Saturday, May 3, 2014


This Thursday started out drizzly, with a forecast of more rain to come. In the school's lobby I bumped into one of our freshmen whose dad I taught a while back (let's call him Frank) in his new hiking boots, a fat knapsack and crisp clean hiking clothes. Looking like a poster child for "bright-eyed and bushy tailed" he wore a big smile as he headed for the assembly point where his fellow freshmen were gathering for their first hike, a shakedown cruise on the fourth day of the Backpacking Project. Hoping to provoke a reaction I said to him,

"Uh oh! Looks like you guys are gonna get wet out there today, Frank"  

His answer left me surprised and delighted:

"Well, I hope it rains a little. I enjoy a challenge."

After all, he had his new poncho and had wrapped all his things in plastic shopping bags inside his knapsack, right? So he was actually looking forward to testing himself against some bad weather. How cool is that?

Then right after lunch I was walking though that same lobby when I heard my name,

"Hey, Father Al!" 

I turned and was delighted to see Robert, one of our juniors whom I wrote about in a post in early February when he was on his way to a rehab facility to deal with his huge drug and alcohol problems. We exchanged a big hug and then I invited him to sit in a parlor so we could talk about his three-month stay at the rehab facility. His eyes were clear and he talked enthusiastically about the follow-up program he is working. As I listened to him I was struck by the contrast between him and that little freshman I'd met early that day.

Frank had said "I enjoy a challenge," and was as prepared as he could be for it. Robert, not two years older than Frank, was living with challenges that would make your hair stand on end. For three months he had been struggling non-stop with his demons, and was coming to realize that he will be wrestling with them for the rest of his life. And even then there are no guarantees - "One day at a time," "Easy does it" they tell you in AA meetings.  

Robert told me that when he got home from rehab he realized that in his apartment and his neighborhood he wasn't going to get any help in his continual combat with drugs and alcohol, rather just the opposite. What he said next left me surprised and delighted:

"I  was pretty sure I wasn't ready to stand up against all those temptations, so I just came to school right away. I figure I'm safer here." 

Lots of kids have done the same thing over the decades: come here knowing that it's a safe place for them. Robert told me that he's been welcomed back into the special program in our dorm, and so has at least a fighting chance in the batlle.

Meanwhile, out in the woods.... Frank was a little disappointed because by the time his group arrived in Stokes State Forest the rain had stopped and he had to hike under a blue sky. Well, you can't always get what you want.


On Tuesday all of the monks went to a theater in Montclair for the premiere of the documentary about our monastery and school, entitled  "The Rule." I hope that when PBS airs it nationally in late September a lot of generous people will be moved to help us continue our efforts with the Franks and the Roberts and their hundreds of brothers.

If we get more financial help our burden will be lighter; but if we don't we'll at least have the daily example of kids like Frank and Robert who face their challenges and overcome them.


Next Friday and Saturday, May 9 and 10, the twelve monks here are having an abbatial election occasioned by the fact that Abbot Melvin turned 75. We're all praying that we'll be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Since the election is on Saturday morning, I may not be blogging much on May 10. Please do pray for all of us!

1 comment:

  1. I find it inspiring to read of your young men and their successes in overcoming their demons. I realize that one reason God did not see fit to allow me to fall into a similar situation may be that I exist to support others by prayer. Sweet Mary, as you remember your Son as a teenager, please watch over the teenaged boys at St. Benedict Prep who need your intercession and guidance.