Elders of the Benedictines:
A Portrait and Interview Project
Throughout this paper the elders have been referred to in the present tense, but since the completion of the project some of them have died. Yet they most certainly live on in the words of these interviews, and more importantly in the thousands of lives they touched. I believe goodness is immortal. I began this study as search for more understanding of the Benedictines and I have succeeded on a beginning level to achieve that goal. While on that path I have been taught many things. I was especially impressed with the attitude of brothers and sisters to their fellow Benedictines and to outsiders. It has led me to think very deeply about how I treat others. The Benedictines have taught me a new dimension to the concept of love. An unconditional love that does not discriminate about who you are, what faith you are, or even why you have come to them. It took me a while to understand that this is simply the love of Jesus in practice. It is faith as conceived by the prophet. This love was epitomized by many of the elders I interviewed and none better than the late Father Frederic Schindler of Mount Michael Abbey in Elkhorn, Nebraska. I could not put words to my experience with Father Frederic until I was interviewing Abbot James Jones some days later at Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri. When I mentioned that I had recently interviewed Father Frederic, Abbot James said, "Ah, Father Frederic, he is a transparently good man." It was a perfect description.
It was at Conception Abbey that the general US population had a glimpse of Benedictine life in June 2002. It was a most tragic glimpse in relation to the shooting of four monks by a deranged gunman. In the 1500-year history of the Benedictines violence has not been unknown--it may not be far from the truth to say that to some degree all that occurs outside the monastery also happens inside. But that in no way diminishes the great sorrow and loss at Conception. I saw a "sound bite" covering the event on a network news channel that brought tears to my eyes. The current abbot was being interviewed and he spoke of the gunman and the dead monks being taken away together. His wording left little doubt in my mind that he saw all the dead as children of God. The compassion and forgiveness in his tone and demeanor could not have been a clearer contrast to the hate and vengeance that has filled the air of our country since September 11, 2001. This was the transparent goodness that I found in so many Benedictines and unconditional of love of Jesus that has been so beautifully developed in the Benedictine tradition.