Saturday, January 28, 2012


I lost a valuable friend this past Wednesday. Fr. Matthew Wotelko, O.S.B. of our community is now singing in the heavenly choir. His funeral is this morning (Saturday) in about a half hour.

Fr. Matt was a friend for about 45 years. He was a complicated guy, as you might glean from various obituaries. But I want to take this post to thank him publicly for the gift he gave me.


On New Year’s eve a few weeks ago we suddenly found out that he had cancer and the prognosis was very bad (three to six months turned out to be three weeks). So on new year's eve I wrote him a three-page handwritten letter to let him know what a difference he had made in my life and to thank him for that. He got the letter on New Years' Day, and was in the hospital by Jan 2, after which he went downhill amazingly quickly. He died here in the monastery. I'd written just in time.

As a recovering alcoholic who worked his program faithfully and fully and who met God in the midst of that struggle, he had this way of constantly demanding that same honesty of others and challenging them to risk, to reach into areas that were “scary” for them as he put it. When I was in my late twenties he did me the favor of pushing me that way. Sometimes I went unwillingly, but he was a relentless and demanding advisor.

I told him in my letter that I truly believe that if he hadn’t forced me to look at myself and take certain leaps of faith as a person, then I would never have had many of the relationships I have enjoyed, I suspect that I would have been too timid to pack up and go off by myself on a sabbatical year, and would have had nothing very interesting to say about risking or love of God or neighbor. So those six books of mine would never have been written.

I’m grateful to him for his example of introspection, unflinching honesty and dedication to the task of opening himself to God’s grace. I’m grateful for prodding and encouraging me on my own journey to see things I would have missed and to go places I would never have thought of going.

He faced his impending death exactly as I would have expected: with the serenity, courage and wisdom of someone who has struggled for decades to be open to the Lord and to the divine will. His last words to me were “Pray for me.” So now I’m asking him publicly to pray for me.

Thanks, Matt!




  1. Sorry for your loss. I know the feeling of losing a mentor and best friend in community. Thanks for sharing your gratitude. May he rest in peace and continue to be gift for you.

  2. Thank you for the post. I never had Fr. Matthew as a teacher while at the Hive. My loss. It was only after reading Fr. Matthew's obit did I learn that he was a recovering alcoholic. Being one myself, I am indebted to him for what he gave to you which you so freely gave to others. It is the cornerstone of maintaining sobriety that the only way to keep something is to give it away.

  3. That's a great way to think of Fr. Matt: he shared the fruits of his struggles and sufferings with so many people over the years. He's a good model of how to respond to suffering!