This article originally appeared in the Winter edition of The Clerestory
Since coming to St. Procopius abbey in the year 2000 to become a Benedictine monk, I’m always taken aback by my journey towards God and His will for me. I never intended to become a religious. Since between the ages of three and five all I ever wanted to be was an artist. The desire stems from a particular event when my mother woke my brothers and I up one morning and told us to gather all the sheets, pillow cases and curtains from our bedroom and bring them downstairs to the backyard. We were met with a plethora of large jars filled to the brim with wondrous liquid colors. We then proceeded to fold and tie the various cloths and plunge them into the dyes. A few days later our bedroom was filled with brightly colored tie-dyed wonders. Since then I began diving into anything related to the visual arts—drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. I couldn’t get enough. Art was, and still remains, an avenue of expression that opened my eyes to wonder, beauty and mystery. The journey towards my faith, my relationship with Christ, wasn’t as immediate.
I was raised Catholic, received the sacraments, attended parochial grade schools and high schools, first in Chester, Pennsylvania, during my grade school years, then in Calvert County Maryland during my high school years. However, this was only something I did because it was the expected thing to do in my family. It wasn’t something I did due to a fervent faith, my heart wasn’t invested in it at all. That all changed after high school.
After graduating high school I attended a local college part time (St. Mary’s College of Maryland), taking only art classes, while earning a living cooking at a local seafood restaurant and painting murals. It was during this time that a specific question began overwhelming my thoughts, “Did I believe that Jesus was God?” It completely took me aback. Every night after work it would invade my thoughts. My first instinct to have an idea how to answer such a question was to pray. Ten Hail Marys, that’s what I started with. As the weeks went by, ten became twenty, twenty became a hundred, and so on. Praying became a usual evening event.
After about a month, I was spending hours praying the rosary daily. I knew then that I believed that Jesus was God. I delved into my faith as passionately as I could. Reading the bible became a necessity for me throughout the day. I attended Mass on weekdays. And I began to actively participate in various parish activities. It was the first time in my life I felt truly alive with a deep knowledge of who I was and who I was meant to become—a child of God, serving and listening to Him as best I could. Eventually this life of prayer and art led me to my current life as a monk here at St. Procopius Abbey.
Painting murals led me to painting religious icons. A visitor to one of the homes I was doing a painting at invited me to a weekend retreat painting icons. The iconographer leading the retreat enjoyed my work. After a few more retreats over the span of half a year he offered me a job in the Pittsburgh area of Pennsylvania painting with him. After accepting the offer, I moved to Jeannette, Pennsylvania. While there I befriended a monk at one of the retreats. He was a seminarian at St. Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe but was a monk from St. Procopius.
Through our friendship, I visited St. Procopius. My vocation revealed itself through praying at the abbey with the monks and working with them. Even my own personal prayer times led me back to the monks of Lisle. After several more visits during the course of a year, I joined.
I believe that God has a purpose for everyone. Everyone has a vocation. God longs for each of us and we each have the ability to respond and say yes to His longing for us. Some are called to marriage, some to the priesthood, some to being single, others to religious life of one order or another. There are many types of vocations. Have faith that God will reveal yours in His time, in His will.
If you’re a man between the ages of 21 and 45, have been intentionally practicing the Catholic faith through prayer, scripture, the liturgy, and allowing the church’s teaching to guide your life, maybe God is calling you to a vocation as a monk here at St. Procopius Abbey. Or maybe you know someone who you suspect to have a monastic vocation here. Do not hesitate to reach out to me to find out. I am not just here to find monks. I am here to pray and serve the church—that includes you.
Br. Kevin Coffey
630-969-6410, ext. 273