Called to Community Life
Common prayer. Community. Communion. Br. Mark’s life has always held a theme of community and prayer, and God has used his life’s experiences to call him to profess simple vows as a monk of Conception Abbey.
Br. Mark Nelson, previously Novice Andrew, recalls a good family life with his parents and sister in Holton, Kansas—enjoying time around the dinner table, being together, visiting family around holidays, spending days on his grandfather’s farm. Growing up as a member of the United Methodist Church, he found his faith within his youth group, his community, and his family.
“It was in my teenage years that faith moved from background to foreground. It was then that I turned to the Lord and Scripture, when I was 15. That laid the foundation for where I am today, a call to prayer and study Scripture.”
While attending Greenville University in Illinois, he discovered the tradition of common prayer using the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. This method of daily prayer gave him balance in his prayer life, as it draws upon centuries-old prayers, specifically the Psalms. After morning prayer, he would enjoy coffee and fellowship, especially through conversations with professors from the Religion Department. This daily practice added layers of prayer and character formation to his college experience.
He then attended Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. He was drawn toward New Testament studies and languages, including Greek and Hebrew. He once again found community using the Book of Common Prayer, this time at an Episcopal church. However, instead of coffee with professors, breakfast followed with homeless men. “Fellowship was different but still fruitful. This combined daily prayer with works of mercy” as he encountered the poor.
Br. Mark’s conversion to Catholicism came after college. He had considered the Catholic faith in college but wanted to wait until after studies to make any kind of change. He visited a L’Arche community (a community of people with and without intellectual disabilities living together) in Washington, D.C., and felt called to pursue a call to community life. He moved to a L’Arche community in Kansas City to be closer to home. While there, Br. Mark began to attend Mass regularly. He prioritized regular attendance, and grew in his love of the Liturgy of the Hours, similar to the Book of Common Prayer he had used before. He was received into the Catholic Church in 2014 in midtown Kansas City.
“Painting in broad brush strokes, this has been an intellectual journey, a moral journey, a sacramental journey. For someone who has spent a lot of time reading theology and church history, I felt a sense of coming home,” Br. Mark reflects. “Eight years at L’Arche—that was a time of exiting the student world, into adult life. I still had a lot of lessons to learn about life and human nature—learning to accept others and my weaknesses. One key aspect of L’Arche is to make known the gifts of people who have disabilities, and that they have a lot to offer and teach us. ”
These life experiences slowly lead Br. Mark to discern monastic life. He began searching for a community with whom he could regularly pray the Liturgy of the Hours. He also felt a deep desire for stability in his own life. During college, he had visited another Benedictine monastery. Learning about their vow of stability, he wanted to further explore this hallmark of the Benedictine way of life.
“Being here is a confirmation of these deeper desires. The Liturgy of the Hours is the basis for my daily life. I have been able to enter into stability by making simple vows. I am now taking steps toward greater discernment of making an even more profound vow of stability,” he says of monastic life at Conception Abbey. “One thing I’ve been surprised by in a delightful way is the practice of lectio divina. I have studied and loved Scripture, but I now enjoy praying with the Scripture in this way. I enjoy the regularity of it built into my daily structure. It is often among the highlights of my day, when I can lay aside the works of the day, open up Holy Scripture, and begin to pray that way.”
In his homily on the occasion, Abbot Benedict urged the newly professed brother to “share the Word of God generously with others, perhaps in words but certainly in the witness of your monastic life of prayer and service. Bear Christ as Mary did—show Christ to the world as Mary did and as monks do, confident in God’s power to work through you. Then you will be an evangelist, a bearer of Good News in a world desperate for Christ.” As Br. Mark now embraces Mark the Evangelist as his patron saint, he begins his work assignment as the Director of Student Activities in the seminary, takes philosophy courses, and continues to pray the Divine Office in community on behalf of the Church and the world.
— Kaity Holtman, Director of Communications