Published February 22, 2007
Father Robert (Bob) Pearson, OCSO, 85, monk of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery, died on Friday, Feb. 16, in the monastery infirmary after a long illness. The burial service will take place at the celebration of the funeral Mass on Thursday, Feb. 22, at 9 a.m. in the Abbey Church.
The son of Sankie Rozelle Pearson and Ruth Mina Hudgins-Pearson, Robert Lafayette Pearson was born on May 20, 1921, and grew up Tampa, Fla.
From 1939 to 1944 he attended the University of Florida, majoring in architecture. After graduation, he taught the fundamentals of architecture as a teaching assistant to undergraduate students. He also served in the armed forces as a lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve from June 1944 to 1951, when he was honorably discharged. His tour of duty during World War II included the South Pacific.
After a four-year period of frequent retreats at the monastery in Conyers, Father Bob entered the monastic community in the early 1950s on the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, Oct. 15. He professed solemn monastic vows on Feb. 25, 1957, and was ordained a priest on Dec. 8, 1960, on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by Bishop Francis E. Hyland of the Atlanta Diocese.
His lengthy service to the monastic community in Conyers included a variety of roles.
Because of his degree in architecture, Father Bob contributed to the construction of the current monastery, completed in 1960, by offering insight on the design of the building. Father Methodius Telnack, who entered the monastery a couple of years earlier, recalled that Father Bob also made some of the decorative parts of the building, “window sills, doorjambs,” with molds he created and using a “dry tamp” technique that he knew from his experience as an architect. The rest of the building is poured concrete, and Father Bob’s contribution has “its own character.” Father Methodius said that these small details of the building remind him frequently of Father Bob.
He served as retreat master, welcoming guests who lodged in the retreat house and offering hospitality during their stay. He was novice master for a period of four to five years, serving as a spiritual guide for the men going through the novitiate period in preparation for monastic vows. Father Bob coordinated public relations for a time—scheduling visits to the monastery when newspapers, magazines and television stations wanted to do an article or feature about monastic life.
Father Anthony Delisi, OCSO, lived alongside Father Bob at the monastery for many years and remembers his friend and fellow monk as “low key—he didn’t over assert himself.” And yet Father Bob was also a leader in the community at the monastery. As novice master, Father Anthony said, Father Bob had one of the “most important” jobs, maybe even more important than the abbot, at the monastery, as he helped in the formation of “future monks.”
Father Bob also made artistic contributions at the monastery—he landscaped the retreat house meditation garden and the cloister garden. And for many years, Father Bob made pottery on the wheel, moving to sandcasting designs in 1969. His work is still available in the monastery’s Abbey Store.
Father Anthony described his own belief that the peace gained from how a person lives his life is important as he ages and that Father Bob “accepted the inevitable, challenging the threshold to eternity” as he moved to infirmity. As the priest grew older, he “radiated peace and joy to those around him.”
Father Methodius remembers his fellow monk as “very pleasant, with a beautiful smile” that he kept to the end, even after he had suffered a stroke some years ago. “He kept that smile to the end,” said Father Methodius. In his room was artwork depicting a “smiling Christ,” and Father Anthony recalled that one of his nurses said she always felt that she was entering Christ’s presence when she entered Father Bob’s room and saw that smile.
Father Bob is survived by his only sister, Jane Setzer, who is 90, a nephew, Bill Setzer, and two nieces, Caroline Rains and Catherine Royce.