Life as a Benedictine monk, en‘chant’ing and gratifying

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, October 19, 2014

Father Peter Funk, OSB, prays as Cardinal George joined the Benedictine monks to dedicate the restored high altar at Monastery of the Holy Cross, 3111 S. Aberdeen St., on June 28. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

He is: Benedictine Father Peter Funk, prior of the Monastery of the Holy Cross, 3111 S. Aberdeen St., the former Immaculate Conception Church. He was ordained at the monastery in 2004.

Growing up: “I call Green Bay, Wis. my home. I went to Notre Dame Grade School there and Abbot Pennings High School, taught by the Norbertines.” His mom taught piano and was a parish organist. “Dad was a musician too, not professionally, but he was a fan of jazz and especially big band. That’s what I grew up listening to.  I started composing music when I was 12 or 13. At the time it was mostly rock.”

Career plans: He came to the University of Chicago as an undergraduate, studying music composition and theory.  (Later, after he entered the monastery he did his seminary studies at St. John’s School of Theology in Collegeville, Minn.) “I spent over three years with a local band called ‘Om,’ named for the Buddhist mantra. We did mostly original music. Our final show was at Taste of Chicago, a few months before I entered the monastery in 1997.”

Musician to monk: “I think there were several ways God moved me from that life to this. Discipline was a big part. Toward the end I lived with the drummer and the bassist. The three of us would get up in the morning at the same time and practice individually and then practice together. We’d have breakfast and discuss issues we had to tackle. For rock musicians we were pretty ascetical. We were trying to see what it would take to make rock music into something ‘morally respectable.’ Learning how to compromise and reason things out with people who had different points of view was an important skill going into monastic life.

“When we started I was one of those young ‘spiritual but not religious’ types. But in college I was exposed to Renaissance music for the first time. When I heard and sang music of composers like Palestrina and Vittoria in the college choir it told me they wouldn’t produce such beautiful music if they didn’t believe it.

“As a musician you take whatever gig pays. My local parish, St. Thomas the Apostle, asked me to help cantor for the Easter Triduum in 1994. I continued as a cantor there. I started going to church and one thing led to another. After I went to confession for the first time in seven or eight years I started getting more involved in parish life. I sang a lot of funerals and weddings, helped out with the school; worked in the soup kitchen -- little by little I was drawn more and more to prayer.

“I’d started the band with the drummer who was a close friend of mine from high school. We said we’d give it three years after college. Then we’d settle down, get married, and get a real job. I started thinking of religious life about half way through that time period. Somebody I met at a party at the university said, ‘You’re the cantor from the parish. You ever thought of being a priest?’ That’s how Tom Levergood, the founder of Lumen Christi Institute and I became friends. The two of us began visiting religious communities all over Chicago. Tom had just become Catholic and there we were. I was probably 24 or 25 at the time.

“Tom found the contemplative community here in Bridgeport and introduced me. I fell in love with the liturgy. It was the key thing. Suddenly I saw that what we were trying to do in our band is what the liturgy is already doing much better.

“I was drawn to staying a brother and praying the hours, praying for the City of Chicago, praying for the world, for the church. Soon after I entered they sent me to seminary. The community was interested in having a priest of the next generation, someone a little younger. I accepted that with great gladness.” In August of 2004, Father Peter Funk was blessed as the third superior in the history of the community.

Average day: There are 10 monks right now; three in formation. The monastery celebrates Mass at 6:35 a.m., Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. on Sunday. The monks also pray the divine office seven times a day, Monday through Saturday, waking at 3:10 a.m., and they pray the Office five times on Sunday. “Everything is open to the public. There’s a policeman who has a nighttime beat in our area and he stops in pretty regularly at 3:30 a.m.

“We have our guest house and Bed & Breakfast for retreatants and other guests.” They sell items, particularly caskets made at St. Meinrad’s in Indiana. They do almost all the needed repairs on their buildings and machines, cooking, cleaning, laundering, gardening and growing fruits and vegetables. “We also provide spiritual direction for a number of priests in the archdiocese, both diocesan and religious. For me, a fair amount of work is begging for money!

“At certain times of the year we’re ‘vegetarians.’ After Sept. 14 we only eat meat on Sundays and solemnities; during Lent we don’t eat any meat. I actually prefer the fast once you get used to it. It’s easier to pray, I feel lighter on my feet, and it connects us with people around the world who don’t have enough to eat. There’s a certain solidarity that comes with that self-denial.”

Hobbies: “I still play the piano about 15 minutes a day, but classical music. Brother Brendan plays the cello, a couple others play the piano and I’m an amateur flutist so sometimes we’ll do trios together. I don’t play rock any more, but I’m working with this old friend of mine to do a definitive final version of our recordings. I’ve been approached by a couple people to write a book about how I went from a rock musician to being a monk. We’d like some of the music we did to be available if people want to hear it – it’s hard to ‘talk’ about music.

“I like to read just about anything. Most of my reading is the Church Fathers, and certain Catholic philosophers, like Alastair MacIntyre and Paul Ricoeur. I’m glad to be here – to be serving Christ in his church. And glad to be in the archdiocese of Chicago.”

Favorite Scripture verse: “‘Since you have been raised up in Christ, seek the things that are above.’ That’s the second reading on Easter Sunday.”


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