BR. JOHN MARK FALKENHAIN: Have you seen any changes in me since I've been in the monastery?
DONNA FALKENHAIN: Well, you might not wanna hear this, but you have a lot more gray hair.
BR. KOLBE WOLNIAKOWSKI: You're listening to "Echoes from the Bell Tower."
BR. JOEL BLAIZE: Stories of wit and wisdom from Benedictine monks who live, work and pray in southern Indiana. We're your hosts, Br. Joel Blaize.
BR. KOLBE: And I'm Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski. We are working on episodes about Saint Meinrad's outreach, and today's episode will be a little different than our past episodes. Back in the spring, Br. John Mark sat down with his mom and dad and talked about what it was like for them and their family when he decided to join the monastery back in 2002. Choosing to join the monastery or the seminary can impact everyone in a person's life, especially the parents.
BR. JOEL: We're going to play some of that conversation without any interruption from us. Br. John Mark tells a story at the beginning and he mentions having a corona. Well for a monk, that's not just the popular beer or maybe the outer atmosphere of the sun that might have come to mind. No, the corona is the haircut that we get when we begin the novitiate and again when we make solemn vows.
BR. KOLBE: It's a very attractive hairstyle where the head is completely shaved except for a band of hair. It is a visible sign that the monk has decided to embrace a new and different way of life. You can view a picture of Br. Joel with the corona haircut in the blog post for this episode. Now, here are the Falkenhains…
DONNA: My name is Donna Falkenhain and I'm the mother of Brother John Mark.
ROLAND FALKENHAIN: My name is Roland Falkenhain and I'm the father of Brother John Mark.
BR. JOHN MARK: I'm Brother John Mark. My parents, in the course of our conversation, may call me Marc since that was my name before I joined the monastery. You usually call me Marc, anyway.
DONNA: I do.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah.
DONNA: Well, when you've raised a child and called him Marc all their life, that's what you call them.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah. When I joined the monastery, I was nervous about my parents' reaction, so I didn't tell them certain things. I didn't tell you that I was gonna have to have a corona. I didn't tell them that I would have to change my name right away. In fact, I don't know if you remember this or not, but I didn't tell you about the corona at all, and they give you a corona at the beginning of your novitiate, and so my parents kept saying, "When can I come visit you?" I thought to myself, "I'm gonna wait until this grows out a little bit and they cut it off," 'cause it's a change.
DONNA: It's very attractive.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah. We have to keep it until the Feast of St. Gregory, which is September 3rd, which is your anniversary, actually.
DONNA: That's right.
BR. JOHN MARK: I kept saying, "Why don't you wait until I get settled in?" Finally, it was the very end of August and they said, "When can we come visit?" I said, "You know what? I think anytime now." They were like, "Great, how about next weekend?" when I was still gonna have it. I said, "Okay, but I have to tell you that my hair's gonna be really crazy with the haircut."
DONNA: It didn't bother us.
BR. JOHN MARK: No, you said, "Well, what's the big deal? You're still you." That was funny. Okay, well, here are some of the questions that we're going to ask and that I was gonna ask you. What was your reaction when you first came to Saint Meinrad and you visited for the first time?
ROLAND: I was, I guess, in awe of how big the facility was, the church, and then the grounds, and how beautiful it was. Then once we met some of the monks, it was just like we were home. It was a great place.
DONNA: Very welcoming, beautiful, peaceful, all of the above. It's a very wonderful place to come visit.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah, a lot of times when people hear they're gonna go to a monastery, or probably when you heard that I was gonna join a monastery, people have, before they visit, they have ideas of what a monastery is going to be like. Were you surprised at all when you got here? Was it like what you thought it was gonna be? Were you surprised by anything?
DONNA: I don't think surprised, but we were pleased. Everyone's so welcoming and friendly. They do make you feel at home.
ROLAND: I honestly didn't have any idea what a monastery was or would be like or what the monks would be like. You always envision, I guess, sometimes seeing things in an old movie where the monks walk around, kind of scary-looking. We didn't see any scary monks.
DONNA: No, it's a wonderful place to come to.
BR. JOHN MARK: I always tell people when I'm giving talks about the monastery and stuff, you worry about your parents' reactions to anything. If you're getting married and you introduce your fiancé to your parents for the first time or something, you're always nervous about what they're going to think. I knew that everything would be fine when you came to visit and at the end, I think we had a gathering of people, maybe some of the monks, and got them together so you could visit them. Before you left, I think Mom said something like, "Everybody seems so normal."
DONNA: And they are. I don't know what I expected.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah, that's when you know that things are gonna be fine. But I always say, "I didn't introduce you to everyone."
ROLAND: One of the neatest things that happened at our first visit was that I had a meeting with Fr. Harry. I guess you had mentioned you thought we were a little nervous about you coming. We had a really frank meting about how I felt, what was going on, and when it was all over, I think it was a good move.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah, he used to do that regularly with people who always wanted to ask. I think when I even made temporary vows or something, he had dinner with you.
BR. JOHN MARK: Without me, right? Just to see -
DONNA: Right, he did. Just to kind of -
BR. JOHN MARK: What questions do you have? He probably explained a little bit about what the life is, too.
BR. JOHN MARK: Now I've been here 16 years.
DONNA: Hard to believe.
BR. JOHN MARK: Hard to believe. What does Saint Meinrad or the monastery mean to you, I suppose?
DONNA: It's just like come visiting you at your home. Everybody's friendly, you're welcome, you're well taken care of. We look forward to coming. It's a wonderful place.
BR. JOHN MARK: I remember the first time I had friends come to visit, Fr. Harry, who was my novice junior master, said, "We want your friends to be our friends and we want your family to be our family," which was nice.
DONNA: We feel that way, and I think your friends do, as well.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah. Here's a question. How has my being in the monastery, has it changed anything in our family or impacted our family in a particular way, do you think?
DONNA: Well, personally, I just feel closer to God. Does that make sense?
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah.
DONNA: Because we're here. I don't know, that way, as far as other things, we don't get to see you as often.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah.
DONNA: Family-wise, and with your brother and his family, we only all get together maybe twice a year.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah.
DONNA: Which we're very family-oriented, so we miss that. That's one impact it's made on our family. You don't get to see your nieces and nephews grow up much.
BR. JOHN MARK: As much, yeah.
DONNA: Yeah. But that's the major thing. But we're grateful that we can come here in a few hours.
BR. JOHN MARK: Oh, I know what I was gonna ask you. I don't think we have any religious priests or sisters in our extended family.
BR. JOHN MARK: I mean, Dad grew up in a Lutheran family and then became Catholic. But your family, I recently learned, was not Catholic until maybe two generations before you. Was it your -
DONNA: On my dad's side, some of them were never Catholic. Actually, his parents weren't until late, his mother later in life. But an aunt, my dad came from a very large family, and an aunt sort of took, especially the one girl, under her wing. I think if she hadn't had to take care of her mother, she probably would have entered religious life.
BR. JOHN MARK: Aunt Imy?
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah.
DONNA: She was a very wonderful, giving, loving person.
BR. JOHN MARK: She became Catholic and she was one of the oldest siblings, right?
BR. JOHN MARK: She took it upon herself to name all of the - there were 13 children in this family.
DONNA: There were 13. Three died as children, but the 10 survived. Yes, she named them.
BR. JOHN MARK: Ivan, Aloysius.
DONNA: Names out of the Bible, like Silvanus.
BR. JOHN MARK: All these saints and Bible names, first forever she went hog wild and gave them all just crazy Catholic names.
DONNA: Dad's name was Jesse Valerius. There's Valerius in the Bible. Just various. She was a very holy person and a wonderful person. She was more like a grandmother to us.
BR. JOHN MARK: She never married herself.
BR. JOHN MARK: She could have been a nun.
DONNA: Our grandmother died when we were younger. But she loved her family.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah. What are your friends' reactions whenever you tell them that your son's a monk?
DONNA: They're very impressed.
BR. JOHN MARK: Really?
DONNA: They're very impressed, no kidding. You've met some of our friends.
BR. JOHN MARK: Are they curious? When I tell people I'm a monk, if I'm not dressed, or even if I am dressed as a monk, but if I'm out of the monastery and then they learn, they're always very curious and they have lots of questions. Is that true for you, too?
ROLAND: One of the questions that I get asked, "Well, is he a priest or a brother?" Most people don't understand what a monk is.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah.
ROLAND: I tell them a monk is someone who lives a monastic life. That, I think, is the first thing they ask.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah. They're curious.
DONNA: Sure, and until we came here, we didn't know how the monks lived, truly.
BR. JOHN MARK: What would you tell other parents who have children who might be discerning religious life, being a sister or brother or a monk or something? Do you have any advice for them?
DONNA: Don't interfere. Let them work it out, really, because they are the one who will have to live the life. Pray for them. Oh, and that's another thing I would say. Wait until you're a little mature before you make that decision. Don't do it as a teenager, like they used to.
BR. JOHN MARK: I think it's alright to have like, "Oh, I might wanna do that," but I do think it's smart to have some life experience before you -
DONNA: I do, too.
BR. JOHN MARK: …make a commitment. People in general, I think, are getting married a little later -
DONNA: I think so.
BR. JOHN MARK: …making commitments a little later. That's probably a good thing. Have you seen any changes in me since I've been in the monastery?
DONNA: Well, you might not wanna hear this, but you have a lot more gray hair.
BR. JOHN MARK: That's true.
DONNA: Yeah, I think you're very self-assured and care about your life here and the people here. I feel that.
ROLAND: You're more at ease with yourself and you're comfortable.
DONNA: You found your place.
ROLAND: I think you're comfortable with your life.
DONNA: Yes, I do, too. I think you're happy with your life.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah, that's certainly nice to hear.
DONNA: I do. If you're happy, then we're happy.
ROLAND: Then we're happy.
BR. JOHN MARK: Don't you think it's a lot like a family? You can tell when someone is happily married because they -
DONNA: How they respond to each other.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah, and they grow into themselves in the context of a relationship. A good relationship, I think, makes someone more and more themselves in the better sense of that.
DONNA: Comfortable with yourself.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah.
DONNA: I think you are here, as well.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah. I would say from the other point of view, and I say this to you, I learn a ton about staying committed to this relationship in the monastery by having parents who have stayed committed to a relationship that's -
DONNA: Because we've been married all our lives.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah, how many years?
DONNA: It'll be 56 in September.
ROLAND: 56 in September.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah, and I think no matter what relationship you're in, whether it's in a relationship in a monastery, relationship in a marriage, it gets difficult or it gets boring or it gets the same thing every day. Then new questions arise like, "Oh, what is the meaning of this? This is harder than I thought it was gonna be," or whatever. But then it matters a whole lot to be able to have people in your life that you reference where, "Well, my parents did this." You realize looking back, "Oh, I can remember when it was probably tough for them" or those sorts of things. You think, "Okay, well, then my job is to stay put," and then you reach a new level of happiness or you meet new sides of yourself or your community or your spouse that you didn't know were -
DONNA: Well, it's all in the commitment.
BR. JOHN MARK: It is.
DONNA: You just don't give up when there's a little glitch.
BR. JOHN MARK: Or even a big glitch, you don't give up.
ROLAND: Life is full of compromises.
ROLAND: You have to ...
DONNA: I still think if you commit to something and you wanna stay with it, you'll work it out.
BR. JOHN MARK: Yeah.
DONNA: That's what I feel.
BR. JOEL: Thank you for listening to this conversation between Br. John Mark and his mother and father, Donna and Roland.
BR. KOLBE: Krista Hall serves as our editor, producer and all-around, behind-the-scenes person. Our podcast team includes Br. Joel Blaize, Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski, Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Jim Paquette, Tammy Schuetter and Christian Mocek. The music for this podcast was written and produced by Br. Joel.
BR. JOEL: A special thanks goes to Donna, Roland and Br. John Mark Falkenhain. We couldn't have created this episode without you.
BR. KOLBE: We have two more episodes coming up that are in the same conversation format. For one of them I interviewed my family of heathens. You don't want to miss it!
BR. JOEL: If you're enjoying "Echoes from the Bell Tower," tell your friends and subscribe to it on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also leave us a rating and review in Apple Podcasts.
BR. KOLBE: You can view photos of Br. Joel and me with corona haircuts or listen to past episodes at saintmeinrad.edu/echoes.
BR. JOEL: Hey there. Hello. This is Br. Joel, or should it be Blaize?
BR. KOLBE: No, don't do Blaize.
BR. JOEL: This is Br. Joel. This is Br. Joel.
BR. KOLBE: You sound like an NPR reporter that time.
BR. JOEL: This is Br. Joel Blaize.