Thursday, November 22, 2012

Monastic Celebrations: 135 Years of Service

by Prior Richard Thell, O.S.B. 
     Over the years I have been asked to write about various monks, especially at the time of anniversaries or as we say in the monastery: jubilees.  I feel that I never do justice to those monks about whom I write.  Each monk has his own God-given gifts which he uses each day within and outside of the monastic community.  Living and working as closely together as we do, there is the tendency to take for granted what others see.  What follows is a tribute to three good monks.
     In the abbey at Thanksgiving time, the monastic community celebrated the jubilees of: Abbot Raphael Walsh, Father Stephen Plank and Brother Francis Schmitz, whose monastic service equal 135 years.  The gifts, talents, and accomplishments of each of these men are many and varied.
     Brother Francis Schmitz celebrates his golden jubilee of monastic profession this year.  Brother Francis sits across from me each day in chapel during our monastic prayer and daily Mass--he is always there!!  In fact if Brother is not there (which is extremely rare) someone will go to his room to see if something is wrong.  Among the monks, Brother Francis is known for the steadfastness and good example he sets for all of us at prayer; his jovial personality, and the wry comments that he injects into almost every conversation.
     Brother first came to Mount Michael in 1961, and was among the group of men who made up the first novitiate class of Mount Michael Abbey.  After a year of novitiate, Brother France professed his vows as a Benedictine monk on the feast of Saint Joseph, March 19, 1962.  Although he is now retired, he has held many jobs here at the abbey; he has worked in the kitchen, on the grounds, and along with Brother Andrew was responsible for establishing the Christmas tree farm of the 1980s.
     Mount Michael alums from the '70s, '80s and '90s will remember Brother most for his fanatical support of all Mount Michael athletics--especially basketball.  Many who are reading this article will recall Brother Francis on the sidelines of the basketball court sitting behind (or, at times, next to) Coach Jim Kane.  During the more heated basketball games, both Coach Kane and Brother Francis would freely offer advice (encouragement?) to the referees when they thought an errant call had been made.
     What many of the athletes of those days might not know was that after football and basketball games, Brother would wash the team uniforms.  For many, many years, he worked well into the night making sure that the Mount Michael uniforms were laundered and repaired; he took great pride in his work and our teams always had their uniforms ready and clean for the next game. He is still an avid fan of all Mount Michael sports, and of course, Nebraska football.
     Father Stephen Plank first came to Mount Michael as a freshman in high school in 1977.  After graduation in 1981, he went to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas; he then entered the novitiate at Mount Michael and professed his vows as a monk 25 years ago on July 19, 1987.  He studied theology at the Catholic University of America and was ordained on April 16, 1994.  Since that time Father Stephen has continued his academic interests; he holds several degrees including degrees in counseling and school administration.  Currently he is a full time member of the Mount Michael Benedictine faculty; he teaches all the French classes, a college planning class, a psychology class and is the college guidance counselor.
     Over the span of 25 years, Father Stephen has been a Dean in the school, Spanish teacher, biology teacher and principal.  His forte is languages and for many years Father Stephen has been a teacher in and chairperson of Mount Michael Benedictine's foreign language department. As a sign of his excellence and hard work in his field, he was awarded the 2009 Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award by the Nebraska International Language Association.
     Father Stephen in a voracious reader:  fiction, non-fiction, current events, entertainment, etc.  He is a good “go-to” person for reading suggestions and reviews.  His extensive knowledge of history and all things French gives him plenty of material for very well informed homilies.  He is a gifted homilist; he was able to use this gift and share his thoughts on 25 years of monastic profession in his homily at our monastic Thanksgiving Day Mass.
     Sixty years ago on May 30, 1952, Abbot Raphael Walsh was ordained a priest at Conception Abbey in Missouri. He was appointed as first abbot of Mount Michael on October 6, 1964.  Over the years much has been written about him in the pages of the Michaeleen and he, himself, has written many articles for this publication; most recently as president of Mount Michael Benedictine.  Although his assignment as president came to an end two years ago, he is not retired. (That word is not in his vocabulary.)  He continues to serve the community by his faithful attendance at the Divine Office and Mass, his weekly and weekend pastoral assignments, and his work in the Mount Michael Development Office.  When Abbot Michael needs a priest for an last minute assignment he knows he can count of Abbot Raphael who is more than willing to help.
     When he retired as abbot in 1989, Abbot Raphael spent 13 years as a parish priest at Saint James Parish in Omaha.  He worked hard at that assignment and still maintains contact with many of the friends he made there.  He stays current with what is happening in the church through he almost daily reading of Catholic publications.  When he is not prayer, reading or working, he likes to play golf which he says is good for his humility (and prayer life).
     At 85, his energy is amazing, and more than one monk has mused that he hopes to have even a small portion of Abbot Raphael's energy when reaching that age.  When I asked Abbot Raphael what his 60 of priesthood has meant to him, he said that as a novice he loved to pray Psalm 23 because of the verse, "One thing I ask of the Lord and this I seek that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life."  He went on to say that "after 67 years as a monk and 60 years as a priest I thank God that my prayer has been answered."
     In his homily to the monastic community on Thanksgiving Day, Father Stephen acknowledged the 135 years that he, Abbot Raphael and Brother Francis have given to monastic life. Anyone of you who have met one or all of these monks knows that they do what they do because of their love God, His Church, and for their vocation to Mount Michael. For this, all of us are grateful and we know that Mount Michael will continue to benefit from many more years of their prayer and service.  Ad Multos Annos!!