Tuesday, September 07, 2010

God drops and loses things

Over the past few years I have come to know a monk named Kilian McDonnell. Kilian grew up on a farm in the upper Midwest. As a boy he became very active in his church, serving as an altar boy. Someone suggested that he might enter the priesthood. He sought entrance in a religious community in Chicago, but was not accepted. On the train back home he stopped in St. Cloud, Minnesota to spend the night at the Benedictine Monastery. They welcomed him; Benedictines are very hospitable people, and the Rule insists that all strangers are to be welcomed as if one is encountering Christ himself. Although he was very ill, they made a place for him.

Kilian has remained at St. John’s Abbey for almost seventy years now. “I think I am going to stay!”, he told me this summer.

Along the way the Benedictines noticed an inquisitive mind in Father Kilian, and so they sent him to Europe for graduate school. He earned a doctorate in theology at Tubingen with a special focus on John Calvin and the Holy Spirit. He became an advisor to the Pope on the global charismatic movement. He studied with Protestant students, and saw the value in moving beyond one’s own tradition. Upon his return, he connected with a donor from Minneapolis who also saw value in this. They established the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research (see link to the right under Institutions and Foundations), and commissioned the architect Marcel Breuer to design the first buildings. The Collegeville Institute is adjacent to St. John's, which is the largest Benedictine monastery in the world. I have stayed in these residences twice now, and have experienced the radical hospitality of the Benedictines. Both the place and the people are quite extraordinary.

At age 75 Kilian began writing poetry, with no formal background in the subject. One of his poems was selected by Garrison Keillor for his Good Poems volume. You can listen to it
here. Another poem, inspired by Luke 15, is entitled “God Drops and Loses Things”. I have been reflecting on this poem in preparation for this Sunday’s sermon. It is also the title of his latest volume of poems.

I was able to meet with Kilian in August. This renowned scholar, leader and poet marveled that the monastery where he had spent 70 years of his life had accepted him when others would not. “I was no prize”, he confessed, and he seemed to mean it. He turns 87 years old on September 16. “Say a prayer for me on my birthday”, he asked as I was leaving.

I promised that I would, and I invite you to remember him on that day as well. You can send him a note at the following address: Father Kilian McDonnell, St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321.


Blogger Jeff said...

A wonderful tribute to a wonderful man.

6:33 PM  

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