Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas at St. Benedict's

Someone asked - what is Christmas like in the Monastery?

Christmas is a very special time here (as you would expect). We are going to find and cut down a Christmas tree (from our property) this afternoon! We will decorate it tonight (Tues, Dec 22) during our community recreation (which we have every Tuesday night).

We will decorate the church on Thursday afternoon (Dec 24). And we will have our Christmas vigil Mass at 8:00 PM that night.

We will have a GREAT meal (dinner) on Christmas day in the monastery. It will be cooked by monks (to give the staff the day off)... and we have some very good cooks here! Lots of the monks who are in parishes will be home for the meal (which will be eaten in the evening to give everyone time to get home).

From December 17 until it is empty, there is a table just outside of the refectory (our dining room) which is affectionately called "The Gluttony Table" because it houses all the goodies given to us over the Christmas holidays. I have been somewhat tempered until now... but that dam could break at any time (as most of you know)... thankfully, there is no ice cream on that table!!

Those are some of the things we do. I am sure there are more which I will find out as we do them...

God bless you all and if I don't post again before the big day...

Have a very Mary Christ-Mass and a Blessed New Year!!

2 weeks into the Novitiate

I entered the Novitiate 2 weeks ago and have been asked - how it is going? I must say that it is going GREAT! The accommodations are good (little bigger room than in the postulancy and I have a sink in my room)... the Novice Master is a solid teacher of the monastic way of life and the Rule of St. Benedict.

It reminds me of my first year in the seminary - and I have the same sense of peace that I had then. There is some good time to pray, reflect and grow in the possibility of a monastic vocation. The classes (M-F, 8:00-10:00 AM) are educational and challenging (not hard to understand, but to put into practice). The work remains about the same - approximately 15 hours a week.

If it gets much better, they may have to pry me out of the Novitiate next December! (Just kidding, I think that I will be ready to get back to active priestly ministry by then!)

God bless you all,

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pictures from Novitiate Ceremony

Check out the pictures: http://www.kansasmonks.org/index.php?option=com_phocagallery&view=category&id=7:novice&Itemid=77

And the Abbot's homily: http://www.kansasmonks.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=92:novices&catid=49:news

If you have trouble with the links above, go to: www.kansasmonks.org and click on "photos" on the menu bar. The Novitiate Ceremony is the last entry.

Monday, December 7, 2009

And the new names is.... DrummmmRolllllll....

I received my first choice - Father Justin Damien

In my letter to the Abbot I asked for "Justin Damien" and I wrote that though officially (on the record) I would have the double name, I would simply go by “Father Justin” in house.

The names which I requested are in honor of the following saints:

St. Justin (Martyr) РSt. Justin is an apologist and martyr Рboth of which appeal to me (especially as a Southerner). I love his First Apology (from the middle of the 2nd century) with its defense of the Eucharist and expos̩ on the Mass. I was ordained to the priesthood on his feast day (June 1, 1991), which is another reason he is so special to me. Since the first time I started to think about religious life, Justin was the name I desired the most.

St. Damien (of Molokai [Hawaii]) – I have had a devotion to this wonderful, godly priest for years. His selfless service in very difficult circumstances (isolated on an island populated with lepers to the point of contracting leprosy himself) is an inspiration. In commemoration of his recent canonization (October 11, 2009), I am honored to have his name as part of my own.

Friday, December 4, 2009


It's supposed to get up to 36 degrees today... we will see. It was 22 for most of the morning and its now only 24.

Just like Montgomery, Alabama!!

Priestly visitor...

I was recently visited by a priest friend who is interested in the Benedictine life. He is not from Alabama, so stop guessing because you don't know him. Please pray for him and his discernment!

What's in a name?

When I enter the novitiate on Monday evening (Dec 7th), I will receive my Benedictine habit and a new name. They go together. It will be the start of a new life as a Benedictine novice. New clothing covering the old self and a new name to be identified by - both are signs of a transition, a change and a reminder of the constant Christian calling to die to the old self to live a more faithful life in Christ (and in this case to live by the 1500 year old Rule of St. Benedict - one of the vows being conversion to the monastic way of life). There will be some changes in my lifestyle and the habit and new name will tangible be reminders of them.

When someone is given a name (or names) at birth, it is usually a compliment to the holder of the name. Parents are usually saying that I hope that my son/daughter has some of the good qualities of the person who shares the same name. I was named after people on both sides of my family (my godfather - Jimmy Azar, my Uncle Bud [James] and from my grandfather I got my middle name [Norman]).

A Catholic takes a Confirmation name (I took the Apostle, St. James, the son of Zebedee). In this case, the saint is to be a model to imitate and as an intercessor to pray for you, the confirmandi - especially as you become a soldier for Christ (and we are engaged in warfare in this world - with eternal casualties and eternal victories)!

In the Religious Life a greater change takes place as someone dedicates their entire life to God, especially by living the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. That requires a lot of grace and it is good to have friends in high places to intercede for you and to be a role model.

Of course, the name change does not change the person (no more than the clothing/habit does). As Shakespeare wrote (in Romeo and Juliet), "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". It is just another incarnational way to help the Religious (aspirant in my case) to strive to allow God to work more fully in his life, to die to self and live more for God.

So PRAY for me - that God's will will be done in my life!!

One of the good things about being a diocesan priest for the past 18+ years and going by Fr. "last name" (which most diocesan priests do) is that the change is only the first name... so Fr. Dean will still be appropriate (or Fr. "newname").

(I will find out my new name on Monday evening!)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Spiritual Life...

In my description of this blog I said I would keep everyone posted on my activities "inside" the monastery and inside me. I have posted numerous times about the manual labor of the postulant life here at St. Benedict's Abbey. Now a short word about me...

When I got here I lived as a diocesan priest for about a month and a half. Enjoying the community and praying together, the food, the classes and the many other good aspects of monastery life. But I really did not take advantage of the opportunities to grow spiritually nor exercise the the monastic practices of Lection Divina (Sacred Reading - primarily the Bible) and solitude/personal prayer. Around that point I decided I should make some changes. I have tried to get in bed earlier (but have not always been successful) and get up early. I am watching less TV, eating less and exercising more. And I have added some extra prayer time and spiritual reading to my morning activities.

It has truly been a blessing and I pray (and I hope that you are too) that the will of God for my life will become clear in the coming days... months... and years! The novitiate will surely be a time of grace and discernment.

Know that all of you are in my prayers!


I begin the Novitiate on the evening of December 7th (this Monday). By Canon Law it is required to last at least 1 year and 1 day - and that is how long it will last as it ends on Dec 8, 2010.

It has been called a Spiritual Boot Camp! In the old days, they would shave the heads of the men entering the novitiate (they were called "baldies"). They did that so that they would not leave at the first discouragement - they would want to stay at least until their hair grows back! ;-)

I will be making a short (2 1/2 day) silent retreat with my fellow postulants in preparation for Novitiate. We start tonight at 8:00 PM and it ends on Saturday morning. Please keep us in your prayers.

I plan to update this blog a few times in the coming week...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Let it...


We had our first day of snow yesterday, Monday, November 16th. It was very nice to see. I had seen it many times before (having attended seminary in Philly for 4 years).

The only difference this time was that I had to shovel it!!

So my new mantra is "DON'T let it snow... let it snow... let it snow..."

Friday, November 6, 2009

The vote is in... and the winner is...

This past Tuesday, November 3, 2009, the St. Benedict's Abbey community voted on the 3 postulant's requests to enter the Novitiate (the next step after the Postulancy). Mine was one of the requests, of course. All of us were accepted and the Novitiate will begin on December 7, 2009. Please keep me in your prayers!!

Fr. Fred Miller

Fr. Frederick Miller visited St. Benedict's Abbey & Benedictine College over the weekend of October 31-November 1. We go way back... 22+ years. It was great to see him and he gave some great talks on (1) the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Louis de Montfort's consecration, (2) St. Therese of Lisieux and (3) St. John Vianney... along with an excellent All Saints Day homily. It was a very good visit and we will (hopefully) get him back in the future!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Homecoming at Benedictine College (BC)

Homecoming week was October 19-25, 2009. There were many fun and entertaining wholesome activities during the week. It was very edifying. But not near as much as the Homecoming Court at the BC football game on Saturday. As each of the court was introduced, part of their bio was read. Each of their answers to the question "What is your favorite thing about BC?" was read as they walked to their spots in the court.

The guys said some pretty good things, but here were the girls' answers:

Freshman attendant: "Her favorite thing about BC is everything! The campus, the friendly people, the Catholic environment, personable professors and the class sizes."

Sophomore attendant: "She loves BC because of her amazing friends."

Junior attendant: "She loves Benedictine because she believes Christ is HERE, in everyone and He is very visible."

Senior attendant (1): "She loves the community life BC has and also the mandarin chicken salad and ice cream sundae bar in the cafeteria."

Senior attendant (2): "She loves BC because of the community where you can come and find unity."

Senior attendant (3): "Her favorite thing about BC is every day is an adventure in holiness."

Senior attendant (4): "She loves the dance parties at BC."

Queen: "She love BC because of the importance placed on relationships and the opportunities it provides to grow in faith."

Though I like the "ice cream sundae bar", I LOVE Senior #3's, "favorite thing about BC is every day is an adventure in holiness" and the Queen's "the opportunities it provides to grow in faith."


Wednesday, October 7, 2009


My brother, Barry, arrived in Kansas shortly after I did and we spent a couple of days together. That was before I officially entered the monastery, so he was not a guest while I was in the abbey (though we spent a lot of time at the monastery).

My first actual guests while I was in the Abbey were... drummmm rolllll... Chris and Zak Francis from Montgomery. Chris and Zak came for a campus visit from September 24-25 (and stayed in the Abbey Guest House on Thursday night). On Friday, Sept. 25th Benedictine College (BC) hosted a "Raven Day" for perspective students. Zak & Chris liked what they saw and Zak is planning to attend BC next fall!!

Then on the morning of Sunday, October 4th, I got a call from Julie & Greg Alexander. They had given 2 presentations (on marriage, of course) in a KC suburb that previous Friday & Saturday and saw how close St. Benedict's was to them (a mere 1 hour away). They (with 5 of their 6 children in tow) visited that afternoon. We had a great time before they headed back to San Antonio that evening!

So the door is now open for visitors...

God bless you all,

Monday, October 5, 2009


Just had to get that in while AU is ranked #17... I hope that this coming weekend's trip to Arkansas does not ruin that (the Razorbacks crushed Texas A & M on the road last Saturday [go SEC]!)...

I must admit that I miss my tailgating in the Loveliest Village!!


I keep getting new work experiences... worked my first chain saw... my first wood splitting apparatus... my first picking and shelling of chestnuts (with leather gloves, of course!)... first planting of (25) Christmas trees (which should be ready in about 5 years)... and I can't remember what else.

We took down the poles and strings which held up the 300 tomato plants last week (after picking the last of the tomatoes) . And we uprooted the (3) peanut patches last Friday.

Always something to do here... and good people to do it with.

Trip to Denver...

I was blessed by being allowed to go to the Diaconate Ordination of 5 men in Denver, CO over the last weekend of September. God willing, they will all be ordained priests in May of 2010.

Dave Nix, one of my FOCUS missionaries in Troy, was one of the men ordained (CONGRATS, Dave!!). Archbishop Chaput officiated and did his usual superb job (very inspirational homily).

I stayed with the Companions of Christ in Denver - a fantastic group of young men studying for the diocesan priesthood (of Denver), who live in community. Very enjoyable.

I also got to see Chris & Elizabeth Kuetermeyer (and their 2 children) during my stay. Chris was another one of my missionaries in Troy and I spent Sunday afternoon with them. Great to see them and catch up.

It was a nice break away from the monastic life, but I was glad to return home on Sunday evening.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

One month...

Well, I have been here slightly over one month. So far, so good. More prayer and more work...

We had the Apostolic Nuncio (Archbishop Pietro Sambi) come for the opening school Mass and a talk to kick off the school year. He is the Vatican's representative to the United States (to the government as the Vatican is a sovereign country and to the Catholic Church also). A packed Church (900-1000) plus a simulcast in our full crypt Church also.

More later... God bless,

Benedictine Football...

Well... it wasn't exactly like AU football, but it was a good day on the gridiron. Benedictine won their first home football game (30-13), giving them a 2-0 record and a 17th ranking in the nation (NAIA)! The tailgating was fun, limited (though growing) and easily accessible (since I live about 100 yards from the field).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Getting Settled In...

I am sorry that I did not write after 1 week of monastic life. Things have been a little busy so you get the 2 week update...

What is keeping me busy? Ora et Labora ("Prayer and Work" - the Benedictine Motto). The regular prayer schedule is: Office of Readings (Vigils) and Morning Prayer at 6:20 AM, Midday Prayer at 12:05 PM, Mass at 5:15 PM, Evening Prayer at 6:45 PM and Compline at 7:30 PM - on most days. The work detail includes chores on Monday through Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings (for about 3 hours on Mon, Tues, Thurs and Fri, but only for about 1-1.5 hours on Wed & Sat). Work over the past 2 weeks - cutting grass, weed whacking, setting up and taking down for a picnic, kitchen cleaning, stairwell cleaning, picking tomatoes, etc... just whatever needs doing. We also have in house classes every weekday morning.

But it is not all work (& prayer) and no play... we have some recreation time also. We have official recreation time with the community a couple of times a week (Tuesday & Sunday evening), and less formal times everyday.

The novices take a class at our college (Benedictine College). I signed up for Natural Theology. What was I thinking?!? It started last Thursday and is going to be a handful!! The instructor is a great guy (and an excellent [though diligent] teacher by all accounts), but the upper level Philosophy class will take some serious effort from a lazy student who finished his philosophical studies more than 22 years ago! I am also auditing a class on the Synoptic (Matthew, Mark, Luke) Gospels. That one will be very enjoyable. With the start of classes we will have a shortened work schedule on those days (Tuesday & Thursday).

Football season is right around the corner... I am looking forward to seeing our NAIA team compete (we are picked to finish in the middle of our conference standings)... but I will definitely miss my trips to the Plains and the enjoyment of the massive tailgating at Auburn.

Until next time...

God bless you all,

Saturday, August 15, 2009

It is Official!!

At a small ceremony before Evening Prayer last night (August 14), I entered the postulancy (with 2 young men - Chris & Vincent) at St. Benedict's Abbey. We were presented by the Vocation Director (Fr. James Albers, who is also the Prior [2nd in charge of the abbey]) to the Abbot, who prayed for us, blessed us and accepted us into the postulancy.

Today (Saturday, August 15), at the Mass for the solemnity of the Assumption, Br. Simon Baker completed his novitiate and made his first vows to the monastic life. It was my first experience of witnessing such a ceremony. It was very beautiful and powerful.

These 2 occurrences will be published in our "Kansas Monks" magazine and will probably be online (www.kansasmonks.org) in the not too distant future.

We will have our first meeting as postulants this Sunday. I am sure that it will be very informative.

God bless you all,

Fr. James Dean


I was relieved of my pastorate of Our Lady Queen of Mercy Catholic Church on August 1, 2009. I baptized the baby of a couple of my former students at AU (and later parishioners at OLQM) the next day (Sunday, Aug 2) and packed my bags. I left Montgomery on August 3rd and traveled to Philly for 3 days (to visit some priest friends) and then on to Honolulu for 5 days to visit a couple of families that I know (and have a LOT of fun on the island paradise - including scuba diving and sky diving). Both were great stops on the way to my new life.

I arrived at the Kansas City airport on Wednesday, August 12 at about 8:20 AM. My brother, Barry, arrived about 2 hours later. My mother was scheduled to come, but was having trouble with her back and could not make the trip. Barry and I did a few things in KC - delicious lunch at BD's Mongolian BBQ, visited the Jazz & Negro Baseball League Museums (2 separate entities in the same building) and toured (newly renovated) Kauffman Stadium (where the Royals play) - before driving to St. Benedict's Abbey.

At the monastery, after 5 visits to Wal-Mart and a little detailing of my room, I got settled in. Barry got to see much of the monastic lifestyle. He prayed with the monks (even getting up both days for the 6:20 AM prayers), ate in the dining room, recreated with them and had many conversations with different ones. At the end, they asked him if he wanted to stay too - being part of a 2-for-1 deal. He declined.... for now. The good thing is that he has "been there, done that" and if you have questions, he can answer some of them.

Next... the acceptance...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Postulancy & Novitiate

Well, it looks like this blog is going to be active before I enter the monastery.  Someone asked me the following questions by e-mail:

QUESTION:  So, what does it mean to enter a postulancy? Are you going to be a monk? Is this a temporary change, while you are studying to become something, or a permanent change? 

Postulant:  "A person taking the first step in religious life before entering the novitiate and receiving the habit.  The purpose of the postulancy is to acquire some knowledge of the religious life and of the particular institute through personal experience.  It enables one to become better known to the superiors of the community, and to develop such virtue as will qualify the candidate for acceptance into the novitiate."  (Fr. John Hardon, SJ, Modern Catholic Dictionary)

My postulancy will last from August 14 - December 7, 2009.

Novitiate:  "The period of formal probation of a person in a religious community of secular institute.  It follows the postulancy and precedes the first profession of vows." (ibid.)

My novitiate will last from December 7, 2009 - December 8, 2010.

If all goes well in the novitiate, I would then take first (or temporary) vows on December 8, 2010.

I would then spend 3 years as a "Junior Monk".

And if all goes well, I would take final (permanent) vows 3 years later.

A monk is a person who "lives a community life in a monastery, under the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, according to a specific rule." (ibid.)

St. Benedict's Abbey is a Benedictine monastery and lives by the Rule of St. Benedict.

And yes, I will be a monk... eventually... (I am not sure exactly when I will be technically qualified as a monk.)

If I make final vows (in about 4 1/2 years), it will be a permanent state... and my residence would be at St. Benedict's Abbey and I would serve the apostolate assignment which the Abbot would give me (currently the abbey has pastoral duties at their college [Benedictine College], their high school [Maur Hill-Mount Academy] and numerous parishes in Atchison and the surrounding area.

I hope that gives some insight into the monastic journey.

God bless,

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Hello!  Welcome to my blog!

This will be active once I enter St. Benedict's Abbey on August 14, 2009.

Until then... keep me in your prayers!

God bless,