Conception Abbey welcomes novices into monastic community

Abbot Benedict Neenan, OSB, stands with (left to right) Novice Gregory Conti, Novice Cole Johnson, and Novice Casey Vandersnick, following their entrance into the novitiate.

CONCEPTION, Mo. – “Come, Follow Me.” Just as Jesus once spoke this invitation to his Apostles, three young men discerned that God was leading them to try monastic life at Conception Abbey.

The monks of Conception Abbey clothed with the monastic habit and scapular three new novices on Tuesday, August 14. These candidates, Cole Johnson, Casey Vandersnick, and Gregory Conti, have spent time preparing for this important initial step in their formation and education. During the course of the next year as novices, they will live with the community and discern whether they believe God is leading them to make a more serious commitment by professing vows, which would take place on August 15, 2019.

“Some young men discover that their hearts are longing for more than what the world has to offer,” said Fr. Paul Sheller, OSB, Vocation Director. “These men contacted me and expressed interest in monastic life. I spent a lot of time talking with them, listening to what they desire in life, and trying to help them understand where God is leading them. It is a gradual process, and when they have the courage to make the decision to apply and enter the monastery, it is always an exciting time for our community.”

“They experience God’s call in their lives, a voice that is gentle but persistent. While responding to this call can initially fill many young men with fear, it is an invitation to encounter Christ in a profound way, in a way that brings deep, abiding peace.”

These young men will spend up to one year further discerning God’s call in their lives. Cole Johnson, 23, is from Beloit, Kansas, and he spent the past three years studying at Conception Seminary College as a seminarian for the Diocese of Salina. Casey Vandersnick, 21, completed his sophomore year at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He hails from O’Neill, Nebraska. Gregory Conti, 22, is from San Luis Obispo, California. He spent four years studying at the University of Notre Dame and graduated this past May.

A novitiate year is followed by three years as a junior monk, and then solemn vows signify the lifetime commitment as a monk.

“It’s a blessing to receive new members because we need more monks in order to serve the future needs of the universal church, and to contribute to the spiritual welfare of our community in northwest Missouri.”

Sheller believes people come to Conception Abbey to encounter Christ. It is this quiet, rural environment in Northwest Missouri where people come to listen to God’s voice and conform their lives more closely to Christ.

Some, like these novices, hope to become members of the monastic community, who have committed themselves to Christ and live the rhythm of prayer and work on a daily basis.

“Others are guests, seeking spiritual renewal for a weekend or an extended stay,” he said. “And some are seminarians who are studying for a time at Conception Seminary College, preparing for the priesthood and experiencing the wisdom of the Benedictine tradition.”

No matter what brings a person to this special place, it is an environment that many people are able to call home.