Becoming a Monk

Welcome to Saint John's Abbey

We make great efforts to reflect in our vocation ministry the image of the Church as the Body of Christ, as taught by Saint Paul, and reaffirmed in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. Vocation discernment at Saint John's Abbey means not only to explore a vocation to the monastic life among our community, but to ask the question of God's call to you and for the Church as a whole. Are you called to become a monk? Perhaps. But are you called to become a monk of Saint John's? That is a different question. Discerning your call to the monastic life, the priesthood, single. or married life is of fundamental importance, but equally important are the specifics of "where," when" and "with whom." Answering this question is the process of Catholic vocation discernment.

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. [...] But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. [...] If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

Monasticism is one of the most ancient of Christian callings, and has served as the foundation and testing ground for much of Catholic spirituality and devotion. This site, its resources, and the relationships it offers to the Saint John's monastic community will open that world and its richness to you, and your relationship with God and Church. We are very happy to answer questions throughout your discernment process, to discuss and elaborate on monastic spirituality, commitment and life, and provide you with the opportunities and support to follow the call of Christ to every person.

For many, even in the Catholic Church, monasticism remains a mystery, and there is no idea that monastic communities serve all over the U.S. and the world. Popular images of monks tend to range from Friar Tuck (friars are not monks) to the Shaolin of China (who are not Christian), or romanticized images of monks often call up heroic hermits battling evil through esoteric knowledge. But what is a monk?


The Process

The Process

The Process of Becoming a Monk

What is a monk? Possibly the moment when a young man stands before the Abbot and the monastic community and is asked, "What do you seek?" will give us a starting point. The answer given by the novice to be is "The mercy of God and fellowship in this community." The young man is then given the habit of the community, and if he perseveres, begins a lifelong journey of doing just that. Eventually making vows of stability, obedience, and conversion to the monastic way of life, he lives with the same group of men, praying, dining, learning and working with them until death. Of course, the life of the monk may take him away from the day to day life of the community to travel, obtain an advanced degree, or to become a pastor of a parish, but he always returns to his home, the monastery.

Becoming a monk is a continuing process of listening and responding to God's call to holiness; throughout a minimum  5-year series of choice, experiences, reflection, and again, choice. 


Steps of Monastic Discernment

     This call may be very difficult to "hear" and even more difficult to define. But God is calling you to holiness, your part at this point, is to work to understand and define that call. To understand and define God's call for you, you must prayerfully explore the 4 Catholic vocations: Single Life, Married Life, Priesthood, and Religions Life.

     A vocation is a relationship and role within the Church, in response to God's call to you, and the needs of His people. Your vocation is not just about you: it involves God, His Church, and His Will for creation. Begin with prayer, and continue for the rest of your life. Research the 4 vocations, and come to know what role each plays in the Church, and the nature of the relationship each builds with God. Since you are not alone in this ask for advice from friends, family, and your parish: they may see things about you, that you never knew existed, and give you the insight to make the next step.

     Very few people chose a spouse without first meeting, becoming friends, and building a deep relationship with that person. Likewise, very few men become priests without first meeting other priests, bishops, and living a life of service and deep involvement in the parish.  Discerning your call means engaging the call. Get away from the computer and experience the vocation. This means: meeting new people and dating;  taking with your local priests and visiting the seminary; and studying the missions of religious orders and visiting the communities. You don't have to try them all, but follow your heart and where you believe God is calling you. If you discover one vocation is not for you, great! Now try another. If you go through all 4 vocations with no luck, try again with different people and communities, seek out a Vocation Guide, and keep seeking God – continue to LISTEN.

     A Vocation Guide is your first connection to the monastic community, he listens and offers advice. Similar to a spiritual director, a Vocation Guide should fit your spiritual needs, and if he does not, it's OK to find another.  Accepting the guidance of a Vocation Guide is not a commitment beyond that – he is only there to help your vocation discernment process; you will not be pressured to become a monk or a priest.

     You will likely have to visit the Abbey at least 3 times. These visits will give you a fuller and fuller understanding of the monastic call, and through the spiritual education and disciple gained through your time in the monastery, you will better understand if this is God's call for you. You will meet many members of the monastic community, live the monastic life and spirituality, and the monks will come to know you, and offer wisdom in your search. 

     This is the first big step: applying for candidacy means you are asking the monks of Saint John's Abbey to consider you to become a monk, while you live with them for three months in intense discernment. This is a discernment step; candidates are not monks and make no vows. 

     For three months, you will live with the monks, following the monastic Rule of Saint Benedict, praying, working, and studying with the monastic community. You may leave at any time, should you discern you do not have a call to the monastic life at Saint John's Abbey, and the monastic community may ask you to leave at any time, should we discern you do not have a call to the monastic life at Saint John's Abbey.

     The novitiate is the first phase of monastic life, and a probationary period of discernment and formation prior to making profession (vows.) Upon leaving candidacy, each man stands before the community, confessing their intention to become a member of the community, and are clothed with the monastic habit (black robes, consisting of a cassock, scapular, and hood.) Novices live the life of a monk: they pray and work with the community, and study the monastic life with the Abbot, monastic scholars, and the formation director. This is a year-long period of strict discipline, prayer, discernment, and formation. The daily work of a novice explores the monastic vocation, teaching humility and obedience, and the wide variety of apostolates of Saint John's Abbey. Novices may leave at any time, and the monastic community may ask novices to leave at any time. 

     After the training period of the novitiate, monks enter into temporary profession, where the vows last 3 years, with the option of adding years if further discernment is needed. No longer living under the strict discipline of the novitiate, but still under the guidance of the formation director, this stage of discernment offers more freedom than the novitiate, and it offers a clearer experience of the monastic life as lived by a solemnly professed monk. A junior monk's work is more focused than in the novitiate, and takes advantage of the monks individual talents, allowing the monk to invest himself into the ministry and identity of Saint John's. At this point, many monks will explore new areas of interest and hobbies, learn new practical skills, and advance their professional studies. 

     On the Feast of Saint Benedict, as the monks before you, you will make the solemn profession of the Order of Saint Benedict, vowing yourself to this community in obedience, stability, and conversion to the monastic way of life. You are now a Catholic monk of Saint John's Abbey, of the Order of Saint Benedict, part of the 1,500 year-old spiritual tradition, seeking God and serving the Church and World. Over the habit you received on the day you entered the novitiate (the cassock, scapular, and hood,) you are clothed with the cuculla, the symbol of a fully professed Benedictine monk. From this day forward, you are a Brother in Christ, and will continue to LISTEN to God's call for yourself and your community, for the Church and the World. Your work as a Benedictine monk is prayer, and your prayer expresses itself in helping to build the Kingdom of God in countless ways, as your talents, your community, and God calls you.