Sunday, May 2, 2010

Abbot Emmanuel Spillane, OSCO- Requiescat in pace

I am sad this morning because I learned that Abbot Emmanuel Spillane, OSCO, died yesterday. Abbot Immanuel was formerly the abbot of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity Cistercian abbey in Huntsville, UT. He was a truly wonderful man and monk, one with an irrepressible zest for life, a monk with a sense of humor. It is not over doing it to say that he was a character!

One of Fr Emmanuel's favorite stories was about the time he picked up a nun at the Salt Lake airport in 1972, who was here for a retreat. It turns out that this nun was none other than Mother Teresa. Yes, Abbot Immanuel was a relative of the author of hard-boiled detective stories, Mickey Spillane. I first met the abbot when I interviewed him for a paper I was working on as a sophomore in college. I didn't know anything about monks, but he was kind, patient, and most generous with his time. He was truly a beautiful man.

I remember visiting him when he was up at the abbey during a time he was serving as chaplain for the Trappistines in Arizona and my friend, who knew Abbot Emmanuel very well, referring to him being with the Trappistines said: "Isn't that a case of putting a fox in charge of the hen house?" Fr Emmanuel just laughed and laughed, he thought that was so funny, probably because it is was so absurd. Abbot Immanuel was in his 70s at the time. His holiness was not other-worldly, but very rooted in life, which is what made him such a charismatic person. Too often people trying to look holy seem to me like characters out some bad 1950s, Ed Wood-directed, Catholic movie. The kind of people who make me want to say- "Come down off the cross, we could sure use the wood!" As Pater Tom once said: "It is better to just be yourself than to try and act like an angel." Abbot Emmanuel understood this and without having to have Pater Tom tell him! Indeed, holiness is to become who you truly are, to become that unique, unrepeatable phenomenon God created you and redeemed you to be, which is what it means to be sanctified.

Sanctuary of the Church at Our Lady of Holy Trinity Abbey- Huntsville, Utah

He began his priestly life as a diocesan priest in Los Angeles and knew many Hollywood luminaries and was a serious fund-raiser, but always wanted the monastic life, a call he was unable to heed until his younger brother finished school and could take care of their mother.

To my mind, cloistered monasteries of both women and men religious are islands of sanity, outposts of God's kingdom, places where there is no danger of the human subject being annihilated, not least of which because these are truly Eucharistic communities. For the benefit of those who do not know, Pater Tom was a Trappist, that is a Cistercian, a member of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. They strictly observe the Rule of St. Benedict. He wrote about an episode of the Huntsville monastery in his book The Sign of Jonas.

I have little doubt that St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Benedict were there to welcome one of their faithful sons into the house of the Father. Requiescat in pace dear Abbot Emmanuel, you are already missed and world is poorer without you in it. I know you'll continue praying and interceding for us and for the whole world.

It is important to remember that, as monk, he died years ago, heeding St Paul: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3).

Christos Anesti

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