Monk Profiles in Argus Leader (2004)

Posted by on Sep 12, 2004 | No Comments

Paul Friedman

Brother Paul Friedman lived in seven states and 12 towns before his family settled in Aberdeen.

He was a student at Aberdeen’s Central High School when he gradually became aware he had a vocation to monastic life.

A classmate talked to Friedman about Blue Cloud Abbey. They both entered the monastery, but Friedman’s friend left after his novitiate, although he eventually became a diocesan priest.

“I tell him, ‘God used you to drop me off,’ ” Friedman said.

Now 62, Friedman entered monastic life shortly before Vatican 2 loosened many of the restrictions facing those in religious life. He appreciates the changes but thinks he would have remained in monastic life even if it were more severe.

“I came here aware that they had no vacation,” Friedman said. “Now one group of us goes to the Black Hills for a week, then the other group goes. I’m grateful that the change came.”

Friedman, who returned to the abbey in 1989 after 20 years at the Benedictines’ mission in Coban, Guatemala, works in maintenance at Blue Cloud Abbey, keeping the building in shape. During his work hours, his usual uniform is well-worn jeans and a comfortable T-shirt.

In past years, he also has been the abbey beekeeper. This summer, with no bees to tend, Friedman has focused his energy on the abbey’s campgrounds.

It’s one of the places where the monks of Blue Cloud Abbey can offer spiritual guidance and hospitality, Friedman said.

Guy Gau

Life in a monastery doesn’t mean detachment from the world, Father Guy Gau believes.

“I think we’re very much a part of the world in which we live,” Gau said.

He has worked at the indian missions in the Dakotas and in Guatemala and was chaplain at Flandreau Indian School.

For a number of years Gau supervised ministry with divorced, separated and widowed people.

The Benedictine monks who served on the Indian missions were familiar to Gau, who was raised near Wagner. His father worked for the monks at Marty.

“I felt drawn to a community life,” said Gau, 71. “A single life out in the middle of nowhere is not one I feel an attraction to. I much prefer people around me.”

Abbot Thomas Hillenbrand

According to St. Benedict, founder of the prayer communities that bear his name, the abbot of a monastery is responsible not only for his soul but the souls of every monk in his care.

As that statement is read to Abbot Thomas Hillenbrand, head of Blue Cloud Abbey for almost 12 years, he winces a bit.

“I think St. Benedict in that particular quote was being a little bit too hard on the abbot,” Hillenbrand said. “I will have to answer if I tried to run a good monastery, but as far as the salvation of each individual monk, I can only answer for myself. Each individual monk has to answer for himself.”

Hillenbrand, a native of indiana, has been answering that question himself since he was 14. That year he followed in the footsteps of an older brother and entered a seminary.

“Year after year, the vocation sort of grew on me,” he said. “My relationship with God, it just felt better and better as the years went on.”

Hillenbrand decided to join a monastic community because he didn’t think he would be comfortable in the life of a diocesan priest. A member of a gregarious family, he wanted to pursue his vocation in the company of others.

Monastic life serves as a spiritual support group, the abbot says. He often describes a monastery as being “Sinners Anonymous,” where the monks talk each other out of sin and into living a virtuous life.

He spent four years of high school and two years of college at the seminary. He then came to Blue Cloud Abbey in 1959.

Hillenbrand’s only sister is a Benedictine nun; the brother who entered Blue Cloud before him died in 1978 at the abbey’s mission in Coban, Guatemala.

His day isn’t spent entirely in his office. In the afternoon, Hillenbrand often is found in the carpentry shop. He has taken over the making of coffins from a monk who died.

Hillenbrand seeks out those who come to Blue Cloud Abbey, making sure they feel comfortable both physically and spiritually.

A good monastery welcomes everyone who walks through its door, whether they’ve come for a day or a lifetime, Hillenbrand said.

“The monastery has to be a healthy, holy and, hopefully, happy environment for the people who want to join or the people who simply want to come and make a retreat here,” he said.

Wilfred Lambertz

At one time, Urbank, Minn., the home town of Father Wilfred Lambertz, was 100 percent Catholic.

And as he was growing up, Lambertz’ parents often spoke of the wonderful life of a priest.

But after high school. Lambertz entered the Marine Corps and served in China, where he nearly got married.

Enlisting wasn’t a bad decision, he said, because when he returned to civilian life, the “wonderful G.I. bill” put him through college.

His parents had lost their farm and moved to St. Paul. It was a priest in that metropolitan parish who told the young Lambertz about Blue Cloud Abbey.

“I came here at 26,” Lambertz said. “I was considered a delayed vocation. I found this life as exciting as the Marine Corps and at least as fulfilling.”

Young people may consider his life boring, Lambertz said. He finds it anything but.

Lambertz, who made his profession of vows 50 years ago last Wednesday, is parish priest for the Catholic church in Big Stone City and chaplain for the hospital in Milbank.

It’s good to have life experience before entering a monastery, he said.

“If they come in when they’re young, they’ve whizzed through adolescence without facing who they are,”Lambertz said.

George Lyon

When Father George Lyon made his final profession of vows 54 years ago, he thought he would live in a monastery for the rest of his life.

“Right away, after my ordination, I was asked to go to the missions,” he said. “I learned you were no less a monk if in obedience you’re doing what the community wishes you to do. I’ve loved both places.”

Even when Lyon lived at one of the four missions established by the Benedictine monks from St. Meinrad Abbey, he experienced community life, he said. Usually at least two monks were assigned to a mission; more often it was three or four.

At the missions the monks were known as “black Benedictines” because of the black habits they wore.

A Kentucky native, Lyon felt he had a vocation to the priesthood even before he entered elementary school. He asked a nun once if she thought he was intelligent enough to become a priest.

“She pondered it for a minute, then said, ‘Yes, I think you can make it,’ ” Lyon said.

Lyon has a younger brother who is a diocesan priest in Louisville, Ky.

Benedictine monks face the same struggles as everyone else, Lyon said.

“We’re human beings, not angels. We realize as monks we’re going to submit our lives to the kingdom of God,” he said.

Stanislaus “Stan” Maudlin

“You’ll always have a job, and you’ll love every minute of it.”

With those words ringing in his ears, Father Stanislaus “Stan” Maudlin embarked upon religious life when he was 12 years old.

Now 87, an age when most people have retired, Maudlin continues his work with the American Indian Culture Research Center at Blue Cloud Abbey and travels frequently back to the Indian reservations.

Concerned about the suicide rate among Native American young people, he is working to start healing ceremonies with holy men.

Maudlin, who bought the land for Blue Cloud Abbey in 1949, would never have come to South Dakota if it hadn’t been for World War II.

In 1937 St. Meinrad sent him to school in Rome to obtain two degrees. His education was cut short when the war broke out. He returned to Indiana in April, too late to attend college there, so the abbot sent him to the Dakotas.

“Thanks be to God,” Maudlin said. “What would they have done with me if I’d gotten the degrees. I would have missed these glorious years out here.”

Chris Nicolaes

The monks at Blue Cloud Abbey don’t try to change Chris Nicolaes.

“They let me be who I am,” he said. “I appreciate that a lot.”

What Nicolaes is, is a deeply religious man who never has made a lengthy commitment to any religious house.

Instead, he been a rolling stone, letting no moss grow during his travels.

Nicolaes, 64, is a native of the Netherlands who now is an Australian citizen. He studied theology for years but didn’t want to be ordained.

Instead, he has visited different communities, spending five years in a Trappist monastery. Currently he is on a return visit to Blue Cloud Abbey as a claustral oblate, someone who follows the rules without taking vows.

“They will let me be who I am and pursue what I want,” Nicolaes said. “There are not too many hoops here.”

Denis Quinkert

When Father Denis Quinkert first heard he was going to South Dakota, he felt a sense of adventure.

A native of southern Indiana, he had heard tales of the great snows that blanketed this state. That, he was told, was why Our Lady of the Snows had been chosen as Blue Cloud Abbey’s patroness.

But since he arrived on July 31, his first task was far removed from blizzard conditions.

“It was cutting hay,” he said. “It was very enjoyable. I found myself putting up hay for the next eight years. It was very fulfilling.”

His roles changed over the years. Quinkert served as the third abbot for Blue Cloud, filling that position for five years.

Quinkert, 68, who made his profession of vows in 1956, was ordained 20 years later. Today, his duties at Blue Cloud Abbey include that of novice master.

As he teaches newcomers to monastic life, Quinkert helps them to understand that talking about what’s being given up is negative but talking about the commitment being made is positive.

“It the same with marriage,” he said. “You can say, ‘I gave this up to be married.'”

Crispin Rork

On Oct. 1, Brother Crispin Rork will complete his year as a novice and take his first vows.

If all goes as he hopes, in three years the 42-year-old Rork will become a permanent member of the Blue Cloud Abbey.

He’s a brother-monk now, but he hopes the Blue Cloud community will send him on for the seminary education that will conclude with his ordination as a priest.

“It’s what I want,” Rork said. “But it’s up to the community.”

Rork lived in Topeka, Kan., for 10 years where he managed a fast-food restaurant. When he turned 40, he began to seriously pursue his vocation to religious life.

“I found this place on the Internet,” Rork said. “I came up here and I fell in love with it.”

The lack of people his own age used to bother Rork but not any longer.

“We’ll get more younger and middle-aged men here,” he said. “Plus (the older monks) don’t act as old.”

Rork, the youngest of eight children, once viewed entering a monastery as giving up things. It’s true he’s learned to live more simply. His room is furnished with a stereo, a laptop computer and an antique clock given to him by his mother.

But beyond material things, Rork values what he’s gained in the past 11 months.

“You get so much, and I’m still learning,” he said.

Benet Tvedten

At a high school reunion earlier this summer, Brother Benet Tvedten’s classmates went around the room to update the others on what they’d been doing in the last 50 years.

The person sitting next to Tvedten said, “I’m a Catholic, and this is why I have 11 children.”

Going next, Tvedten said, “I am also a Catholic and that is why I have no children.”

In a world where people often find it difficult to make a permanent commitment, Tvedten sometimes amazes people he meets casually.

“I met a young guy, and he couldn’t believe I have lived 40 years in one place,” he said.

Tvedten, a native of North Dakota, has written a book about monastic life, “The View from a Monastery.” In it he says, “the essence of monasticism is living the day-by-day routine – the seeking of God in what is ordinary.”

Tvedten, 68, attended St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., which is run by Benedictine monks.

“I fell in love with Benedictines as soon as I met them,” he said. “I like the fact that people live together and pray together.”

While Blue Cloud Abbey has brother-monks and priest-monks, it is a class-less monastery as Benedict wanted. Benedict, the founder of this order, was not a priest, Tvedten said.

At Blue Cloud Abbey, Tvedten serves as oblate director. Oblates are lay people who try to practice the principles of The Rule of Benedict in their own lives.

There are times Tvedten he has wanted to leave the monastery and contemplative life.

“But I have no regrets for having stayed,” he said.

Christopher Uehlein

Songs Father Christopher Uehlein has written are being performed in churches as far away as China, Africa and Latin America.

His pieces have been published by companies such as Augsburg Fortress, and the American Guild of Organists named him one of the most important figures in organ history since the middle ages.

His musical gifts led him to leave Blue Cloud Abbey for three years in the 1980s.

He didn’t leave monastic life, however. What he did was study music composition at DePaul University in Chicago and at the University of Illinois at Urbana.

“The fact that they let me go to school to study composition was gratifying,” Uehlein said.

Blue Cloud Abbey always has been willing to nurture the creative gifts of its monks, he said.

Several monks have traveled to New Mexico to study sculpting and other arts.

Uehlein, who will celebrate his 73rd birthday in October, got off to an inauspicious start in religious life. He was a student at St. Meinrad Abbey’s minor seminary in Indiana when a displeased professor kicked him out. The pleadings of four others couldn’t change the edict.

Uehlein considered entering the military but decided a straighter road to the priesthood was a better option. He had met a monk who knew some of the men at Blue Cloud Abbey. Uehlein contacted the monastery by sending a picture frame with a Native American design.

One of the monks responded to the gift with an invitation to join the monastery, and Uehlein made the trip to South Dakota.

“It’s like going from one’s family to another family,” Uehlein said.

The hospitality of Blue Cloud Abbey is the greatest gift the monks can offer to the region, Uehlein said. He estimates that more Protestants take advantage of the retreat center than Roman Catholics do.

Those who spent time with the monks learn they have the same foibles and faults as anyone else, Uehlein said.

“We’re very human,” he said.

For a sound recording of a 13th century Provencal carol with Uehlein on the piano and Brother Michael Peterson singing, taped at Blue Cloud Abbey, see

Chris Wesely

Brother Chris Wesely first sensed he had a calling to religious life when he was 7.

But as a young man, the time wasn’t right. So Wesely worked for the U.S. Postal Service until he was 35, when he entered Blue Cloud Abbey.

One of three sons raised in Abilene, Kan., Wesely has a younger brother who entered the priesthood. They both attended St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana.

His older brother is married with two children.

It wasn’t love at first sight when Wesely, now 51, arrived at Blue Cloud Abbey.

“I don’t like the winters,” said Wesely, who wears his brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. “But the rural setting was appealing.

The abbey covers 1,500 acres, with 400 of them tillable. Wesely was in charge of the farm grounds until they were rented out. Now he runs the greenhouse and large abbey garden and maintains the cars.

Deciding to enter religious life is a personal thing. The important thing, Wesely said, is to let the Holy Spirit work within.

“Discernment can be a lifelong process,” he said. “You rely more and more on the Holy Spirit and less on yourself.”

Blue Cloud Abbey is his home, Wesely said, but with his 81-year-old father in poor health, he feels himself being pulled back to Kansas.

“That’s the only thing that could draw me away,” he said.

Monk Profiles in Argus Leader (2004)
Jill Callison
Argus Leader
published: 9/12/2004