The monks at Worth Abbey are at the heart of the Worth School community. With the Ordination of Br Gabriel in Worth Abbey Church on Saturday 21st March this interview by Year 13 student Laura Chow shares some of the thoughts of two different generations of Benedictine monks here at Worth. Each has his own perspective – as you will see as the interview unfolds. But first we’ll let Laura introduced them to you…
Father Kevin Taggart (FK) was one of the ‘founding’ members of the monastery at Worth in 1957, aged 26. He has known Worth and seen both the monastic life and school change throughout the last 50 years. Fr Gabriel (FG) is one of the younger monks in the Worth community and was 24-years-old and had a degree when he entered the monastic life. It was soon apparent that these two men were comfortable to agree and to disagree with each other as two fascinating life stories emerged.
What made you want to become a monk?
FK: I had grown in a strong Catholic tradition both at school and at home; and I felt I would not have peace of mind until I had tried my monastic vocation. So I joined the monastery at Downside at the age of 19, and was a member of that Community for eight years until I volunteered for, and was chosen as a member of, the new Worth Community which became independent in 1957. I was to be the youngest member at the age of 26.
FG: I was born and raised a Catholic and I grew up knowing various monks. After I finished university, having gained my degree, I suddenly realised that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It was not until I accompanied my younger sister on a pilgrimage to Taizé, and witnessed a monk taking his vows, that I actually began to consider a life dedicated to the Church. At the time it was very emotionally turbulent and I tried to deny it to myself as I had a relationship as well. There was a moment where I referred to this relationship in the past tense when speaking to a friend, and it was then that I knew I had already decided in my heart. I just said to God, “I don’t understand this God but I hand myself to you.” Afterwards I felt a sense of peace and certainty, and I knew this was right for me.
Was the reality of monastic life different to what you thought it would be?
FK: Yes, although one had very little idea of what to expect. Getting up at 5am each day was quite a challenge, and then one seems to spend hours in church every day. But as time went on, I began to feel that I was in the right place.
FG: I would definitely say that the romantic vision of monasticism is incorrect in many ways. In reality, the life of a monk is messy, irritating, good and beautiful. It is imperfect of course, but we are striving to be perfect and that is what makes it wonderful. It does, however, take a lot of self- honesty and reflection. In many ways, deciding to be a monk is the easy part and the real work begins when you actually start life as a monk. You are forced to face the inner demons that in normal everyday life we lie to ourselves about.
Fr Kevin, how has the Church and School changed since you have been here?
FK: The Church has changed a lot, ever since the second Vatican Council in the 1960s, with its ongoing programme of renewal and modernizing; and for us the two biggest influences were the introduction of the vernacular in the liturgy, with the English Mass replacing the Latin, and the encouraging of ecumenism, our relationship with other churches and faiths.
The biggest change in the School, apart from its growth and coeducation development, has been the emerging role of the monks. Their work in the School has become less classroom-orientated and more directly pastoral, mainly through their engagement as House Chaplains. The life of the monastery still underpins all that goes on at Worth, and this remains true for the School as well.
Do you think that age affects how you view monastic life?
FK: I think that the view is mainly the same regardless of age. In my opinion, the values are the same for a monk at any stage in their life and the main thing that always remains is community.
FG: I would tend to disagree with Fr Kevin. I believe that there are different stages to monastic life and that age does affect your perspective of it all. The heart and desire to fulfill the core values is all the same, despite age. However I think there are phases that a monk goes through throughout their life and as I am still quite new as a monk, I see myself at the beginning and still working through the first phase.
What do you see the Church and School being like in 50 years’ time?
FK: I have no idea what the future will hold for the Church or the School. However I think that recruitment into the monastic community is of course one of the most important things. More people being influenced and coming to the Church will certainly determine the future and what it holds for us. I also think that monastic life does evolve with time, as can be seen with the huge changes already made in the last 50 years! So, we shall just have to wait and see to find out how monastic life does change and what it will become.
FG: I agree, there is no way to know what the future will hold and when you sign up to be a monk, it is like signing a blank cheque. So there is no way to tell.
This feature first appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of Insight magazine.