Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Monk and the Murderer

by Annie Calovich

This is a story about how God leveled time and space, breaching prison bars and cloister walls, lining up the Catacombs of Rome with Death Row in McAlester, Oklahoma, through the life of a hidden monk in the 21st century.

The monk, Brother Vianney-Marie Graham of the contemplative Clear Creek Monastery in Hulbert, Oklahoma, had long been praying for inmates on Death Row because he considered them "the abandoned of the abandoned."

He had a famous precedent for his prayers. St. Therese of Lisieux had prayed for the conversion of the notorious and unrepentant killer Henri Pranzini in 1887 and was able to read in the newspaper of his last-minute grab for a crucifix as he approached the scaffold. He kissed the wounds of Jesus three times before being guillotined.

In 2001, Brother Vianney-Marie decided to ask his superior for permission to write a few inmates, "to tell them not to despair, to tell them that God's mercy is available to them no matter what their crimes."

In deciding whom to write, Brother Vianney-Marie sought out the worst cases. He started with James Malicoat, a man who had brutally killed his 13 month-old daughter through a series of beatings over two weeks.

"When I first saw the crime, I thought, 'He needs a friend more than the others. Everyone is going to shrink back because the crime was so horrendous,'" Brother Vianney-Marie said.

He received permission from his superior to write to Malicoat, and did so for the first time on the feast of the Assumption, 2001. Malicoat took a month and a half to respond, dating his letter October 1, which is the feast of St. Therese.

Brother Vianney-Marie wrote faithfully to Malicoat and two other inmates once a month. "I would talk about their families, the way they were brought up," he said. "They would talk about themselves."

The monk said it was like shooting arrows in the dark, making contact with the worst of society's offenders from a cloistered Benedictine monastery. He had no idea where — or how — the arrows would fall.

Contemplative monks such as those at Clear Creek rarely leave the monastery. The monks work and pray in obscurity. Brother Vianney-Marie has a certain identity to outsiders only because he can be seen from the road tending the monastery's chickens.
there is so much more:

" . . . I am generous?" (Mt 20: 1-16)

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