Brother Lawrence Shidler, O.S.B

 

Reflection prepared for the memorial service for Br. Lawrence, April 12, 2004.

On behalf of Fr. Archabbot and the community, I express my sincere condolences to the family of Br. Lawrence and of his brother, Leo, who died on the same day as Br. Lawrence. Your family has had a heavy burden these days. Br. Lawrence was always deeply committed to his family. Although he would allow that he came from humble beginnings, they were beginnings in a saintly family with holy and faith-filled parents—a grace no money could buy. You family members, here for this funeral, will attest to that. Your parents may not have been able to endow a chair, but they left a legacy of faith and love that continues to pay out in our midst. Mourn him, family and friends, weep for his passing, but never doubt for a moment that he was a holy man and is now with God.

Br. Lawrence was the senior brother in the community. He enrolled at St. Placid Hall when he was 15 in 1935. He entered the novitiate in 1938 and made his first vows in 1939. Although others had come to the monastery before Br. Lawrence and Br. Benedict from St. Placid Hall, those two very soon were the seniors of that pioneer group that initiated the junior brothers program. Until that time, the ethos of the monastery was German. Prayers, table reading and conversation were all in German. Beginnings are hard. One can only guess now how difficult it must have been to carve a niche for the English-speaking brothers in a very entrenched community. No one would call Br. Lawrence an innovator, but his stability, dedication and obedience made him a model leader for all who have come after to this day. Even in his old age, with very little to say, he spoke loudly by the example of his monastic observance.

“Little to say,” embodies much of what we might say about Br. Lawrence. Talkative he was not. Keeping silence was not one of his heaviest burdens, and inane conversation was not one of his faults. With a voice that barely rose above a whisper, except perhaps at the card table, he went around in his quiet way, yet never aloof from the community.

He was a very private man and expressed himself softly without hugs and embraces. Nonetheless, he was loving, and blest were those who managed to get beyond the gates. I remember with particular delight one time when I asked him something about the mechanism of the pendulum clock. He became animated and went on and on. I confess I was paying more attention to the fact that he was so loquacious than to the information he was providing. His face had lighted up like a flower in the morning light.

It is only fair to say, and I think it needs to be said, that Br. Lawrence was a very pious man. Not in a superficial or saccharine way, but in that deep response to God’s call in the ordinariness of everyday life. Unknown to many, he spent time each day before the Blessed Sacrament, he was faithful to the Divine Office, and he served the brethren with unselfish love. To say that he was steady would belabor the obvious. He was a rock of stability, and his brothers in the community knew that and respected it.

I mentioned his card playing. One saw another side of Br. Lawrence at the card table and, earlier, on the handball court. If anyone ever thought him a Milquetoast, they had not met him at the card table or on any sports field. He was a very good athlete and continued to play handball well into his 70s. Let’s just say he did not take losing lightly. He seldom had to.

If there was a proud bone in his body, it might have been over his carpentry skills. He had apprenticed in carpentry from the earliest days of his coming to Saint Meinrad. Like everybody else who went to work there, he began by sweeping the floor of wood chips and sawdust, but he soon moved into becoming a most skilled artisan. There has been practically no carpentry job in the community that he has not been involved with in some way for the past 50 years. He was on his way to work when he suffered his injuries that contributed to his death. Over all these years, he prepared the coffins that the monks would be buried in, always keeping at least one on hand. One never knows. The coffin you made for others may be the one for you.

Most of his skilled labor is hidden around the Hill. There is no signature on his work. Its art is in its function. The wood products on the Hill are witness to his artistry. Of special interest though, is Brother’s crafting of crosiers. Bishops and abbots from around the country attest to the beauty of the staffs he has provided them over the years, even the crosier of his cousin Bishop Gettlefinger of the Diocese of Evansville, and I dare say it will be used tomorrow at the funeral Mass, as Bishop Gettlefinger presides. One such crosier sits permanently at Fr. Archabbot’s choir stall, and others are used in various ceremonies. For decades, he has crafted chalices and matching communion bowls. One could go on and on. After all, he was a carpenter for over 60 years!

He was our watch repairman for over 40 years. I really do not know when he started, but I know that he inherited the watchmaker’s tools from Br. Alphonse Veith, who died in 1956. I am sure that he never attended a workshop or had training of any kind, but he could almost always get the watch back in your hands, running, in a timely manner. I know of at least four clocks that he kept running on time, winding and resetting them once a week or more for the past 20 years at least. Unfortunately, he did not have an apprentice. It will be interesting to see how the clocks survive his passing. I have checked. They are all still running, but they have lost or gained time and, unless attended to, will soon stop altogether.

In like manner, just this past week Br. Jonah, Br. Lawrence’s young assistant in the carpenter shop, had to provide the wood and prepare the fire for Holy Saturday, a task Br. Lawrence had routinely taken care of for over 30 years.

I will miss him. I will miss his quiet presence almost haunting the halls of the monastery. I will miss his smile that would transform his face from grim to radiant joy in the time it took to say hello. I am sure you will miss him, too, but we must let him go. He has fought the good fight and now it is time for God to receive this good and faithful servant. May he rest in peace.

Copyright © 2008 Saint Meinrad Archabbey