Local News Archive
Print Issue: July 2, 1981
An Unlikely Pair In The Monastery
By Gretchen Keiser
One came to Atlanta on business trips and, while he was here, starting making regular visits to the Monastery of the Holy Ghost in Conyers.
The other was a cop in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a Brooklyn ghetto neighborhood that gradually wrested from the South Bronx the reputation of being the most volatile in New York.
John OBrien and Patrick Duffy didnt know each other then, but each was considering leaving his career and entering the Trappist Monastery. Within a week of each other, at the age of 37, they arrived in Conyers in 1973. This May, after eight years in which they studied and made their simple vows and solemn profession of vows as brothers, both were also ordained priests.
For Patrick Duffy, there was a 20-year wait between the first time he considered entering a monastery and the day he came to Conyers. At 17, he wrote to a monastery in Massachusetts and was told to wait a year until he was a bit older. Entering a monastic community has been on my mind all my life, he said.
Over the years, he visited monasteries in the United States and Europe, making retreats and observing the differences among the communities. But if that was the preoccupation in the back of his mind, his occupation day to day became that of a New York patrolman who found that he wanted to work where the demands were highest.
Originally assigned to Bedford Stuyvesant, he was offered a chance to move after several years, but declined. In the department, he said, policemen who choose to stay are tagged ghetto cops, wedded to the pace of the action and the neighborhood.
Its like a combat zone, he said. I delivered 13 babies, saved a lot of lives, developed friendships with people. In the ghetto, you are dealing with life and death situations. You get into the tempo and you dont want to give it up.
He also found himself searching for spiritual counseling that would clarify the relationship between the demands of his job and trying to be a Christian. I was terribly alone in the situation, he said. I wanted someone to tell me, Yes, do your job.
No one gave him the kind of rock bottom answer he was looking for and now he considers it fortunate that no one did.
I was just thrown back completely on my trust in God, he said. I just threw the whole thing in the Lords hands and it worked out.
At 35, after seven years on the force, he was prodded by a chance remark he heard to act on the desire of his youth. Someone made the observation that if dreams arent acted on while one is young, they pass by.
Patrick Duffy joined the Franciscans Third Order for two years, continuing his work and searching for a monastery. When the two years were up, I made up my mind, he said. But it wasnt as easy as I thought to make the leap. I liked the police department. But you have to take those leaps.
Father John OBrien grew up in Somerville, an industrial suburb of Boston, and after school entered the U.S. Marine Corps for three years, coming out as a sergeant.
He returned to Boston for a time, but then went to Washington, D.C. to attend American University. During his three years at the university, he began working for several different banks and was launched on the career he would pursue until 1973, as an auditor for commercial banks.
Working out of Washington, D.C., he would travel and visit clients, including one in Atlanta. Over five or six years, he combined business trips to Atlanta with visits to the monastery in Conyers and gradually became familiar with the community and its lifestyle.
He was particularly attracted to the community because of its openness and the variety of work performed by the monks.
In his own case, he was surprised and relieved to find that he was not assigned accounting to do. Instead, he works in maintenance and in the bakery--and cooks twice a week. I couldnt boil water when I came in, he said, but its surprising how much I like it.
While the monks are restricted to a vegetarian diet, unless health dictates otherwise, he finds that in spirit at least, I can see what Julia Child has been talking about all these years.
Father Patrick Duffy, however, has at least one occupation which is still the same. In addition to working as an electrician at the monastery, he was sworn in recently as a Rockdale sheriff. While not armed or on active duty, he does have the leverage of the shield in his work as security officer around the 2,000-acre monastery grounds, particularly warning off hunters during the hunting season.
But it is not the same as Brooklyn. I wouldnt arrest anyone, he said.