The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 32, Nr. 3, October 2002                 Richardton, ND 58652

Inside this issue:

Lest We Forget

An Open Letter

News Omnibus

Scholarship Report

Convention News

Grant Applications

Book Reviews




AMN Online


ABA Index



A Call for Heroic, Radical Forgiveness

The brief statement at the beginning of the funeral card was in sharp contrast to the glaring and blaring announcements of the media reports. It said simply: "On the morning of 10 June 2002, as the monks of Conception Abbey were preparing to begin the workday, a gunman entered the monastery and for reasons unknown began to fire rounds from a rifle, instantly killing our beloved confrere Damian Larson, OSB. As the rampage continued, another monk was killed and two others seriously injured before the gunman turned his weapon on himself." Father Philip Schuster, OSB, was the second to die and Prior Kenneth Reichert and Father Norbert Schappler were seriously wounded but are now recovering. Quick movement and communication among other monks and employees kept the casualty toll from being higher.

Every one of them, every law enforcement officer, emergency worker and reporter who swarmed over the monastery grounds in the following hours and days, has a story. Some are stories of fear and pain and disbelief. Almost all have some element of faith and even moments of peace and comfort in the midst of it all.

Only one story remains untold. After several unsubstantiated guesses, such as the attention being given the clerical abuse scandals, rumors of a bad annulment experience, or his mental condition, still no motive could be found, no connection between the monks in the quiet of rural Missouri and the man whose body was found in the basilica. Lloyd Jeffress who had driven from Kearney, MO, more than an hour away, left no communication about these particular monks, the Catholic Church, or even a general desire to kill. The monks of the abbey would later offer to participate in funeral services, but his estranged family did not accept the offer.

Albert Bruecken, OSB, who himself barely escaped being a victim of Mr. Jeffress, gave the eulogies at the ceremony. "Monday, two monks were killed. The real tragedy here is not that Father Philip and Brother Damian are dead. We all come to the monastery to die. Every act of obedience is a dying to self in service of Christ as seen in the brothers in the monastery and the people who come here. We feel their loss, their seemingly senseless loss. But in the last analysis, that is not the real tragedy, because their lives and their faith in the resurrection prepared them for this moment. No, the real tragedy is that Lloyd Jeffress came here troubled and without peace, and he shot the very people who might have helped him find it."

In the funeral homily, Abbot Gregory continued this theme. "When brutal deeds are enacted, it calls for heroic and radical forgiveness. Such acts of violence as happened here on Monday could only have come from someone in desperate need of help. Hatred, anger, and an unwillingness to forgive only keep us crippled and bound by the evils that surround us. If we endure evil and do not allow it to conquer us, we will share in the victory of Jesus Christ, in the hidden life of the resurrection of Jesus.

So many, particularly in the news media, have asked whether our spirit of hospitality will change as a result of this event. Hospitality and the Benedictine charism are so intertwined that it really is inconceivable that such a thing would happen at Conception Abbey. Our 1500-year tradition is so cherished, we could not allow that to happen. In fact, the two men whose lives we remember today, were the epitome of this essential part of Benedictine life. They welcomed people not only into their home, their monastery, but also in their hearts. They had a way of putting people at ease, focusing them on the beauties that surround us, and inviting them to share in the peace of our life. They were two men who, each in his own way, contemplated the movement of God in their lives, and never lost the urge to keep searching and discovering that the wideness of God's mercy could not be exhausted."

As the monks continue their time of grief and healing, thousands of people, known and unknown to them, have expressed concern through visits, communications and prayer. The witness given by the dead and the living in these months have proclaimed the Benedictine message of peace in a way that is heroic by its humility.

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