I first met Brother Augustine Wilmeth when he was one of the students where I served as chaplain. As a convert, he was intensely interested not only in his new Catholic faith but in the more traditional expressions of life and worship.
I followed his progress through the years and had the chance last summer to visit him a few months before he took his first vows as a monk at the Benedictine monastery that has been reestablished at Norcia in Italy.
Brother Augustine spoke to me for Aleteia about his vocation, his life in the monastery and his work brewing and bottling beer.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker: When did you first start thinking about pursuing a monastic vocation?
I first began thinking distinctly about a monastic vocation, as something God might be calling me to, during my first year of college. Even before, that in high school after my conversion, I was really drawn by Gregorian Chant and the Benedictine love and devotion to the liturgy.
Why go all the way to Norcia when there are plenty of Benedictine Monasteries in the USA that need young monks?
Coming to Norcia wasn’t a rejection of all the Benedictine monasteries in the states.
In God’s providence when I was really interested in visiting Benedictine monasteries my sophomore year of college, I happened to find out the monks at Norcia were offering a monthlong summer discernment program.
I came and had a very deep, life-changing experience, after which it was clear to me that, without any force or coercion, God was telling me that this monastery was where he was calling me and desiring that I seek him.
Norcia is a small Italian town. How does a young American fit in with the life there? Are you ever homesick? What do you miss about USA?
A young American like myself can have a tough time at first; you don’t just have to leave the world and experience all the newness of monastic life (this by itself is not easy!), but you also have to learn Italian, come into contact with a whole new culture and learn to live in the monastery with brothers from all over the world.
I don’t get homesick but I do miss things about the USA, the ease of doing business and living life (here everything economic and political is so bureaucratic and complicated!). Fortunately, Europe, even though it has forgotten its Christian roots, has a culture that feels very real and rooted in history (you sense this even in the buildings) that helps one feel at home here.
St. Benedict calls his monks to work and prayer. What does this mean for you day by day? What is your typical routine?
Our life here follows a very traditional Benedictine pattern. The day is very full, of both prayer and work. We get up around 3:30 and begin prayers at 4 a.m. on most days; the last prayer finishes at 8 p.m. and we go to bed.
Our main meal is at three in the afternoon. During the other times we are either engaged in spiritual reading, or working. It’s a strict way of life. There isn’t really much free time. We do have 30-minute recreation each evening before compline where we come together as a community and can engage in conversation.
Do you work in the brewery? What is your job there?
I first began as an assistant, helping with all steps of the brew cycle: brewing, bottling, labeling and boxing, preparing orders and then loading and receiving shipments.
Since September I have been the manager of the brewery. I have to keep the operation running on a day to day basis, this involves a lot of email and correspondence, paperwork, as well as coordinating orders for supplies and sales with clients.
How has your Benedictine brew been received? How does brewing connect with traditional Benedictine life?
Our beer has been very well received and there was initially such high demand we quickly began working on expanding our production capacity shortly after the brewery opened. We also get high compliments from beer connoisseurs and lovers of Belgian style monastic beers.
Brewing has been part of the the monastic heritage since the middle ages, and is one of the many ways that monks take the fruits of the earth and transform them into something truly remarkable.
Do you pray as you brew beer or do you brew beer as you pray?
The goal of our life is to pray always, whether brewing, cooking or walking down the corridor. Continual prayer; it may happened we are brewing or bottling or drinking while we are praying …
What advice would you give a young Catholic man who is thinking about a vocation to the religious life today?
Come and see; make sure you visit monasteries and religious communities and witness firsthand the way God’s grace can really transform your soul and free you. Besides that, pray, and spend time with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker