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The Illustrated Monk: Brother Andre Can't Leave His Tattoos Behind But Can Pursue Sanctity

Jo Garcia-Cobb

Jo Garcia-Cobb - published on 12/09/14

Love started getting tattooed when he joined the army at age 17, in the mid-‘80s: “Basically I saw these tough guys with tattoos, and I wanted to be like them. I’d go get a tattoo with every paycheck. The images were tough and very off-putting.”

Born in California in an affluent Catholic family with two older and two younger sisters, Love grew up in Texas and the Mississippi. He dropped out of high school and church in the 11th grade. “I wanted to go to art school, but my father wouldn’t support me.  His idea of success and mine didn’t match,” he said. Love did his best to live by his art and to stay out of the mainstream job market.

Looking back, Love has come to put himself in his father’s shoes and respect his father’s desires for him: “What parent would not want his child to be successful?” For the record, he added, “My father and I have a great relationship now.”
Love joined the army and stayed for five years during Desert Storm. Disillusioned, he moved on to work as a display art director for Tower Records in New York City. He then worked for Venus Modern Body Arts in Manhattan’s East Village and began developing a reputation as a tattoo artist.

Moving every few years, from New York City to New Orleans, Seattle, and Austin doing tattoo art, Love felt “alone and adrift,” even though he had friends and material comfort.

“I realized I had become a product, doing what the kids would shell out the coin for,” he said.

Eventually, Love moved to Newport, Oregon, to work at a mom-and-pop sign shop. He spent his spare time sitting on the beach for two years.  

Having gone through divorce thrice, Love said: “I was having tantrums on the beach. I knew I didn’t want to be alone anymore and hoped that there might be that special someone for me. I was upset that it wasn’t happening according to schedule.”

In the spring of 2009, Love rolled in at Mount Angel Abbey on his motorcycle to attend a vocations discernment retreat.  With his mop of dreadlocks, pierced ears, and leather attire, Love cut a novel figure at the hilltop community of clean-cut monks and seminarians.

“I thought I was brought to the hilltop to be introduced to Benedictine spirituality. Entering the monastery was not an option in my mind,” Love said.

After more time of sitting on the beach and getting acquainted with a number of religious communities, he entered Mount Angel Abbey as a postulant in February 2010. By this time, he had already incorporated aspects of Benedictine spirituality — lectio divina, the Divine Office, a healthy balance of ora et labora —in his personal life, and fitted right in.

The road towards full monastic profession was at times strewn with doubt and anxiety. During a moment of high anxiety, Love knocked on the abbot’s door, and asked him point blank: “Do you really think I belong here?” To which Abbot Gregory Duerr, OSB, calmly replied, “No one here doubts your conversion. We believe you belong here.”

Then there’s the dress code that was implemented for the second discernment retreat: no dreadlocks, no earrings, and no big bushy beard. Br. André shaved his head, shaved his beard, and took off his earrings. He emphatically told Father Recker: “Let me know if the tattoo is a deal breaker and I won’t bother you anymore.”

It was decided that the tattoos had to stay, because “they’re a part of who I am.”

In September of 2014, Brother André made his final vows, five years since he attended the first discernment retreat. He took the name André, after St. André Bessette.

“There was a great sense of relief after I made my vows, just being able to relax and to try to be the best monk I can be each day,” he said.

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