Eulogy: Father Kenneth Geyer, O.S.B.
We are here today to give thanks and praise to God, and to celebrate the completion of the monastic life of our confrere, Father Kenneth Geyer. Last evening as we received Father Kenneth’s body for the final time into this basilica, where he was ordained to the priesthood, where he offered the divine praises every day, and where he offered God a sacrifice of praise in his music, we read the conclusion of the Prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict; that Rule which informed every day of Father Kenneth’s life since that distant day when he entered the novitiate at Saint Benedict’s Abbey nearly sixty-seven years ago. There Saint Benedict writes: “Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.” Father Kenneth has, with the grace of God, accomplished what he vowed to do. By his fidelity in observing this teaching in the monastery until death for sixty-seven years, and through faithful ministry as a priest for nearly fifty-nine years, Father Kenneth grew into the Kingdom.
In the monastery, this is truly a life-long undertaking. If it is, as St. Benedict says, through patience that we are to share in the sufferings of Christ so as to deserve to share also in his glory, then most of us will need a lifetime, and perhaps then some. Father Kenneth, in his prime, was not the most patient of men. And it took him, as it will likely take all of us, a lifetime of practice and of trying again to arrive at that point in life where the trials, the disappointments, the failures and the weakness of age and infirmity can be willingly embraced as a sharing in Jesus’ cross. In these latter years, however, I believe Father Kenneth arrived at that point, and with great patience embraced the cross of his own infirmity, and the suffering of the loss of his brother, Father Raymond, and his friend, Father John. With increasing longing, he wishes to follow where they had gone.
Thus, I think we affirm the beginning of today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom, chosen by Father Kenneth for this celebration, where it affirms that only the foolish say: their passing away was…an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. No. The time was right and Father Kenneth was ready. His last two days were made joyful by the visit of four men whom he had mentored as students forty-five years ago. They had heard that his health was failing and wanted to see him again, the monk, teacher, moderator, priest and friend who had helped them set their course in life aright when they were setting out on life’s sometimes confusing journey. Father Kenneth was as happy at their visit as he has been in a long time (not least of all because they also brought a substantial offering of candy). Late Wednesday afternoon he asked to go to Confession, he then concelebrated the Conventual Mass, and then he died. Yes, he is at peace. Chastised a little, he shall be greatly blessed. Because God tried him and found him worthy of himself.
Father Kenneth’s choice of the gospel for today’s Mass is likewise fitting – the Beatitudes. They are beautiful in their simplicity. They are quiet; they do not draw attention. One must simply be merciful, clean of heart, meek and gentle, a comfort for the sorrowful, desirous of righteousness and patient amid setbacks and misunderstandings. It is in such quiet simplicity that the power of love comes to perfection in what can appear to others as weakness. We are brought back again to Father Kenneth’s life as a monk. Monastic life offers a quiet, a gentle, a steadfast witness. The very existence of monks and of monasteries serves to remind the world in a very focused way that the service of God, in whatever walk of life we find ourselves, is the profound meaning of human life. Father Kenneth’s life as a monk and a priest was one of steadfast and enduring witness to God. In his life, this steadfast witness was apparent first of all in his half-century of service as abbey organist and choir director. For a good thirty years of that time, he was the one who, by himself, played at every hour of the divine office and every Conventual Mass each day. (Undoubtedly, after that experience, his time in purgatory will be brief indeed!) He was faithful in what he was asked to do for the glory and praise of God – sometimes grumpily, sometimes joyfully, but always faithful. This was the witness of his life. He was steadfast in his love for his family, especially his brother and confrere Father Raymond, for whom he had a deep affection, and with whom he carried on a life-long sibling rivalry, many times to the entertainment of the community. Part of Father Kenneth’s cross, which he accepted so patiently in these final months, was the death of Father Raymond, who came to the completion of his monastic life two and a half years ago. Father Kenneth missed his brother very much.
Perhaps Father Kenneth’s most enduring witness, which will indeed last unto everlasting life, is the influence he had on young students at Belmont Abbey College. Except for two years in Richmond at St. Benedict’s Priory, where he was Assistant Pastor at St. Benedict’s Church and teacher at Benedictine High School, Father’s Kenneth’s entire monastic life was spent at here at the abbey which he loved, contributing to the life and work of Belmont Abbey College. The greatest tribute, I think, that can be given to anyone, a tribute we would all wish to earn for ourselves, is the one which so many of Father Kenneth’s former students and present friends have offered with the wonderful words: “He changed my life.” The presence of so many of our college community here today, especially of the alumni and most especially the Sig Ep Brothers, gives far more eloquent testimony than any words I might offer to the beauty and success of the life of Father Kenneth Geyer. Among his many contributions to the life of the college, Father Kenneth was most gratified by his seventeen years as the moderator of the campus chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. As mentor, guide, confident, confessor, friend and, undoubtedly as disciplinarian and voice of conscience and reason, he helped to prepare young and sometimes anxious college students to go forth successfully to manage the challenges and joys of life. He provided them with an enduring witness to faith and moral integrity. You have, so many of you, responded with an affection and respect which was a great joy in Father Kenneth’s life. As mentioned above, the last two days of his life on earth were made joyful by the visit of four of his fraternity brothers and friends, whose happy fellowship, by the mysterious condescension of divine Providence provided Father Kenneth with a foretaste of the fellowship of that heavenly kingdom we so fervently hope and pray that he now enjoy.
And so we give thanks to God for the completion of Father Kenneth’s monastic life. He was indeed faithful in God’s house. Father Kenneth always had a love for the Blessed Mother, who, under the title Help of Christians, is the patroness of our abbey. It is fitting that we celebrated the conclusion of his monastic life on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourds. As we recall with gratitude the life of our friend, our mentor and our confrere, we rejoice in hope that the words of Scripture are now fulfilled for him: Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Abbot Placid Solari
February 11, 2012