The road to the monastery

First slide

A little more than 13 years ago, Patrick Kokorian would have described himself as a "nominal Catholic" who put his own desires ahead of his faith.

After making a vow to put God's will first, he eventually became a Maronite monk at Most Holy Trinity Monastery in Petersham, Mass. Today, Brother Patrick is counting down the days until his ordination to the priesthood in October. It's a life he never expected, but one that has brought much peace and joy.

Born and born again

The son of Lebanese parents, he was born in 1975. Because of the conflicts going on in Lebanon during his childhood, he spent his youth living in Saudi Arabia, where he attended a British school until he was 9 and his family returned to Lebanon for a year.

His father was a civil engineer, which gave the family enough money to travel and see the world. When he was 10 years old, the family moved to the United States and settled in Miami.

Brother Patrick attended a Jesuit high school there and went to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach - the so-called "Harvard of the sky" - where he earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering. Soon after graduation, he accepted his first aerospace job at a satellite phone company in Leesburg.

"That got me to where I consider is the best state," he said. "To me, everything that was right about America was summarized by Virginia. I consider Virginia to be Americana at its best."

He then took a job at Lockheed Martin and began attending Mass at St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria. At the time, he was a "very lukewarm Catholic," he said.

"I was a person who went to Mass on Sundays and did whatever I wanted the rest of the week," he said. "I was probably a scandal to those who knew I was Catholic."

Still, he was impressed by the faithfulness of the community and priests at St. Lawrence.

"There were really great priests over there at the time," Brother Patrick said. "What really impressed me was they always preached confession and there were always lines around the confessional, with young people in it too, which really shocked me. Florida is a very liberal crowd where you don't really get that, so this was something kind of new to me."

Brother Patrick recommitted to his faith at age 25 after a particularly life-giving moment in the confessional.

"It was after I thought I had finally blown it and lost God once and for all," he said. "I was at the very lowest point and thank God I remembered confession. I came out of there and for probably the first time, I felt really forgiven. I was so happy."

That night, St. Lawrence was having eucharistic adoration, which Brother Patrick had never heard of before. After spending some time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, he made a promise to God.

"Driving home, I promised God that I would try doing things His way, because with my way look how it ended up," Brother Patrick said. "I changed my life and decided, I'm going to take God seriously and going to actually try to live as a good Catholic and basically get rid of bad habits and acquire some new ones, have a good prayer life, go to Mass more regularly and so on and so forth. It was a very big turning point."

In his mind, this meant finding a good Catholic girl, getting married and having children.

"I didn't know what God had in mind for me," he said.

A new direction

That December, Brother Patrick went home for Christmas. There, his mother pointed out a book at Barnes & Noble - Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain, which details Merton's conversion to Catholicism and his entry into a Trappist monastery. Brother Patrick couldn't stop reading.

"I read it all the way back to Virginia, and when I came to his description of life in a monastery, I had this scary interior feeling that, 'Yes, that's the life for me,'" he said. "It scared me to death and I was thinking, 'No that's not what I had in mind at all.'"

For weeks, Brother Patrick went back and forth on what he should do with his life - whether he should enter a monastery or pursue marriage. After seeing an advertisement for the Trappist monastery in Berryville in the Catholic Herald, he decided to see what it was like for himself.

After seeing the monastery in person, he was even more conflicted.

"They didn't really seem to fit what I had in mind and then I was really confused," he said.

A few days later, Brother Patrick visited the Jesuit retreat house in Faulkner, Md., with a friend. There, he found a book about religious ministries in the gift shop. While flipping through the pages, he found a listing under the Eastern-rite communities for the Most Holy Trinity Monastery. Maronite Monks are a traditionally Lebanese order and Brother Patrick was shocked to find they had a monastery in Massachusetts. He visited the monastery in May 2001.

"I thought, 'This place feels like home,'" he said. "It was a great place and even though I didn't get all my questions answered, when I was leaving I already started to miss it. By the time I got back to Virginia, I really missed it and the feeling kept growing."

Brother Patrick had found the place where he belonged. Over the next two years, he made preparations to join the monastery - paying off his student loans, selling his stuff or giving it away, and quitting his job. On Feb. 1, 2003, he entered the monastery as a candidate.

Life as a monk

After spending four years in the monastery as a postulant and then a novice, he took his final vows Aug. 15, 2007. As a monk, most of his time is spent in prayer. He attends daily Mass, prays the morning, midday and evening offices according to the Maronite Rite, and spends two hours in eucharistic adoration a day. Much of the rest of the day is spent doing manual labor, spiritual reading or attending classes.

Brother Patrick serves as a subdeacon - a position in the Maronite rite that is one step below a deacon. That was enough for him, but more and more, retreatants and other visitors were encouraging him to become a priest.
"I thought, 'If I were to become a priest, I wouldn't have any time at all,'" he said.

Though he was unsure of a priestly vocation, he enrolled in the classes for the priesthood to learn more. After a while, Brother Patrick decided to pursue it and was ordained to the transitional diaconate Oct. 6, 2012. He will be ordained to the priesthood Oct. 27.

After his ordination, he will be in charge of ministering to all monastery visitors. He is most looking forward to celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, and giving spiritual direction to the retreatants and members of his community.

Since coming to the monastery, Brother Patrick said he has learned a lot about the religious life, especially that a monastery is not a place of rest and relaxation.

"There is the peace of being with God, the silence of the monastery, but it is certainly not a place you come to retire," he said.

Today Brother Patrick works hard and keeps a tight schedule, but he knows he is in the right place.

"Realizing this path for myself was the most rewarding part because there's a great peace in knowing where you belong," he said. Sometimes you get some peaceful moments, when you are just so happy to be here, happy to be with God. It's a great joy that the world can never give."

For other people discerning a call to the religious life, Brother Patrick's advice is "so simple it becomes kind of annoying," he said.

"Over and over, pray to the Holy Spirit," he said. "Maybe sometimes we feel that if you pray enough, an angel will appear and tell you, 'Oh yes, you belong in such an order,' but that's not really how it works. It comes down to attraction: Where God wants you is where you'll be attracted."

Bahr can be reached on Twitter@KBahrACH.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013