September 12, 2016

Saying Goodbye to a Spiritual Friend

            Over the weekend I learned that Abbot Gregory of Conception Abbey has been elected the Abbot Primate for the Benedictines.  He will represent this confederation in the Vatican as well as foster co-operation between their monasteries.  He will be moving to Rome, and Central will miss a loving friend who has shown such hospitality to our faculty and students.

            Abbot Gregory’s time of service at Conception Abbey, twenty years, roughly parallels my time of taking students there for spiritual formation retreats and immersion courses.  In the midst of the many demands of his office, he always found time to meet with our groups and express his personal welcome.  Often, he simply invited students to pose their questions of life as a Benedictine monk, and they have come up with some doozies!  He always responded with patience and good humor.

            I feel a special loss in his departure, for we have become trusted friends.  I remember when he was elected Abbot in 1996; there was a joyous eruption at the Abbey as this “youngish” monk became their spiritual leader.  He had already served in a variety of roles in their school and community and thus was well prepared to “represent Christ,” as The Rule of St. Benedict instructs.
            When I was elected President in November of 2004, I made a brief pilgrimage to the Abbey to speak with him about my new position of leadership.  I asked him what he prayed for each morning.  His answer has been a guiding light for me.  He said, “I pray for three things: wisdom, compassion, and patience.”  Wisdom is essential; for no one is equal to the responsibility without wisdom from above.  Compassion is indispensable; for one works with other flawed humans.  Patience is crucial; for change always takes longer than the leader may think.

            Many remember the Abbot for his exceptional leadership during the shooting at the Abbey in the summer of 2002.  A man upset about his divorce went on a rampage at the Abbey, killing two monks and seriously wounding two more.  Steady during this trauma, the Abbot led his community to forgiveness and greater spiritual health.
            One incident in particular comes to mind.  When it was time to transport the bodies of the monks and the shooter, who had killed himself in the basilica, the trooper asked whether or not the deceased should travel in the same vehicle, the Abbot simply responded, “Why not?  They are all children of God.”  Years spent praying the Psalter had so formed his mind and heart that he could not respond any other way.
            Central wishes the Abbot every blessing as he takes up his new ecclesial responsibility.  [I did have to chide him about his vow of stability!] While I may not be able to take faculty and students to Sant Anselmo in Rome, our prayers surely accompany him.  Hopefully, I can go there one day for another consultation on spiritual leadership.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping church, and serving the world.

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