Storyworth: Who Was the Wisest Person You Ever Knew?

| April 25, 2022 | 0 Comments

Abbot Aiden with Danny‘ and His Fellow Graduates of St. Anselm’s Abbey School

When my son, Danny, was in sixth grade, he decided he wanted to go to St. Anselm’s Abbey School. Rita and I didn’t know much about the school and were impressed with Danny’s decision to take control of his future. The more we learned about St. Anselm’s, the more impressed we were with Danny’s decision. So, we started the process of applying to the school.

As it turned out, some of the motivations Danny had for going to the school were misguided and he began to change his mind. But, by then, Rita and I were all in for him going to the school, so we didn’t allow him to back out. It may have been the best decision about Danny’s future that we’d ever made. Much of the reason he’s the extraordinary young man he is today can be traced to St. Anselm’s.

At the abbey associated with the school, the Abbot was a man named Aiden O’Shea, more commonly known as Abbot Aiden. After Danny had been accepted to the school but before he began attending, Abbot Aiden spoke at an event at our parish, Blessed Sacrament Church. I wanted to meet him, so I attended the event. I was deeply impressed with his spirituality, humility, intelligence and charisma. I was also surprised to learn he was a fellow Bostonian, having grown up on Beacon Hill. I spoke to him after his remarks and invited him to lunch and he readily accepted. At the time, I was wrestling with issues of faith and thought he might help guide me through. I didn’t fully realize then that this “wrestling” would be a permanent state of affairs, but that’s an issue I’ve dealt with in a previous chapter.

That lunch led to a ten year plus relationship. I’d asked him to be my “spiritual advisor,” but we became close friends. It is impossible to capture Abbot Aiden, the man, or the importance he had for me in a chapter such as this. All I can do is relay a few anecdotes that come to mind when I think of him. 

He was a Benedictine monk for more than 50 years. Benedictine monks are assigned to a particular abbey and they stay there for their entire lives. He became a monk in 1958 and spent his life at St. Anselm’s. 

He went into the monastery after serving in the military. He was drafted into the 82nd Airborne. He told me one story of his military service which was not your typical war story. He once encountered an attempted homosexual rape in the shower on his base. He broke up the attack by blasting hot water on the assailant. Other than that, he acknowledged his unsuitability for military service. Nonetheless, he earned an honorable discharge and became a monk.

I’ve tried to remember some profound sayings he may have provided me, but, honestly, he mostly taught by example. Being in his presence was a balm.

I did ask him once how, in the absence of proof, he could be so confident of the existence of God that he would literally dedicate his entire life to that belief. He said that, even if he learned that God did not exist, he would have no regrets. He found the monastic life so rewarding that he wouldn’t change a thing about the life he chose.

As he got older, he began to suffer from the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease. The physical effects eventually confined him to a wheelchair. But he found the mental effects much more frustrating. Our relationship evolved from one where I came to him to receive comfort to one where I visited him to provide comfort. 

I remember the day I got a call from his caregiver, Rowena, telling me that he was entering hospice care. I dropped what I was doing and immediately went to visit him. He was in bed and not fully aware of his surroundings. Rowena whispered in his ear, “This is Bill Black here to see you.” He smiled. I will take that smile to my grave. He couldn’t really speak, but I chatted with him and his face was pleasant and peaceful. It was a very spiritual experience.

When I told my family, Rita, Danny and Bridget that Abbot Aiden was receiving hospice care, we decided to visit him that Sunday, about three days from my visit. We arrived at the abbey only to be told he had died 20 minutes before our arrival. I was both devastated and immensely grateful for the previous visit. We were allowed to visit him one more time. We were struck by the matter-of-fact way the other monks treated his passing. They clearly believed he’d “gone home.” There was no grieving. They just went about their business. At first, it bothered us that they didn’t seem to appreciate the magnitude of what had occurred. But, we concluded that their behavior simply reflected their sincere believe that Abbot Aiden was in a better place.

I sure hope that’s true.

Bill Black, April 16, 2022


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