Not complete strangers to the world's ways | June 27, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Cover Story - June 27, 2012

Not complete strangers to the world's ways

In the midst of Portola Valley, four monks and a monastery

by Dave Boyce

The four Benedictine monks who reside in the monastery at the Portola Valley's Woodside Priory School have words to live by: treat others as you would treat yourself, don't nurse a grudge, avoid laziness.

Such counsel is to be found among the 61 "instruments of good works" noted in the Rule of Benedict, a sixth-century guide for living for members of the Order of Saint Benedict. There is more: "Become a stranger to the world's ways, love fasting, recognize always that evil is one's own doing and impute it to oneself, keep death daily before one's eyes."

A road less traveled. The Priory monks — Fathers Pius Horvath, Martin Mager and Maurus Nemeth, and Brother Edward Englund — have dwelt together at 302 Portola Road for decades and say they will complete their working lives there. It's the Benedictine way, Brother Edward said in a recent group interview in the monastery.

"You're joining a particular group of people and you're committing yourself to that group," he said. "The group is also committing (itself) to you. It's a mutual dedication of growth between the individual and the community."

"It's really a process of mutual support (within an ideal community)," Father Pius said. "The values given to us by Christ are not only possible but can be worked out in our lives."

Seven monks founded the Priory in 1957, according to "Being Benedictine," a book celebrating the school's 50th year. By 1979, their number had risen to 16, the high point.

The Priory monks, though counseled to be strangers to the world's ways, are not unfamiliar with them.

Before taking his orders, Father Martin said, he worked in a meatpacking warehouse; one talent he brought to the Priory was his ability to drive a bus. Father Maurus came to the monastic life after three years in Northern Canada as a lumberjack, he said.

The four monks, now in their 70s and 80s, have advanced degrees and either hold or have held administrative and teaching positions at the school:

• Father Martin teaches digital photography and the craft of making a ukulele.

• Brother Edward was an academic dean and currently directs guidance counseling.

• Father Pius taught Latin and German during his career and spent weekends assisting in Peninsula parishes for 45 years.

• Father Maurus held management positions at the school, taught biology, led the science department and drove a school bus.

The monks gather for prayer daily at 6 a.m. and after breakfast, celebrate public Mass. On weekends, they may "carry the sacrament" to the homebound and poor, Father Maurus said. In the evenings, they gather in a common room to "look at the newspaper and at each other," Father Pius said.

They abstain generally from TV and movies, though exceptions are not unheard of for San Francisco 49ers games, said Brother Edward, who also took a moment to sing the praises of actor Meryl Streep.


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