Jeffrey Morris '95 felt called to religious life at the age of 12 when he met the Archbishop of Los Angeles after a religious education convention and was challenged to "be a priest." The journey he began that day, which included the years he spent in the Integral Program at Saint Mary's College, came to a culmination last Sunday when he took final vows as a Trappist monk and committed himself to a lifetime of prayer and contemplation. He now goes by the name Brother Placid.
"I never doubted my calling all these years, because it became less about myself and more about the path to be more like Christ," he said in an e-mail interview before taking the vows at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in the Sacramento valley town of Vina. "My hope for myself is to keep on growing in my vocation and ever deepening my bonds with my community and of growing more in union with God."
Brother Placid, one of triplets whose father John graduated from SMC in 1966, fondly remembers his time at Saint Mary's, where along with learning he enjoyed walking to Our Lady of the Oaks and the bridge behind the gym. He was a member of the Chapel Choir and directed them occasionally.
Brother Brendan Kneale recalled that when Morris entered the Integral Program as a freshman, he asked "Is this program a good one for those who want to become priests?"
"Frankly, we were caught flat-footed by this unusual question," Brother Brendan said. "Finally, Brother Raphael Patton said, 'The Integral Program is good for all professions.' This reply seemed to satisfy Jeffrey, and he went on to earn his degree from the program and to do a senior essay on contemplation."
Brother Placid said the program helped him appreciate books for their own sake. "In a way, it prepared me for the formation program here in the monastery, to let myself be formed by what I read, challenge my own views, and be willing to grow beyond my own resistances to the prompting of the Holy Spirit."
He said Integral tutor Steve Cortright, very instrumental to him, especially since he was his senior essay advisor, and said Brother Kenneth Cardwell and Mike Riley helped him grow in class discussions. He remembered the Dominicans in Campus Ministry for helping him clarify his vocation.
Cortright said Brother Placid worked very hard and was humble and eager to listen to constructive criticism. Cortright is not surprised by his former student's decision to become a monk, noting that his essay compared active religious life to the contemplative life.
"He finally decided that the contemplative side was the one which offered the most direct route to friendship with God," Cortright said. "He was pretty clearly in love with God and with the idea of the religious life when he was a student."
Like many Trappist monks, Brother Placid was influenced by Thomas Merton's No Man is an Island, which he read during his sophomore year. At first, he believed that the Trappist life was "too much for me," but he went to the Abbey of New Clairvaux as part of an independent study for Jan Term while he was at SMC, and decided to pursue becoming a monk.
"As daunting as it can be -- this life -- by making ourselves more available to it and to God, it can be a great source of delight," Brother Placid said.
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