There is an old saying that could very well describe Brother John Blaschik’s journey to the Trappists: “Every saint has a past and every sinner a future.”
Not too long before becoming a monk, he was on a very different path — a path to perdition.
Blaschik is a monk of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (also known as the Trappists). He resides at Our Lady of the Holy Cross Abbey in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He leads a life of relative simplicity, silence and separation from the dominant culture, following the Rule of St. Benedict, balancing the practices of prayer, spiritual reading and work.
As a Trappist, Brother John rises at 3 a.m., prays seven times a day and is a vegetarian. He also works as groundskeeper, cooks for the community and helps prepare the sweet cakes and honey the monastery sells.
In 1983, John Blaschik’s life looked rosy. At 27, he was elected the first selectman of the town of East Haddam — at that time, the youngest person ever to hold such office in the state of Connecticut. And some years later, he became deputy state fire marshal, with statewide jurisdiction. But by 2009, two failed marriages and alcoholism had ravaged his life and his family.
In December of that year, driving home from a bar, he crashed his car into a telephone pole. Because he had been driving drunk and without a license (his license had been suspended the previous September due to a DUI), he was sentenced to 30 days in prison.
In prison, he attended meetings with Chaplain Sister Mary Healy. He was looking for spiritual guidance, and she recommended that he read books by three Trappist monks: Fathers Thomas Merton, Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating.
“I devoured those books,” Blaschik said.
By reading the books he came to realize that his own mind was the real prison he was in, and that through prayer and treatment he could be released. He also developed a curiosity about the Trappists, which he later realized was a calling.
Thus began several years of spiritual journey to monastic life. In 2013, he applied for the permanent diaconate, but was not chosen. Realizing God was calling him to a different vocation, he applied to several monasteries, however was rejected because of his age.
Then, someone told him about a small Trappist monastery situated on 1,500 acres alongside the Shenandoah River in Virginia that accepted older novitiates. After several visits and interviews, he was admitted into Our Lady of the Holy Cross Abbey in February of 2017.
This year, on June 17, after five years of novitiate, Brother John will take solemn vows: stability, poverty, chastity and obedience. He describes his salvation story by paraphrasing the 14th-century mystic Jullian of Norwich. “First there is the fall and then there is the recovery from the fall, both are the mercy of God.”
In prison, Sister Healy had told him that what we call coincidences or chance are really “God winks.”
God has truly winked at Brother John Blaschik.
Our Lady of the Holy Cross Abbey was the subject of a PBS Special entitled: “Saving Place, Saving Grace:
By Deacon Ben LoCasto