Monday, February 25, 2008

the Burial of Herman Hanekamp

This is too good not to share here. It is this week's reflection from The Merton Institute:

[The following entry from Merton's private journals describes the funeral of Herman Hanekamp, who did not succeed as a novice at Gethsemani, but who was allowed to live on Linton Farm, a property the Abbey owned. When Herman moved in, Merton wrote: "He came over in the rain with all his possessions in a mule cart. It was a pathetic sight." Many at the Abbey considered Hanekamp a "character" and a "bum". But Merton attests, perhaps seriously, that, of all the members of Gethsemani's community he had known to that point, he would have most wanted to be like Herman.]

This morning I went to the funeral of Herman Hanekamp in New Haven. Started out in the frost after dawn. The body laid out in the funeral parlor was that of a millionaire, a great executive. I never before saw Herman shaven, in a suit,
least of all, in a collar and tie. He looked like one of the great of the earth.
I was a pallbearer along with Andy Boone, Hanekamp's old friend Glen Price (a great stout man with a lined face like the side of an old building but very humble and gentle). Brothers Clement and Colman were pallbearers and another man with a shoelace necktie. . . .

When we came out of the church into the sun, carrying the coffin, the bright air seemed full of great joy and a huge freight train came barreling through the valley with a sound of power like an army. All the pride of the world of industry seemed, somehow, to be something that belonged to Herman. What a curious obsession with the conviction of him as a great, rich man, tremendously respected by the whole world! We drove back to bury him in the graveyard outside the monastery gate.

The bare woods stood wise and strong in the sun as if they were proud of some great success that had been achieved in secret with their connivance and consent.

As we carried the coffin through the sunlit yard, I listened with exaltation: it was hailed by the singing of skylarks on the second day of January. What has triumphed here is not admired by anyone, despised even by the monks who also could not help thinking of Herman as a lazy man and an escapist. He had not taken seriously the world of business so important to us all. And now behold--a captain of industry!

Thomas Merton. A Search for Solitude. Edited by Lawrence S. Cunningham (San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996): 245.

Thought for the Day

Herman, who was once a novice here (in the days before the first world war) is one of the very few members or former members of the community that I have ever had any desire to imitate.

[A Search for Solitude: 242]


  1. To find qualities to admire in someone who "washed out," "didn't make it," "a character," "an escapist," is surprising.

    I write from the perspective of one who was tried and found wanting. I have to say they were right. A religious should be able to pledge his whole mind and heart and that means she or he has to know themselves and accept themselves. I had the very mistaken notion that If I were willing to make a gift of myself, Jesus would change me like he changed the water into wine. But that's not how it goes.

    If I had to describe what its like to be sent home from the formation program of a religious order, I would have to compare it to proposing marriage and having the girl turn you down. Everybody tells you it for the best, but they also would really appreciate it if you would get your hat and coat and say goodbye -- and mean it.

    It's only after a while that , if you are lucky, that is somebody has been praying for you, that you get grace to know, even before you can believe it, that Christ accepts us banged up and broken ones. What has been damaged can be healed and used.

  2. This got me thinking back to Father Stephen, Beth. The hidden ones of God, loathed, laughed at, excluded...

    After Fr. Stephen's death the monks realized their error, but Herman remained hidden to them.

  3. thank you steven john. I'd say that you have, indeed, been healed and used. I'm sure that Merton would see count you among those that he admired. I certainly do. And I'm honored that you read and comment on this blog.

  4. You're right, Gabrielle. Herman's holiness remained hidden even to the monks.

    I suspect there are lots of hidden saints among us, mostly unnoticed.


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