Brother Gerard

Here is a gallery of photos dedicated to my uncle.  To me, he was my Uncle Dick. Others knew him as Brother Gerard.

Brother Gerard lived the life of a Trappist monk the last 56 of his 83 years at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey.  The Abbey is about 1400 acres of land located between Lafayette, OR and Carlton, OR, and I have been going there my entire life for occasional visits.  My uncle passed away on October 4th, 2012 after a fight with colon cancer.  These photos are from my family’s archives.

My father Gerry wrote the following biography:

Richard A Foley, aka Brother M Gerard, OCSO – b. 3-26-1929, Seattle, WA to d. 10-4-2012, Carlton, OR
Mother: Rose Marie (Sizer) Foley, – b. 3-2-1905, Tacoma, WA to d. 10-18-1995, Salem, OR
Father: Daniel E Foley – b. 5-16-1902, Seattle, WA to d. 5-18-1995, Salem, OR
Survived by his two younger brothers – Gerard L. Foley, aka Gerry, b. 5-6-31 Seattle, WA and John M. Foley, aka Jack, b. 9-26-33, Seattle, WA.

Richard A. Foley (aka Dick) was born March 26, 1929, several months before the stock market crash which signaled the beginning of the Great Depression.

Early on the family lived in a top floor apartment at the crest of the Queen Ann “counter balance”, named for the way that streetcars were made to go up and down the long hill to the top of Queen Anne Hill, northwest of the city center. The apartment had a deck with a picture post card view overlooking the Denny regrade, a massive land moving project which was still in progress at the time, with the Seattle downtown, the port and Mount Rainier in the background. When he played outside on the deck his mother tied a rope around his waist to keep him from falling off.

In mid-May 1931, soon after his brother Gerard (aka Gerry) was born, he fell head first from a second story window at an Uncle and Aunt’s home in West Seattle and cracked his skull from ear to ear. It was a very serious trauma for all concerned. Dan and Marie Foley were devoted to St. Gerard (the patron saint of expectant mothers) and prayed for Dick’s survival through the Saint’s intersession. His wounds healed.

When his borther John (aka Jack) was born in 1933 the family was living in West Seattle near to the north border of Lincoln Park. He attended Holy Rosary grade school until 1937 when the family relocated back to Queen Anne Hill and St Anne’s grade school in the Parish where his parents spent several young years, and where they were married in April 1927.

Dick was always good at school and sports (a pitcher for the school baseball team). He enjoyed making things, like large model airplanes that when launched from an upstairs window had a long steady flat glide path before they gently (or not so gently) crashed.

Dick went to high school at Seattle Prep, the same school his dad had graduated from, and that his younger brothers went to as well. Dan had travelled the world as a teen ager to Europe, Asia, and the Americas, as an “oiler” on freighters right after WWI transporting Washington wheat to the hungry world. Even though Dan worked six days a week managing service stations for Standard Oil Company (now Chevron), he made time on Sundays to travel the area and/or see relatives in Tacoma.

On one excursion we crossed the new first Narrows Bridge and on the return run stopped the car in the middle (no traffic then). We all got out to enjoy the view and experienced a surface that was swaying back and forth in a light breeze not noticeable when driving in a car. Dan was questioned about the huge moving bridge and he said not to be concerned because the experts knew what they were doing when they built it.

At Seattle Prep it was the Jesuit scholastic way plus football early on then the ski team and baseball teams (3rd base). A day ski trip with friends in his 1928 Model A coupe would include 3 in front seat 1 on the back window shelf and 2 in the trunk along with the skis. An early graduation in 3-1/2 years had him by-passing the post of Student Body President, which he declined because of his shortened Senior year.

Then it was on to Seattle University, with Summer work in the woods until an axe blade hit his foot. While he was a student he was on the school ski team four years and worked part time. One Summer he worked in a frozen fish warehouse and canning operation on Seattle’s water front. Then he was the clean up crew in a machine shop close to one of his Dad’s service stations in Seattle’s Ravenna district. It was the kind of shop that made all sort sorts of things such as the then innovative, but now common, single handled mixing valve faucets. An employee of the shop, Al Moen, invented this valve for the shop. He graduated from Seattle University in 1952 with a BSSC in European History and Philosophy.

Next, with not much choice, he was drafted into the Army for service in the Korean War. Dick was in basic training at Fort Roberts, California, then cook school at the Presidio in San Francisco. After this Dick served in South Korea as an infantry cook on the front lines with the 25th Divison’s 27th Regiment. He became a mess sargent involved with coordinating supplies to the kitchen cooks. At the end of the war, he was awarded the Korean Service Medal with two bronze service stars, the National Defense Service Medal, the U.N. Service Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge, awarded only to soldiers who have fought in combat, most likely much of it on night patrols.

When he returned from South Korea Dick worked for a short time with an airline. Then he and a good friend, Jim Monroe (SU Ski Team and ski pro), went off on a ski bumming adventure to try the mountains of Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho with facilities for skiing at the time. Sun Valley was one of their favorite places until he tore up tendons in a leg/ankle which forced him into a time for rest and healing. Those rare times we find to read, reflect, consider other things to do in the short and long term future. He mentioned reading St. Augustine, and more likely Thomas Merton (1-31-1915 to 12-10-1968) a Trappist who wrote an autobiography called The Seven Story Mountain (1948). Merton’s book inspired scores of war veterans, students and even teens flocking to monasteries across the U.S. Richard (Dick) found the Trappists and entered Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey in 1956. He made his solem profession on October 28, 1961 and took the name Brother Gerard. In exchange for his devotion and labors he recieved in return 56 happy and productive years as part of the monastic community.

One of Brother Gerard’s first assignments was as a cook for the whole Community of 60 people (vegetarian) from 1957 to 1962, then part time to 1974. He also baked the very special Abbey bread for a long time. Other assignments followed: He worked with the cattle and sheep herds on the Monastery farm from 1962 to 1967. The Abbey’s 1350 acres of property, between Carlton and Lafayette, Oregon, were purchased in 1953 from a part of the Harold Kuehne family owned parcel that did not lend itself well to agricultural use because of terrain. The original family members still works the more farmable sections adjacent to the Abbey along with the Richard and Christy Cloepfil family, who are now growing fescue grass seed.

Original members of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey came from an Abbey at Pecos, New Mexico. From 1967 to 1978 when there was a demand for church furnishings; he worked as a millman in the veneer and laminating shop without complex or fancy machinery to produce quality work, as well as setting up and installing church pews throughout the West Coast. From 1979 to 2002 he worked on a small logging crew with Brothers Clarence and Joseph and Father Martinus to harvest marketable second growth timber using chain saws for falling, bucking, then yarding the logs. He enjoyed driving the Abbey’s trusty D4 bulldozer building roads, moving dirt and logs around. Earlier he had planted hundreds of the acres with thousands of little trees to make a new future forest. Later the wood shop became part of a new wine warehouse complex used for servicing local vineyards, where bottling, labeling, storage, packing and preparing for shipment takes place. He worked there also. When the prune harvest overload at the Vina, California Abbey got to be more than they could handle he would take a bus and help them out. He sometimes worked in the Abbey fruit cake bakery or drove to the Trappestine Abbey near Whitethorn, California to cut back overgrowth that was a fire danger to their lands in the late Summers. He was often a driver that took Community members to appointments in the area or to pick up members or deliver them to the airport, or on occasion drive a group to a temporarily donated residence at the Oregon coast for a quick vacation. He loved to walk the beaches next to the surf.

Once he was able to get away for a day and go skiing at Mt Hood with his brother Gerry and nephew, Brian; and another time go the special annual airshow to see up close the Blue Angels (Navy) put on their show at Hillsdale just West of Portland; and to the airshow at McMinnville with Brother John (Air Force experience) and his brother Gerry and wife Genny.

He also worked in the book bindery operation at the Abbey where old books are made new again or new ones are made to contain magazines and other papers that become longer lasting in law libraries, medical libraries, schools and other businesses. He somtimes delivered the books and/or picked up ones to be worked on. He also found times to build his own astronomical telescopes to watch the night sky and far off star clusters.

There were, of course, many other things that he did in his 56 years as a Trappist that helped to make his many happy years productive, built around a structured religious day and calendar. Never a dull moment.

He was also happy to drive north to Tacoma one day so he could spend the night and the next day travel to Seattle with Joe Betz and Alan Flynn to attend their Seattle Prep Class of 1947 reunion in Seattle. He said that he had the floor long enough to tell his classmates what he had been doing since he joined the Trappists… took place for most of the early part of the day. Then he toured the Point Defiance Zoo and a drive around the North Tacoma area before driving back to the Abbey.

About a year ago on newly bound books delivery run to the Bay Area he was having a hard time of it with the 50 to 80 pound boxes, so his nephew Mark helped him with the deliveries. Book runs were usually a rush job – driving many hours to California, make the deliveries, then back to the Abbey after an overnight night visit with his brother Jack (a widower) and family in the Bay Area.

Soon after this trip he had a colonoscopy, and a tumor was discovered. A biopsy found a cancer. He wanted to go with the many alternatives and avoid the cutting (surgery) burning (radiation) and poisoning (chemotherapy) route, based on what he saw happen to other monks who took those “therapies”. He followed with a variety of appropriate food supplements, detoxification, exercise, and research – as many things as he could fit in that are healthy things to do. Around the end of May the tumor had enlarged and was painful, so he opted to have it cut away. It was a big relief to remove the pressure, and he felt great as an immediate result, but he did push it too fast and was told that “at his age” he should take it a bit slower and give time to recovering. So he did try to take it easy, but by September was having problems and getting weaker. A urinary tract infection then came along as his immune system began to let him down and it put him into the hospital in McMinnville for a short time.

He then moved on to a facility called Oakwood Country Place in late August/early September. All the while he was getting visits from Community members, family, friends, and Community members. He was growing weaker and finding it more and more difficult to take liquid and eat. His nephew Brian was back and forth through the Summer and Fall because his girlfriend lives in Eugene, OR. He was able to keep family advised even though Brother Gerard called or wrote regularly until that became difficult with his move away from the Abbey. He never complained nor was he looking for heroic measures, but he did want badly to return to the Abbey. Throughout, Brother Dominique was the liaison person who is a mobile representative for the Abbey in daily direct contact with Community members in hospital, or special care facilities outside the Abbey. On Wednesday, October 3rd he was able to return to the Abbey. On October 4th he was with his adopted family when the end came at 11:15pm after 12 hours of being in a coma. His last wish was to be with them in the Abbey at the end was met as he had been on hand when others of the group died, and he wanted it that way also.

So often we get notices of deaths with times and dates, and such, without background or context so this is to fill in some of the blanks of what Brother Gerard was doing all these years and to take some of the mystery away.

In his growing up years on Queen Anne Hill a very close by neighbor, the oldest to 6 siblings, John Navone, SJ (Prep 1948) wrote this comment about Bro Gerard when he got the news: “Dear Gerry, Thank you for the beautiful account of Dick’s passing. I am happy that Brian was there for him as your proxy during his final days. From the time I first met Dick, I always admired him. Despite his outstanding qualities and popularity as student body president (he actually declined the office because he was graduating early and Ted Shanahan became student body president), Dick was always self-effacing and modest. The radical humility of a person with such outstanding qualities embodied the spirit of Jesus’ words, “I came to serve, not to be served”. People always felt better for having known him. If we can be regarded as either windows or walls, Dick was a window through whom the goodness of God enlightened us, as opposed to walls – the people so full of themselves that we do not enjoy that light. We thank God for the gift that Dick has been for all of us. Together with the crucified and risen Christ, Dick will continue to be a blessing for us now, just as he was throughout his life. He will help us to catch up with him. It is consoling to know that we can count on that. Please accept my heartfelt condolences.  Jack Navone”

Here is the link to the Funeral Homily given by the Abbey’s Abbot Peter:

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