Weather Monk Faces Northern Winter
Perhaps it’s human nature to talk about yourself and your own experiences. My problem is that Br. Elias seems to invite this sort of self-centered behavior. Whenever I sit down with him, he creates a welcoming and tranquil atmosphere that says he’s ready to listen. This past summer, before Br. Elias left to study in Minnesota, he spent many mornings practicing Spanish with me. That is, I learned to speak better Spanish and he listened to me learn to speak better Spanish. He’s been away from the monastery for the past few months, so I had a lot to talk about with him when we met over Thanksgiving. For me, his willingness to be an understanding listener makes him a good friend, Spanish teacher, and confidant (but, also, kind of a less-than-ideal interviewee, as my temptation to yap always sneaks in). For the Church’s sake, however, his willingness to listen truly to somebody may be exactly why he has ended up at Belmont Abbey; it may be exactly why he is preparing for ordination at the Seminary of St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN.
Br. Elias ended up at Belmont Abbey by means of a series of events that go back to when he was in middle school. It took a powerful act of nature to make Br. Elias aware of his initial calling. And that act was Hurricane Diana. The development and path of this massive storm system impressed him and opened his eyes not to priesthood, but to meteorology. Through high school, he tracked hurricanes and, he says, “I drove my parents crazy watching the Weather Channel all the time.” He knew from then that he wanted to earn a doctorate in meteorology, because that was the only way to fulfill his dream of working for the Hurricane Center. While studying for ten years at Florida State University, Elias recognized that there was a wider world of meteorology that amazed him. So, when he completed his studies, he accepted an opportunity to be one of the four co-founders of a weather forecast service, Weather Predict. Instead of working for the Hurricane Center, he worked with this company that originated in Florida and relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina. It was not until Br. Elias was in Raleigh that he began considering the religious life. After working with Weather Predict for eight years, Br. Elias decided to enter the monastery of Belmont Abbey. In the summer of 2009, he made his first profession of vows.
Since he was living in Raleigh, it may seem that Br. Elias just picked a nearby monastery in North Carolina and moved in. But he’s sure to say that he did not come to Belmont Abbey simply because it was close by; whether he was in North Carolina or not, he would’ve ended up in Belmont: “God wants me at Belmont Abbey, at least for now. I think I still would have ended up here if my company didn’t relocate to Raleigh; it just may have taken longer.”
Br. Elias is now in Minnesota at St. John’s University, about to experience the very cold winter weather that the state has to offer. His parents are from Puerto Rico and they currently live in both Florida and Puerto Rico. That genetic connection of his to tropical climates led me to fear for Br. Elias’s sanity as the winter approaches him in the north. However, he is not only accustomed to living in the cold as well as the hot (as he has lived in South Dakota, Germany, Japan, and Florida), but he also has an appreciation for environmental differences and the wonders of creation: “You can live in South Dakota and complain about it, or you can enjoy all the good things the cold brings, like sledding or going for walks and seeing nothing but natural beauty for miles.”
Br. Elias is a very intelligent and understanding person. He understands people, he appreciates wherever it is that he may be living, he has a strong faith, he is bi-lingual, and he is knowledgeable in science. In fact, he has taught courses in the college, including Introduction to Meteorology. However, Br. Elias is able to balance these talents with true humility. He does not put himself above anyone, he is modest and polite to everyone, and, he told me, “I try not to let people know I’m ‘Dr.’ unless I’m teaching or at a conference.” As a Benedictine monk, Br. Elias stays in line with the Rule, which endorses this humble personality: “we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility” (RB 7.7).