MARY MOTHER of the CHURCH ABBEY
A Benedictine Monastery in Richmond, Virginia
My name is Br. Robert Nguyen, OSB and I am a proud to be a monk of Mary Mother of the Church Abbey. I was born and raised in Vietnam.
Growing up, all my family practiced the Catholic faith despite the persecution of Christians by the Communist regime. I was introduced to the faith at an early age. I enjoyed going to Mass and praying the Rosary with my family. As a small boy I used to serve Mass at our local parish.
It was this faith upbringing that the roots of my vocation sprung. Unfortunately, it was not materialized until later in life.
During the Vietnam War, the conditions were so bad; many people and I lost several of my relatives. I had served in the Vietnamese army for several years. With God’s protection, I was able to escape Vietnam through Europe. It was a treacherous and very dangerous journey. My of my friends did not make it. May they rest in peace! God has been so good to me. I was so lucky to finally get help to come to the United States after living for several years in Europe.
When I arrived in the United States while living with a relative in Virginia Beach area, a friend introduced me to the Benedictine monks in Richmond. I started having conversations with some of the Brothers. I felt attracted to the lifestyle of the monks. Their prayer life and work was a draw for me.
I was accepted to the community and began the period of my initial formation in 1999. On July 11, 2001 the Feast of our Holy Father Saint Benedict, I made my first vows as Benedictine monk. It was the most joyful day of my life. After three years, then I made a life-long commitment to monastic life when I made my final vows in 2004.
In the monastery, I have been honored to serve in various capacities such as the Abbey sacristan, gardener, and tailor. My father was a skilled tailor and I learned a great deal from him. When I joined the Abbey, the Abbot welcomed the idea of setting up a monastery tailor shop.
In the Abbey Tailor Shop, I make monks’ habits (the monastic garb), vestments, and various altar linens used in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
I am so happy to be a monk. I love Jesus and our Blessed Mother Mary. I pray every day for God to sustain me in my vocation. It is a joy for me to be able to pray for people who come to the Abbey and our school.
I grew up in Southern Maryland, home of the Indian Head Maryland Naval base. During my high school years I was active in the music and drama department. I was also a very involved in my church on the Navy base serving as Sunday school teacher, Music Director and Youth Minister.
After high school I attended the local community college for one year while also subbing at my old high school and working for a local drug store and clothing store. In 1979 I joined the U.S. Navy. I served aboard The USS Cochrane (DDG-21) Pearl Harbor HI, VQ-4 Fleet Air Pax River, MD and the Naval Training Chaplain School Newport RI.
It was while stationed at the Chaplain school that I met LCDR (Fr.) George Dobes and he helped me with my confirmation classes, instructing me on joining the Catholic Church. It took us almost two years to complete, and it was one of the happiest days of my life.
When I was a teenager, I had dreamed of becoming a missionary and using my music to help bring the word of Jesus’ love to the world. But after my time in the service traveling around the world and moving more times than I can count, the dream of missionary work lost some of its appeal. However, I still had that feeling that I was being called to serve the church. But how? I did not feel the call to the priesthood and at the time knew nothing about serving as a “Brother.”
I lived with one community for almost a year. However, it was not what God was calling me to. In 1993 I met the community of Mary Mother of the Church Abbey. I lived with them a short while but had to leave to take care of some family issues. It was during this time I became very active in the parish I attended and my work with adults and children with special needs. But there always seemed to be a part that was missing in my life.
In January 1999 I walked back through the doors of the abbey. A year and a half later I professed my simple vows and then I made my solemn profession three years later. In my time here, I have served as the Director of the retreat center and the Abbey Gift shop manager. Presently I serve the community as the Sub-Prior, and kitchen master and cantor.
I was born and raised in a small town called Kalongo in northern part of Uganda. I come from a family of eight children. I, together with my siblings, was educated at the Catholic parish school in the same area which was operated by the Comboni Missionaries. We lived not far from the parish and the best place we had was the church.
I can recall that my parish had priests and brothers and I came to admire the work they did. When I was 12, I became interested in the priesthood. When I reached 13, my priest granted me permission to join the Altar servers group. It was so exciting to learn how to serve on the Altar.
When I reached 16, I applied to join the Apostle of Jesus minor Seminary and graduated after four years. Upon graduating, the political instability in Uganda intensified. After two years, I was able to resume a normal life. I attended a vocational school that was operated by the Benedictine monks. This was my first encounter with monks. I liked that students were allowed to attend morning Mass with the monks every day and on several occasions I attended Lauds and Vespers. I felt touched in my heart seeing and hearing how the monks pray and how each one took responsibility for his specialized work and at the end of the day, they come together pray and live as brothers in a monastery.
I became interested in learning more about the monks’ life so I reached out to one of the monks who was the boarding Master. He introduced me to the Vocations Director who invited me to come and see the monastery for a week. By the end of my visit, I gained an appreciation for the whole way of life with the priests and the brothers all praying and living together.
After a few additional visits, the Vocation Director encouraged me to explore the notion of becoming a monk. I already knew that this was the path for me. Since becoming a monk, the monastery has allowed me to learn more in seeking God by observing the life according to the customs of a monastic community. I love the Benedictine way of life and how it is centered on structured Prayer and Work (Ora et Labora). As a novice, I feel the joy of fraternity in the community and I am privileged to live and serve with others. God calls each one of us from near and far for a purpose that His name may be glorified. I have found peace here. I enjoy learning more about monastic history and spirituality and I feel strengthened in my vocation.
My name is Br. Vincent Jude McDermott and I have recently made my first profession as a Benedictine Brother with Mary Mother of the Church Benedictine Abbey. My second cousin is Abbot Benedict McDermott who has retired and I live at the monastery with him and all my brother monks. My vocation as a monk brother started from the beginning of my days in my own household thanks to my parents and my three sisters. I watched both my parents and three sisters serve with a smile, never expecting anything in return but love. My parents raised my three sisters and I Catholic, and because of their Catholic example, we always were eager to help others, build strong relationships, and share our faith with our community.
Before I joined the monastery, I served in the Air Force and it was the best decision I ever made. I lived in Turkey and Panama, and visited many places wearing the uniform with men and women of honor from all over the world.
I chose to become a monk later in life than most. I love seeking God, and I love to sing and one of the great saints said to pray and to sing is coming real close to touching heaven. As a Benedictine Brother living in community with one another we pray the Divine office every day. To me this is really special because it allows me to take the psalms of God and make them my own. The more one practices singing and reciting the Divine Office, the more the mind shifts to heavenly thoughts.
In learning the example of helping others, I now see, as a Benedictine Brother, how this gift of putting others first before oneself, helps in community living. The Rule of St. Benedict encourages us to help our brothers when they are in need and to act out of love. As a community of monks we pray morning prayers, afternoon prayers, evening prayers, and compline (night prayers), and by showing up for prayers consistently we build each other up in fraternity.
I am truly blessed to be part of this community because of our main apostolate which is Benedictine College Preparatory School in which the young men are being trained in discipline, leadership, and prepared to excel academically.
The structured way of living in community with other Brothers is very good for me personally. As we live in community with each other, we do pretty much everything together and we learn about each other, the good and the bad, and most of all we pray for each other that we may go to heaven and bring others with us. St. Benedict’s way of life is a good life and we place prayer first over everything and then work, recreation, and study. I hope and pray more men will take a leap of faith and experience the monastic life here at Mary Mother of the Church Benedictine Abbey.
I was born and raised in a small village in southwestern Uganda. Growing up in a family of seven kids, family became an important value in my life. It is the family element of the Benedictines, besides the balance between prayer and work, which I have come to treasure so much. It was in this staunch Catholic family that the seeds of my vocation were sown.
I don’t remember my parents ever saying anything to me about becoming a priest. I suppose it was the environment and religious atmosphere they cultivated around the home that shaped the path I was to choose later in life. Daily family prayers and Rosary, Sunday Masses, volunteering at church events were big traditions in my family. Being a subsistence farming family, manual labor was a means of sustenance and the rough life of poverty reinforced in me a work ethic and resilience that have later become an instrumental force fueling my passion and dedication to service and hard work.
When I was young, I had no idea I would end up spending my life time at Mary Mother of the Church Abbey in a distant land. However, my only conviction early in life was that I felt a strong calling to do something special in the world for God. Since I was a small boy I desired to become a priest. As I became familiar with different modes of priesthood, I developed an attraction to religious life and missionary service – to bring the Good News of the Kingdom to people of all nations.
All I know is that, I really dreamt big about my life. My deepest desire was to serve as a priest. However, that was not the only thing that fascinated me; if religious life was not to work out, I also had a love for law and science. So, my dream encompassed three things: becoming a priest, or a lawyer, or an engineer.
When my parents could not afford to send me to a high school seminary, I ended up at a small village school. I was heartbroken but trusted the Lord has a plan for me. I did my best, and when I finished advanced high school, I was accepted to law school at Makerere University in Uganda. I was enjoying my legal education but God had not given a deaf ear to the prayers of my heart’s deepest desire.
While at law school, my older brother who was a seminarian in Richmond introduced me to the Benedictines. I became attracted to monastic life and that was the turning point in my life. The decision of leaving law school for a monastery was not an easy one. Some friends were supportive and others not. My family has always supported my choices though. They were happy with the move. But ultimately the decision was mine. I prayed and prayed and consulted people I trusted for guidance.
I joined the Abbey in July 2001. I struggled with the adjustment to a new culture, language, way of life and leaving family behind thousands of miles away. However, the Lord had opened doors to a new family for me where I felt accepted and loved. God’s hand has always been at the center of this affair. It’s by his pure grace that I persevered, made first vows, then final vows and eventually after nearly eleven years, I was ordained a priest in 2012.
In between professions and ordination, I have been blessed to pursue various academic disciplines. While at Saint John’s University in Minnesota, I studied Philosophy and Computer Science. During seminary at Saint Vincent in Pennsylvania, I was awarded an S.T.B and M.A (Monastic History) degrees. I also attend a short course on Leadership in Rome. Currently, I am enrolled in the JCL program at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC studying canon law and also taking courses in immigration law.
A small community provides a close-knit family atmosphere. Each monk’s talents are utilized to the optimum and there is so much potential to grow, not only spiritually but also gain substantial practical skills and experience. I feel privileged to be here at this moment in the history of this community. God has sustained me here for a purpose.
It’s a blessing to be called upon to serve in various roles: high school teacher, chaplain, confessor, vocation director, oblates director, and currently as the Prior of the monastery.
I have also been privileged to engage with a ministry helping orphan children and youth in Africa through education, health care, clean water, and shelter. The fruits are evident in the lives being transformed every day at the Hope school educating more than 340 children.
Looking back, I really think I made the right decision to follow my innermost desire – to seek, to love, and to serve God as a Benedictine monk. I feel so much joy and privileged to be available to pray and serve others following in the footsteps of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We are all called to do something beautiful for God every day, however small, to make our world a better place for all – through prayer, love, compassion and acts of charity.
I feel blessed to be a monk and part of this Abbey family. My heart is filled with immense joy — a joy derived from a life of prayer, love, and service which the Lord has chosen me for and continues to sustain me in this beautiful place. God is indeed awesome! He has done amazing things in my life. I am eternally grateful and my gratitude can only be expressed in dedicating my life back to him in service.