Billy Rombach had been a student at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., for one semester when he realized he wanted to become a consecrated religious of some sort.
The idea didn’t completely catch him by surprise. It had been stirring in him since he was at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, Washington, Class of 2015, and read a biography on Saint Padre Pio given to him by his sister.
This past December, as so many people were caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, Brother Pius Rombach quietly celebrated his Profession of First Vows in a ceremony at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kan. He will spend the next three years praying and working as a monk of St. Benedict’s Abbey.
Founded in 1857, St. Benedict’s Abbey is a Catholic, Benedictine monastery where the monks live according to the Rule of St. Benedict — “praying and working for the glory of God and the good of the world.”
“Education is the primary apostolate of the monks,” the KansasMonks.org website reads. “They co-sponsor Benedictine College and Maur Hill-Mount Academy. The monks also serve the people of Northeast Kansas as pastors, chaplains, and much more.”
Brother Pius, son of Bill and Penny Rombach, Washington, credits his family with helping him discern his vocation and also his high school theology teacher, Kathy Hertlein, for asking him if he’d ever thought about joining the priesthood.
“I said, ‘No, but I have heard of these monks at St. Benedict’s Abbey,’ ” Brother Pius recalled, noting St. Benedict’s Abbey is on the campus of Benedictine, where his sister was going to college.
“So I had gotten to know the monks a little bit as my family was visiting my sister. From there my teacher encouraged me to talk to the monks and other orders such as the Franciscans since I had such an appreciation for Padre Pio,” said Brother Pius.
‘Very Fortunate Accident’
Then an eye injury he sustained while goofing around with fireworks ended the career path he had been wanting to follow.
“I look to that injury as probably the greatest blessing I have received so far in my life. I also look at it as the same situation Saul was in on the road to Damascus,” Brother Pius told The Missourian.
“When that injury happened I was 17, and I wasn’t doing so great. I wasn’t by any means a hopeless wretch, but I didn’t really care about my faith or my relationship with Jesus, and I was just generally going down the wrong path.
“I was also really interested in and desired joining the military, which of course isn’t a bad thing, but God had other plans, and I surely was not paying attention to Him.
“So the blinding light that hit Saul’s face and changed his life now hit me,” said Brother Pius. “Recruiters aren’t really interested in a one-eyed teenager, so I was thoroughly heartbroken. Confused and not knowing what to do, the next couple of years were a period of limbo for me. This is when God gave me the biography of Padre Pio, and my family helped me to become more active in my faith.”
He sees his experience as a sign that the Bible isn’t just stories of things God did long ago, but things God still does to this day.
“An initial thought might be that, ‘Oh, God still blinds people to this day and injures and hurts,’ but that’s completely overlooking the grace that came from the suffering,” Brother Pius explained. “Paul was a great preacher and saved lives because of God’s grace to him. The same God saved me through an apparent unfortunate accident. It’s a very fortunate accident.”
Brother, Monk or Priest?
The terms brother and monk are interchangeable, although there are some brothers who are priests. A monk and a priest are a little different and so is the formation, said Brother Pius.
“When a man joins the monastery, he enters the postulancy which is, in this community, normally a three-month period for the man to discern the novitiate, which is the next stage of ‘initial formation.’ The novitiate is a year and one day as prescribed by Canon Law.”
Both the postulancy and the novitiate allow for a man who realizes he is not called to religious life or this specific community to leave. But after the novitiate comes “first vows,” when a monk professes the Benedictine vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life.
“In vows, by professing stability, the monk is obligated to stay at the monastery for the period of time he has professed,” said Brother Pius. “In first vows this would be for three years. This does not mean the monk cannot step foot outside of the monastery, but that he is calling this specific monastery his home and will not move to another.
“After the three years the monk may make his solemn profession, which is similar to simple profession but now he professes obedience, stability and conversion of life for the remainder of his life. In all of these stages of formation the monk petitions or ‘applies’ to make the next step in formation,” Brother Pius said.
“The vow conversion of life means we will convert daily to deny ourselves and live as monks should,” he explained. “It is normally seen as being the vow of poverty and chastity as professed in the evangelical councils like the Franciscans do but with more of a focus on bettering ourselves every day.”
Currently, Brother Pius is a junior monk. He hasn’t decided yet if he will seek ordination. He is still discerning that.
Back in College
Since making it through initial formation process in the monestary, Brother Pius has re-enrolled at Benedictine College and is working toward a bachelor’s degree again. That has made his life much busier.
He goes to classes throughout morning and afternoon with specific times set aside to pray.
“The monastic schedule is set that we have Vigils and Lauds at 5:45 a.m., Midday Prayer at 11:45 a.m. with Mass a little after at 12:10 p.m., Evening Prayer at 5 p.m. and Compline (night prayer) at 7:30 p.m. Interspersed throughout the day we have times set for personal prayer outside of the Divine Office (the five regular prayer times mentioned earlier). This would be for Lectio Divina, a very treasured and important prayer for the monk,” said Brother Pius. “Times for personal devotions and prayer are also given throughout the day but are hard to pinpoint for the average monk since the assignment for the individual monks could differ, meaning they do their devotions when they can.”
He is not prevented from leaving the monestary, although he does need to ask the superior.
“The idea of monks who never leave the monastery or rarely leave their cells is more awarded to orders such as the Trappists and the Carthusians who focus less on community, but as the person secluded from the world, left only with God,” Brother Pius explained.
‘Pray, Hope, Don’t Worry’
In the Winter 2018 issue of Kansas Monks, a two-page feature on Brother Pius highlights some of his favorite things:
Favorite devotion — the rosary.
Favorite food — good Polish sausage and sauerkraut.
Best job — baling hay, the simplest job for good money.
Best advice — “Don’t run around with Roman candles!”
Favorite saint — Saint Padre Pio.
“I especially admire his quote, ‘Pray, hope and don’t worry,’ ” Brother Pius noted.
That’s mostly because he is the type of person to worry, he told The Missourian.
“In my work I worry that I won’t get it finished or it won’t be good enough, and in my spiritual life I often worry that I don’t do enough or good enough,” he said. “But this saying of Padre Pio helps me to remember in these times that there is nothing I can do to make myself a saint, and what’s more is my anxiousness over work is pointless.
“Why is this consoling then? Because sainthood and spiritual perfection is a gift that only God can give, but He wants to give it! To everyone! But my pious actions in themselves won’t do it. I need God, and worrying over work and my own agenda doesn’t make any sense if I work hard and allow God’s Divine Providence to do its thing.
“It’s not about my will but God’s,” said Brother Pius. “In short if I stay faithful to God in prayer, I hope in Him, I have nothing to worry about because He will take care of it.”
For more information on St. Benedict’s Abbey, go to www.kansasmonks.org.
Photos courtesy of Kansasmonks.org.