The Oregonian this weekend has published a long and detailed look at life inside the Mount Angel Abbey, and it includes the story of how one man with “minimal” religious upbringing eventually found himself behind the abbey walls as a Benedictine monk, living a life of strict discipline:
In another life, [Martin] Grassel, 52, was raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where his religious edification was minimal: a handful of visits to Sunday Mass, a catechism class for kids. When Grassel moved to Arizona for an engineering job with Honeywell in 1988, he leased an apartment two blocks from a Catholic church. “I had that sense that it was saying, ‘Hi, you should think about coming here sometime,’” he said. “Then a few months later it was, ‘Think about coming here sometime,’ and then, ‘Come here sometime.’” Finally, he did. He soon became deeply involved in the Phoenix parish, completing and then teaching adult formation classes. He locked the building at night. Visitors mistook him for the priest, which he found oddly flattering. The idea of becoming a priest stuck like an annoying tune on repeat in his brain. “It disturbed me so much. I tried to kill it, but it wouldn’t go,” he said. “I always just thought I’d get married. But I didn’t make too sincere an effort at that.” He went through the motions of pursuing priesthood, which would authorize him to teach and perform sacraments, such as celebrating Mass. He filled out an application and interviewed with local Catholic leaders, figuring he’d be denied. Instead, he was accepted and sent to a seminary in Oregon called Mount Angel. One day, four years into his studies, he felt God ask him to become a monk, a lifelong vocation open to priests and laypeople. An image of the abbey came to Grassel’s mind as he prayed. The vision was accompanied by a simple question: Will you do this for me?