Brother JosephGethsemani Abbey

“Mary is at the center of my Catholic faith and Trappist vocation.”

The journey began one day in September of 2011, when I thought to enter a church in my downtown Cleveland neighborhood, as a quiet spaceStain glass window and wall icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary to meditate.  I was then practicing an east Indian form of mindfulness, having never practiced the Catholic faith I was baptized into as an infant.  As I climbed the steps of the Byzantine Catholic church and reached for the door handle, the doors suddenly swung open to reveal a bright-eyed young priest.  After introductions, he welcomed me to spend as much time as I wanted in the church, adding that I came at a fortunate time, as it had been closed for several years and he just happened to be cleaning in anticipation of a reopening in October.  I chose a spot on the left-side and sat in silence for thirty minutes.  As I got up and headed for the door, I was stopped by the priest’s mother, who entered sometime during those thirty minutes.  She said that she had noticed where I was sitting and confessed that it gave her goosebumps.  Confused, I asked why.

Do you know what today is?”, she asked.


Today is September 8th, the nativity of Our Mother, and you sat right in front of an image of Mary.

In truth, I hadn’t only been sitting in front of the image of Our Lady painted on the left-hand wall, but my gaze had been fixed on it.  Continuing, Mama P, as she eventually became known, explained how Mary is the gatherer of lost souls and how she brings people back to her Son.  Then in a burst of inspiration she exclaimed, “I think you’re supposed to be here.”

Monastic choir at Gethsemane AbbeyTwo weeks later, another Catholic encounter.  This time, my mother took me to a local Thomas Merton seminar.  It left me with a deep curiosity to visit Gethsemani Abbey and I soon made reservations for a weekend visitor’s retreat in December.

When I arrived at the abbey, I immediately felt a connection with the place and thought monasticism was the most beautiful way I could imagine spending my life.  There was only one problem, I wasn’t yet practicing my Catholic faith.  Knowing the Trappists wouldn’t let me enter under these conditions, I wondered if perhaps they would allow me to be a live-in janitor.  I imagined life in this quasi-monastic janitorial profession on the six-hour drive back to Cleveland.

Yet, when I returned home, I entered deeper into the meditation practice and in March of 2012 traveled to southern India, where I stayed in the ashram of the late self-enquiry guru Ramana Maharshi.  While silently meditating in one of the small white marble prayer rooms, a fellow tourist seated next to me turned to one of the Indian religious and, pointing directly at me, exclaimed, “I don’t think this guy should be here.”  In hindsight, he was right.  Yet, in the moment, the statement angered me and precipitated a sudden flood of memories and emotions; a barrage of the rejections and hurt from my past that I thought I had let go.  Shaken from the experience and alone in India, I returned anxious to my ashram room and uttered the first real prayer of my life, “Get me through this trip.  Get me through this night.

I indeed made it through the trip but continued with the mindfulness meditation.  Yet, I became increasingly frustrated with the practice.  And it happened while on a trail hike in April of 2012, at a point of pregnant frustration, I suddenly remembered my visit to Gethsemani Abbey and the way the monks chanted the “Our Father”.  I immediately felt a wave of peace.

That night, I woke from sleep with a burning desire to recite the “Our Father”.  This went on for three hours, lying in bed reciting the prayer.  TheBr. Joseph of Gethsemani smiling in cowl next day, I texted the young Byzantine priest, who I hadn’t spoken with in several months, “I don’t know if the church is open, but I feel I need to be in it.”  He responded that he would unlock the door for me.  Although I can no longer remember what happened that day when I entered the church, I know I returned the following morning for the Palm Sunday liturgy.  Suddenly, I was swept up in Holy Week.  On Good Friday, I found myself spending much of the night keeping Vigil before the tomb of a God I had only just met.  It was somewhere between Resurrection Matins and the basket blessing on Easter Sunday, when I realized that I was not called to be a quasi-monastic janitor.  God wanted me to be an actual Catholic monk.

Things progressed quickly after that.  I was confirmed through chrismation the following Pentecost of 2013, became an active member of my small church, moved into the church rectory in 2014 as part of a discernment program, and began actively discerning a monastic vocation in 2015.  In June of 2015, I revisited Gethsemani Abbey for a week of discernment and still felt that initial attraction.  That was all the confirmation I needed.  By February of 2016, on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, I was a postulant.  Then on the feast of St. Benedict in 2021, ten years after my initial experience at the Byzantine church, I made solemn vows.

The more I reflect on this journey, the more I see the maternal hand of Mary that guided me here, through signs and through the warm encouragement of the mothers in my life.

Contact a Vocation Director to learn more about the Trappists or pursue your vocation.