I had the good fortune of meeting him a few years back, when he was merely in his mid-90’s.
Father Luke Kot sits in the midst of the barn-turned-museum at Holy Spirit Monastery and reminisces. Stairs in the corner once led to the second-floor “cells,” as bedrooms for monks are called. Here was the abbot’s office. And over against that wall he had a close encounter with a chicken.
“She sat close by me. She laid an egg. I didn’t want to distract her,” said Father Luke, the only surviving monk of the two dozen who founded the Trappist monastery in 1944. On Wednesday, Aug. 3, Father Luke celebrated turning 100…
…The only son of devout Polish immigrants with a factory-worker father, Father Luke had three sisters, all of whom have died.
“One lived to be 99 and a half, but I beat her,” he said, with a chuckle.
At 14 he knew he wanted to be a monk but had no interest in traveling to Europe where monasteries were plentiful. He made a deal with God to show him a monastery in the United States and he’d go there. A magazine appeared in his mailbox about the Trappists, and shortly afterward at 27 he became a novice monk. (The formal name of the religious order is Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. The term Trappist refers to La Trappe Abbey in France where the order began as a reform movement in the 17th century.)
“I entered the monastery, and I lived it. That’s what I wanted,” said Father Luke, who lives in the infirmary and leans on a wheeled walker to keep himself steady.Father Luke has never been a standout personality in the monastery. In a community that has a few published authors, Father Luke said he always wanted simply to be a monk. In fact, he never wanted to study to become a priest but just remain a brother. But on orders from his abbot he did become a priest.
“You like to do ordinary work. You didn’t want be scholarly at all,” he said about being a brother.
After ordination, he took on a role that allowed him to be that simple monk. Father Luke cut, sewed and repaired clothes as the tailor for more than 50 years and was responsible for the monks’ distinctive black and white habits.
Monks and monasteries are one of the oldest ways of life in the church. Father Luke’s life brings the past into the present. He entered the monastery when Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House. He had his head shaved bald, keeping only a narrow ring of hair until the practice of tonsuring stopped in 1950. He voted for John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic elected as the U.S. president. Monks saw the Second Vatican Council open the Catholic Church’s doors to the world. He joined the monks to watch the first moon landing on TV in 1969.
His pearls of wisdom are simple: “Be honest with God. Live your life as a good Christian. You are in the world to serve God, not to serve yourself.”
Happy birthday, Fr. Luke — ad multos annos! Read more.