Rest in Peace, Fr. Matt Torpey


Father Matt Torpey, OCSO died this morning.

I don’t know how old he was, but I’m sure he was well into his 90s (I’ll post more info here on this blog once the monks post an obituary on their website).

Me and Father Matt

This picture of me (yes, that’s really me) and Matt was taken in 2005, I believe, at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit’s annual Christmas party for employees and volunteers. I was a new employee (I started working there just a few weeks earlier, in mid-November) so I was still getting to know the various monks. That particular occasion marked the day I first got to know Matt, who charmed me with his wit and quiet faith. Matt was the first of several monks I’ve gotten to know over the years who knew Thomas Merton — Matt was a novice under the famous Trappist back in the 1950s. He told wonderful stories about Merton, describing him as intellectually curious, unafraid to admit when he was wrong or changed his mind, and possessing a great sense of humor. But you know, all of those wonderful qualities could easily describe Matt himself.

Matt was a natural storyteller. He worked for many years as the monastery’s electrician, and even when I first met him, well into his seventies, he was functioning as an all-around “fix-it guy” for the cloister. But don’t let his mechanical skill throw you off: he was also a learned monk, and especially loved philosophically rich writers like Matthias Scheeben or Sebastian Moore.

Over the years I was not as close to Matt as to some of the other monks, so he doesn’t show up in my books as often as some of his brothers do. But Matt is one of the monks featured in Jon Sweeney’s lovely book Cloister Talks: Learning from My Friends the Monks. Jon writes about several different monks he knows from different monasteries, and he gives all the monks he writes about pseudonyms, so when you read it you’ll have to guess which one of the Conyers monks is Fr. Matt!

Matt’s spirituality was very simple, but beautiful. The monks rise in the middle of the night for their first liturgy of the day, known as Vigils or the Night Office. After that, they have several hours to themselves before they reconvene in the monastery church for morning prayer and the mass. During those two hours early in the morning, Matt would return to this office where he would sit at the computer and write a love letter to God. Like many monastics, God was the great lover of Matt’s life, and he wrote those letters as prayers, as expressions of devotion and intimacy, and as quiet words of gratitude and adoration. He shared many of his love letters to God with me and other lay associates of the monastery over the years. They were plainspoken but entirely from the heart, and no other word than “beautiful” really could capture their spirit.

Unlike his famous mentor or many other Trappists, Matt Torpey never published his work. The one exception was an audiobook of a retreat he gave at Mepkin Abbey in 1982, which was recorded. About ten years ago the monastery released it as a CD set. I checked the monastery’s website and the set is not listed there, so I imagine it’s out of print now.

For a while Matt taught me and other professed Lay Cistercians; I say “taught” but it really was more like group spiritual direction. He simply would meet with us, share some of his love letters to God, tell a few stories, and entertain our questions. In all of it, he was simply encouraging us in our own adventure of falling more deeply in love with Love. Such simplicity — such beauty. That’s  was Father Matt’s spirituality, and that was his life.

May he rest in peace.

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About the author

Carl McColman

Soul Friend and Storyteller. Lay Cistercian, Centering Prayer Presenter, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Speaker, Teacher, Retreat Leader.

By Carl McColman

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