Little did Brother Robert know that while working with his father at a soft drink company in Detroit, Michigan he would some day, in the wee hours of the morning and with lantern in hand, find himself bringing cattle in from the fields for milking at a Trappist monastery. His roots were that of a city boy. That young man, during those early morning chores in the fields of that Kentuckian Monastery would look back on the early years of his Catholic upbringing and see a pattern that would eventually lead him to the life as a Trappist monk.
As a young boy he enjoyed working hard along side his father after school. The work and activity of his teen years would give him the foundation needed to become a Trappist Lay Brother. Following three years at St. Hedwig’s Catholic high school, Br. Robert joined Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery. “ At that time there were some 300 monks living and working at Gethsemani, some of them living in tents. They were men who had seen World War II and knew how to live a disciplined life. We slept in single cells or cubicles with our work clothes hanging at the foot of the stalls and other personals in our locker”, he commented.
“I wanted to be a Lay Brother, because I loved the activity of work. The work, for me, was and has always been a form of contemplation,” he said. “I never had seen a cow before joining the Trappist. Now I found myself at 2 a.m. bringing them in from the fields and milking them.”
When asked who had the most impact on his vocation he responded, “Two writers of that period had an effect on my vocation, an Italian Trappist nun, Sr. Mary Gabriella and Thomas Merton. I was reading Merton at the time and liked what I read.” In 1955 Brother Robert volunteered to come to Mepkin Abbey. There he discovered the monastery had 40 Jersey cows, 3000 chicks, and 36 pigs… and fields which needed clearing. It was a life filled with silence, prayer, and work. It was a life he truly wanted.
This good monk is responsible for many of the small hermitages and tree houses on Mepkin’s acreage. He created many of the paths that the monks use today. He liked his time of silence so much, that he asked his Abbot if he might live as a hermit. After five months of living as a hermit, he said he missed his community and wanted to return to his life with the other monks.
When asked about the modern vocations to the Trappist life of today, his response was simple:
“The young men of today, I think, lack maturity. They are not as rugged and tough as we were when I was young. Our life of chant, reading, and work, all becomes a life of devotion. You know, after leaving Detroit, I never looked back. I had everything I needed in this life.”