have been praying for me, and last but not least, my classmates. We have grown together in ways that I could not possibly have imagined. “