Friday, May 15, 2015


Here is the text of the remarks I delivered after receiving the “Medal of St. Benedict’s” award at a scholarship fundraising banquet held here last Thursday, May 14, 2015:

Thank you, Fr. Edwin. It is certainly an honor for me to accept this award. To help me focus my brief reflections I want to use this copy of my book, Downtown Monks.

Notice the first word of the title: “Downtown.” Each Benedictine monastery sets down roots in a particular place, and its monks in turn set down roots for life in that particular monastery, and develop a love for one another and for that place. So “downtown” Newark is an integral part of our identity as Benedictines of Newark Abbey.

Now look at the second word, “Monks.” It’s plural, because the heart of the story is a community of Benedictines who are  trained in the spirituality of the Rule of Benedict to think in terms of “we” and “us,” rather than “ME.”From the small  group of monks who remained after the closing of St. Benedict’s Prep a new and vibrant  “we” was born.

One of our first and favorite metaphors in 1972 was the lifeboat, in which all of us monks were riding, sharing the same fate. My personal recollection of the lifeboat era goes like this: Working together at various tasks, especially praying together four times a day, my brother monks and I are all sitting quietly -- except for Father Edwin: He, for some reason, is standing up, which causes the boat to rock precariously as he alternately scans the horizon and gazes up toward the constellation Orion. I recall getting seasick a lot from all that rocking, and I confess to stealing an occasional worried glance at the bottom of the boat searching for signs of the catastrophic leak that never came.

So much for the lifeboat. There’s another metaphor worth mentioning: It’s here in the subtitle: “A Benedictine Journey in the City.” Our journey really began when we saw how desperately our neighbors in the city needed good quality schools, especially schools for minority males. So after a few months of discussing and praying, we decided to open a high school for boys.

Among our many gifts was a great talent for denial: We were able to completely ignore such bleak realities as the fact that we had no money and that many people saw us as the villains who had just closed SBP the previous year. You might say we were long on denial and blessedly short on what the world calls “common sense.”-- And, oh yes, there was no one among us who knew anything at all about how to actually run a school!

But our mutual trust led us to vote unanimously to set out on this journey together, figuring that we could somehow make it up as we went along. Our motto during this startup period was “On your marks! ….  Go! ….   Get set!” (And we're still "getting set!")

Now let’s turn to the very important dedication page: “To my brothers and sisters, both laypeople and religious, who are the community of Newark Abbey.”

It soon became clear that we Downtown Monks had bitten off way more than we could chew by ourselves. This was not going to work without the help of lots of additional people. And little by little you started to join us: parents with their sons, loyal alumni, dedicated lay teachers, Sisters of St, Joseph, and friends; along with corporations, foundations, and local church, government and businesses leaders, each of you adding your gifts as our co-workers.

The New Testament Greek word St. Paul uses for his own “coworkers” is based on the verb “synergeo” -- literally “to work with.” It gives us our English word “synergy.” The dictionary definition of "synergy," as you know, is "the interaction or cooperation of two or more agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects."

All of  you who are here tonight form a “we” with the monks; and all of us have come together this evening to celebrate and support St. Benedict’s Prep. St. Benedict’s fits perfectly the definition of synergy: a combined effect that is indeed far greater than the sum of our separate abilities.

I will end by noting one final use of that Greek verb, synergeo, “to work with.” Today, Ascension Thursday, the Church remembers how Jesus was taken from the apostles’ sight into a cloud to return to the Father; he left the poor apostles behind to figure out how to continue to spread the gospel. They’d have to make it all up as they went along. But today’s gospel at mass told us that after Jesus’ departure into heaven, (listen to this, now,) “the Lord continued to work with the apostles,” -- There’s our verb synergeo again.

Now, How cool is that! The Lord actually needed the apostles to work alongside Him to spread the gospel! God needed to work in synergy with that little band of apostles to bring into existence Jesus’ dream of the Kingdom, a project whose future was very much in doubt.

Well, the Lord is clearly working with us the same way at Newark Abbey, St. Benedict’s Prep, and St. Mary’s parish and school so that we too can continue to spread the Gospel. And each of you here tonight is, in your own way, big or small, part of this divine synergy.

Please remember that God needs you and me, all of “us” to continue “making it up” together as we go along; and in order to help you remember this, the monks are going to give each of you a copy of Downtown Monks to take home with you.

We hope that each of you will feel as honored as I feel this evening to be part of this great “we,” to be a member of the community of Newark Abbey that includes all the students and staff, all of you, God, and the “Downtown Monks.”


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