By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published April 26, 2007
A picture of Brother Callistus Crichlow, OCSO, looking out over the lake at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit is one of several photographs in the monastery’s 2007 calendar.
When Brother Callistus’ niece, Destiny, was asked who was pictured in the photograph, she had a simple answer.
“That’s the pray-er,” she told her mother. “He’s the one who’s always praying.”
Abbot Francis Michael Stiteler, OCSO, offered that anecdote at the Mass of Solemn Profession for Brother Callistus April 14.
The simple, joy-filled Mass brought together all the monks from the monastery, as well as a dozen or so members of Brother Callistus’ family.
The peal of church bells announced the start of the Mass, which was punctuated by an organ and the unified voices of the monks.
In his homily, the abbot spoke of monastic life and its quest for pure love—that of Jesus Christ, whose love is stronger than death.
“A monastery is a place where people who have fallen in love with God and have fallen in love with life come to experience that love and come to test it with their lives—this love that Jesus says is possible,” he said. “So they come together and they form a community and give that a try. They explore the far reaches of that.”
He continued, “It’s similar to the way astronauts explore outer space. Monks explore inner space, which is bigger and sometimes scarier. But they test that stuff and try to live it and see if it works.”
Though monastic life is not easy, it is a life of happiness, Dom Francis Michael said.
“People think of a monastery as a hard place. … But it’s meant to be joyful because God is the God of love.”
Following the homily, Brother Callistus entered the sanctuary and prostrated himself in front of Dom Francis Michael for the scrutiny.
“Having heard the Word of God, Brother Callistus, what do you seek from God and from the holy Church,” the abbot asked him.
“The mercy of God and the Order,” Brother Callistus responded.
Then the abbot turned his words toward Brother Callistus and the monk’s journey to the monastery.
“You have waited for this day longer than any of us. Your faith has saved you—despite all of life’s journeys, detours, twists and turns, you kept coming back,” Dom Francis Michael said. “You’ve lived this life for many years. You know the corners of it. You know it’s about mercy. God calls all kinds of people—not the rich and famous, but hidden people, sometimes brokenhearted people.”
The abbot then presented the interrogation, asking Brother Callistus to present his life as a “gift of love to God and to your brothers,” to “advance in the school of the Lord’s service until death” and to seek a life of “continual prayer and joyful penitence.”
When asked each question, Brother Callistus responded, “Yes, Reverend Father, with the help of God and of the brothers.”
After the sung Litany of the Saints, Brother Callistus made the profession of his vows, reading from the parchment that he himself wrote. He signed the parchment, placing it on the altar. During the suspice, Brother Callistus sang three times, “Receive me, O Lord, according to your word and I shall live. Do not disappoint me in my expectation.” Brother Callistus then again prostrated himself at the foot of the altar as the abbot offered the solemn prayers of blessing and consecrated him as a monk.
As a newly consecrated monk, Brother Callistus was then clothed with the blessed cowl—the traditional monastic garment. Soon after, he was received by the community, taking time to hug each of the brothers.
Brother Callistus chose all the readings and music for his Mass. Most precious to him, he said, was the Communion hymn, “Take, Lord, Receive,” which has the chorus, “Give me only your love and your grace—that’s enough for me.”
It was a long journey for Brother Callistus to fully live those words in the monastic way.
The 58-year-old monk grew up as the oldest of 10 children in Trinidad. A devoted Catholic family, they gathered each evening to pray the rosary together.
Callistus first came to the United States at the age of 19 and finished high school and technical training in New York. Eventually he found a job working in computers on Wall Street. But in his late 20s, he began to feel a “nudge,” he said.
“I was dealing with the vicissitudes of life, whether it be a broken heart, or a death in the family—it was at that level of dealing with life that led to a search for truth,” he said.
His work with computers, he said, proved a natural bridge to contemplation of spiritual causes.
“There is that mental aspect, and the need for logic when working with computers. It was a short leap from that kind of mental activity to the searching for metaphysical truth,” he said.
He researched other world religions but eventually found himself back at his family’s foundation—Catholicism.
“I think often the truth ends up being in the confines of what you already knew,” he said.
He first visited a monastery in Boston, although at that time he knew “nothing about monasticism—zilch.” But right away he knew it was the life he wanted to pursue. However, his island blood encouraged him to seek a warmer location, and he ended up at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and later at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina, where he stayed for 12 years.
“I wanted to find the Trappist monastery that was the farthest south,” Brother Callistus said with a laugh.
Though he loved the lifestyle, Mepkin Abbey was not a perfect fit.
“It was a 98 percent fit. But by God’s grace, I ended up coming (to Holy Spirit Monastery), and I knew this was where I was supposed to be,” he said. “It turns out that this was the southernmost abbey all along. I just took a detour.”
But Brother Callistus said that though his journey was “uniquely long,” he wouldn’t change it.
“At my profession, there was perfect joy. All the perseverance and all the years culminated together in shaping who I am,” he said. “I felt a joy you can’t imagine.”
His family members, including his mother, six of his siblings, his godson and numerous nieces and nephews who attended the Mass, also felt that joy radiating from Brother Callistus.
Carol Horton Scott said when her brother first felt called to monasticism, the siblings weren’t overjoyed.
“We really didn’t want him to go. We were afraid that we would never see him again,” she said.
But Horton Scott admitted that she cried more at her brother’s profession Mass than when their father died in October.
“We’re just so proud of him,” she said.
Several of Brother Callistus’ siblings said that he was the typical older brother.
“Whatever Callistus says goes,” joked his sister Cecelia Doldron. “He is our big brother, and everyone loves him. Out of all of the children, he was everyone’s favorite.”
Callistus’ brother, Erol, said he came in October from Trinidad to visit his brother but came back for the Mass because he “couldn’t miss this for anything in the world.”
“It was a beautiful experience to see my big brother take such a big step in life,” he said.
Brother Callistus spends his time at the monastery working in public relations and fundraising for the community and feels he has finally answered the call God intended for him.
“This is a special calling. There is a calling deep within our hearts, and for me, community life is a treasure,” he said. “This is a loving community that I feel was almost designed for me.”