Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

09 June 2008

Tribute to a fellow pilgrim - The Trailblazer

About a month ago, I lost a good friend in the Order. His passing was not completely surprising since he has been on the brink several times before—I actually started writing this post last year—but this time he just crashed and never made it back. I had hoped that I would be there to say goodbye when the end was near, but as luck would have it I arrived a week too late.

I really began to know Brother Pilgrim, as I'll call him, only in the last eight years or so. He was a good twenty years older than I, and was one of my teachers in the all-boys high school I attended. Even though I was a self-centered little twit and distrustful of anyone in authority back then (it was the 70's, after all), there was something I liked about Brother Pilgrim. It may have been the sense of self-confidence he exuded. It wasn't a self-confidence that came from being smart, athletic or handsome. He wasn't any of those. He was overweight, walked with a limp and had only a GED, whereas most of the other brothers had masters degrees. I suppose that gave me hope that I wouldn't have to go through life battling my own insecurities. Then again, maybe I'm overthinking this. Maybe I liked him because he showed us movies during religion class instead of lecturing us about the Trinity, Catholic moral teaching and other such nonsense. I also appreciated his sense of humor. As our class advisor one year, it fell to him to give us the standard lecture on proper behavior. I can still remember him telling us not to kick the soda machines when they weren't working, and "since the machines are physically incapable of having sex, there is no sense in asking them to do so." Wink wink. Nudge nudge.

Brother Pilgrim also directed the school plays, which was his real passion. Despite being a shy kid, I loved being in the school plays. It was during practices for the school plays that I learned my first lesson about Brother Pilgrim. He had a quick temper, but would just as quickly get over it. One moment he would be reading me the riot act for my stupidity, and a moment later he would congratulate me on a fine job. It infuriated me that he could so quickly get over his anger while I would stew about it for days. He once kicked me out of a play for arriving half an hour late for practice. I thought it was rather unfair since it was the first time I had been late. When he saw me later in the hallway, he gave me a hearty greeting, which I repaid with an icy glare. (Years later, he confided that he had never liked my part in the script, which had been written by another brother, because it was completely out of context. My late arrival gave him a convenient way of eliminating my part without hurting the feelings of the brother who wrote the play.)

One of the things that was unique about Brother Pilgrim was that he was not a priest. Non-ordained brothers are a minority in our Order, and back then it usually meant that you would be assigned only to manual labor, such as cooking, cleaning, sewing habits or making sandals. When Brother Pilgrim first entered the Order at the tender age of seventeen, that is exactly what he was assigned to do. He spent the first fourteen years of his life in the Order cooking for the brothers. When the fresh breezes of Vatican II started to blow through the Church, he saw other opportunities open to him. He asked and was given permission to pursue studies in theater and theology during the summer months. In his mid-forties, after many years of working in the high school, he enrolled in a Clinical Pastoral Experience program, then worked as a hospital chaplain for ten years. His trailblazing was important for me as I was making my decision to enter the Order. Seeing the various kinds of ministry that he was able to do helped me to choose not to be ordained.

Next: Brother Pilgrim - The Friend


Anonymous On a limb with Claudia said...

I'm so glad you are writing about Brother Pilgrim. His loss is so dear. What I like about him was, even in a wheelchair, he had a warm, safe presence. I always felt really seen by him - not just as a moneybags donor or a heathen non-Catholic or even just the idiot I am - but as a real human being. He was a gift to me.

Please write more so I can learn about the gift he was to you.

10 June, 2008 19:22  
Blogger Sean said...

As a fellow "stewer" I share your amazement at the generosity of spirit that others seem to have.

I am sorry for your loss.

11 June, 2008 23:09  
Blogger Wicked Step Mother said...

I "re-found" your blog because I needed to write to you about my ever growing frustration with the Church (Just saw a report that in the Archiodiocese of Baltimore, the Legionnairies of Christ and Regnum Christi are being seriously examined for their recruiting strategies (you know why this is relevant to me) and also saw an article in the NCR on the fact that some of our favorite higher up's are saying if we vote Democrat we can't take communion). Anyway, its funny how things work because I came onto your blog to complain because I was feeling disillusioned and immediately remembered why I continue to stay in the Church - it's because of people like Brother Pilgrim and people like you.
I miss Brother Pilgrim a lot - his honesty may have been difficult for some but to me it was refreshing to have someone in the Church speak plainly. It was funny at his funeral to see all of the "odd" folks who came together to celebrate his life - we truly were a strange group that he loved and we are so blessed that he loved us!

12 June, 2008 22:54  
Blogger heartinsanfrancisco said...

Brother Pilgrim sounds like a very smart man in all the ways that count.

Your tribute to him makes him quite real even though I didn't know him, and I wish I did.

I'm sorry you've lost such a good friend and mentor.

13 June, 2008 08:59  

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