By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 17, 2013
A nearly 20-year journey of vocational discernment has ended for Brother Peter Damian Spera, who professed solemn vows on Jan. 1 and became a fully professed member of the Cistercian community at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers.
Brother Peter Damian kneels before Abbot Francis Michael Stiteler, OCSO, during the Jan. 1 solemn profession Mass. Assisting the abbot are Father Augustine, in the foreground, and Father Anthony, in the background.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Brother Peter Damian said he felt a call to religious life at an early age. Encouraged in his faith by his parents, Lou and Joyce Spera, he remembers assisting at Mass as an altar server in grade school. He recalls vividly how one of the parish priests told him he was going to be a monk and his friend Brian would grow up to be a priest.
“Brian is a Jesuit and I’m a monk,” he said with a chuckle. “But that’s how it all started.”
Though it took Brother Peter Damian a number of years to discern exactly where God called him, he is at home now with his brothers in the Conyers cloister. The journey took him through college and a stint in retail management before leading him to the quiet grounds of the monastery, the place he now describes as “home.”
He had graduated from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, with a major in hospitality and food service management before the call came back, he said.
“There was a deep faith there,” said Brother Peter Damian. “My parents were really instrumental in that.”
His first exposure to the Cistercian order came when he visited St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass. He described the abbey as feeling “like home.”
The newly professed monk’s family celebrate his happiness, left to right, his sister-in-law and brother, Sandra and Don Spera, their twin daughters, Samantha and Danielle, and his parents, Joyce and Lou Spera, next to Brother Peter Damian. (Photos courtesy of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit)
Over the next several years, while working, he also explored monastic life, visiting Cistercian monasteries in Vina, California, and Taiwan. He entered the Conyers monastery in the late 1990s, but left for nearly eight years after making temporary vows. During that time, he lived in Atlanta and worked in retail management. Following a conversion experience, he returned to the monastery in 2009 and professed his solemn vows on Jan. 1, 2013, the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. The abbot of the monastery, Dom Francis Michael Stiteler celebrated the Mass. Brother Peter Damian’s parents and other family members were there, along with all the monastic community.
Within the monastery, Brother Peter Damian has served in various ways, from cooking to tending to those in the infirmary. He is now managing the Abbey Store, where monastic foods, plants, and religious books and articles are sold.
He took his religious name in honor of an 11th-century church reformer and saint. “When I was searching and looking up information on monastic life, I stumbled across a man named Peter Damian,” he said. “The more I read about him and the more I prayed,” the more he felt a connection to him, he said.
Brother Peter Damian describes St. Peter Damian as a man known for his strict and direct manner, but who “really was a man with a kind heart,” who wanted people to turn their lives over to God.
“He’s been with me all these years,” he said.