If Benedictine Father Pachomius Meade ever wondered what it would be like to be a dad, he’s about to step into a similar role.
The Palmyra native and former associate pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Columbia is the newly-appointed vice rector and dean of students at Conception Seminary College in northwestern Missouri.
“I have the dual role of being an administrator and a spiritual father to these men who come here to discern a priestly calling,” he stated.
“Like a father, there is a caring aspect, where you meet with them and try to form them and model what it means to be a priest, a man of integrity, a man of virtue, a man of holiness,” he said.
Fr. Pachomius is one of three monks under age 40 who are stepping into leadership positions at Conception Seminary College, a ministry of Conception Abbey in northwestern Missouri.
As dean of students, he will help seminarians recognize and work to overcome any obstacles to priestly discernment, be they spiritual, academic, emotional or practical.
As vice rector, he will stand in for the rector whenever necessary and will handle many day-to-day operations at the seminary.
He will live in community with seminarians who are discerning and preparing to move on to the next phase of their formation.
“I want to see these men succeed as Catholic men and certainly as priests if that is what God is calling them to,” he stated.
Toward that end, Fr. Pachomius must serve as a gatekeeper for the Church.
Holding the men accountable and giving objective feedback can be difficult, “because you’d like to just be a teddy bear,” he said. “But sometimes you have to just be a bear.”
They key is to maintain “a kind of firm integrity.”
“This is the way it has to be for the good of God’s people and for the good of their souls,” he said.
Show and tell
As chaplain to the seniors, Fr. Pachomius will spend much of his time with the fourth-year seminarians at Conception.
He will meet separately with them every two weeks to discuss their progress.
He will live on their floor of the residence hall and will share meals and fellowship with them.
“Interacting with the men, you can see how they interact with their peers,” he said. “That is indispensable to the job.”
He will also serve as a mentor.
“How I live is as important as what I observe in how they are living,” he said. “What in my modeling and Priesthood and my Christian manhood is a worthy example for them? I need to be able to offer that to them.”
He believes that if Conception Seminary College does its job well, a man who graduates from there is “comfortable in his own skin, knows who he is, knows how to interact with people — men, women, children and families — and interacts with them freely.”
A Conception graduate must also be a man of prayer, immediately recognizable by his bearing and how he spends his time, “but without giving pious platitudes every five seconds.”
“He is a man who genuinely cares about other people and cares about their ultimate destiny, which is salvation,” the priestly monk continued.
“He is as at-home with his own peers and friends as he would be with ordinary people,” he said. “And he cares enough about people and about their salvation that other things will be secondary to that.”
“We want him to be a man who could be readily identified as good and competent — whether as a priest or a husband and father or in charge of a business,” he said.
Prayer and work
Benedictines are monks or nuns who take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, combining a life of community, contemplation and apostolic service.
Fr. Pachomius, baptized as Matthew Meade, entered Benedictine monastic life at Conception in 2001, professed final vows in 2005 and was ordained to the Holy Priesthood in 2009.
He discovered the Benedictines while considering whether he was being called to Priesthood for the Jefferson City diocese.
He asked for the religious name Pachomius, in honor of the fourth-century Christian monk who drew men and women together into monastic communities bound by a codified rule for living.
He has studied the ancient art of Christian iconography and has painted many icons in that centuries-old style.
Several of his icons now adorn the Conception Abbey.
He painted an iconic tryptic for the sanctuary of St. Joseph Church in Palmyra, where he grew up going to Mass with his family and serving at the altar.
“Genuine and good”
Years ago, one of Fr. Pachomius’s friends spoke to Cardinal John Foley, now deceased, who was head of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication.
Cardinal Foley said he was pleased to get the first version of the Vatican’s website up and running.
Fr. Pachomius’s friend replied, “Are you kidding? It’s a disaster!”
“I know,” Cardinal Foley acknowledged. “But it’s up and running, and it’s genuine and it’s good. And sometimes, that’s enough to give us a start.”
Fr. Pachomius believes that’s a great analogy for forming college seminarians into Catholic adults and good candidates for Priesthood.
“We’re starting with what is genuine and good,” he stated, “and the Lord perfects what we’re setting out to accomplish.”
To be a bridge
Fr. Pachomius recently completed the thesis for his doctorate in art history from the University of Missouri.
The college needs a certain number of faculty members who have doctorates in order to maintain its accreditation.
Typically, a monk would be sent to pursue an advanced degree in philosophy and theology — and Fr. Pachomius already has a master’s in systematic theology.
“But at the college level especially, we have many things we’re doing in a liberal-arts education,” he said. “So to have someone with a degree in humanities or history is a good thing, too.”
And although most of the monks at Conception pursue advanced degrees at Catholic universities, Abbot Benedict Neenan at Conception wanted Fr. Pachomius to “experience what the current state of the secular academy is.”
That proved to be a great opportunity for growth and discovery for him.
He spent four years ministering at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish while pursuing a full course load at the University of Missouri.
All of his classmates were women. Some had grown up Catholic and attended 12 years of Catholic school but had stopped practicing.
Some had no faith background at all.
“But I did meet a few who were actually practicing Catholics, and it was nice to have camaraderie with them,” he said.
He originally decided that in order to be less intimidating on campus, he would wear plain clothes to class and change into his monastic habit for work at the parish.
“I was kind of trying to live like 50-percent M.U. grad student and 50-percent priest,” he said.
One day, an instructor began berating the Catholic faith, the Mass and the Priesthood.
Several students laughed along.
Mindful that such a hostile learning environment would not be tolerated by any other minority on campus — “and you’d be hard-pressed to find more of a minority than a Roman Catholic monk at a state university” — he respectfully wrote to the instructor and the dean.
The problem was quickly resolved, and Fr. Pachomius decided to wear his monastic garb — which he says makes him look like “Pope Darth Vader II” — whenever he set foot on campus.
“No more 50-50,” he said. “I realized that I need to be 100-percent monk and priest, and to have that integrity and be mindful of that.”
He’s convinced that helping seminarians work gracefully through similar situations — which they will encounter as Catholic adults and certainly if they become priests — is part of good seminary formation.
“Much of what I will be doing in my job is helping young men think through things like that and how they can be a bridge rather than a barrier to people, to be all things to all people, with God’s help,” he said.
Fr. Pachomius’s university experience reinforced his conviction that strong Catholic minds need to create art and literature that appeals to the masses.
“We need to be standing up and engaging the culture and saying, ‘No, you do not get to redefine foundational concepts or cast them in a pejorative light,’” he said.
“Sometimes, we need to do a better job of working on the culture,” he stated. “We need to be writing books and movies and TV shows that are filled with fresh ideas and can compete in the marketplace.”
“We need to be joining in these discussions and reframing the big questions like, ‘Why are we here?’ and ‘What are the eternal truths that are going to save us?’” he said.
He was amazed at how applying his knowledge of art history to the images depicted in stained glass animated his parishioners at St. Peter Parish in Stanberry, where he recently served as pastor.
“Each Sunday, I highlighted one of the windows in the bulletin,” he said. “It was probably the most popular thing I ever did.”
He believes that good teachers and good preachers are always on the lookout for better ways to explain the mysteries of the faith to their people.
“We should be able to put it in a simple enough context without devaluating the mystery,” he said.
Taste and see
He asserted that people are hard-wired to access God in ways beyond speaking, hearing and understanding.
He cited Jesus’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor as an example.
“What do the apostles experience?” he asked. “Is it Jesus speaking words to them? Certainly. But it’s also a voice from a cloud and a great light that knocks them down, and those heavenly visions of Moses and Elijah!
“It starts with a journey up a mountain,” he said. “It was hard but when they get there, it’s so awesome that they want to stay there forever!”
He pondered such things while working on his doctoral thesis, which addressed artistic depictions of smell, taste and feeling in 15th-century Netherlandish depictions of the Epiphany.
Six centuries ago, the Biblical telling of the three Wise Men’s arrival from the East to worship the infant Jesus inspired artwork for the altars of many churches in the Netherlands.
“In the Medieval mind, touch and taste are intertwined, especially something you touch and taste with your tongue,” he said. “When you talk about a sense like that, you’re talking about the Eucharist.
“Our ancestors in the faith really took seriously that prayer was multivalent and multi-sensorial,” he stated. “with gestures and touching and smelling also with a strong visual aspect.”
The difference could be that modern Western societies are now overly saturated with images and noise.
“Maybe sometimes, we want to go to church to have a wash from that, maybe more silence and less inundation of the senses, than those who came before us,” he said.
“Nevertheless,” he stated, “just as truth and goodness are attractive on their own terms, Catholics — especially pastors — must remember that beauty also attracts us to God. Providing the beauty and silence that people lack daily may be more important than any words we preach.”