Thursday, March 10, 2016


...happened right here, on the third floor
fire escape at St. Meinrad, on the landing
outside that door (bottom left corner of the photo) in 1966.
The fire escape is gone, but certainly not the results of that conversion experience.  


This is the true joy in life...the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
George Bernard Shaw 

I was born at home, on April 28, 1944, in a very small, very rural town, along the Ohio an hour down-river from Louisville. Almost dead on arrival, I was delivered and baptized by my country midwife grandmother. 

The most courageous thing I did as a young man was to leave that small town in 1958 and go to the seminary. (Later, I wondered whether I was running away from something or toward something!) I went to St. Thomas Seminary in Louisville. I wanted to be a priest in the second grade and never changed my mind. I could not get adults to take me seriously. My pastor refused to fill out the papers for me to go to the seminary until I begged. Even as I was leaving, a couple of adults made bets in front of others that I would not make it till Christmas. I was almost thrown out of the seminary in my second year of high school. The Rector called me a “hopeless case” to my face. He relented only after I cried for a second-chance. His last words to me, in front of the whole class, were: “Knott, you have been a ball and chain around my leg for six years!”  My experience of the St. Thomas Seminary approach to seminary formation was, “We know you are a piece of garbage and we will keep digging till we prove it!” 

I next went to the Benedictine run St. Meinrad Seminary. My experience of the St. Meinrad approach to seminary formation was, “We know you have gifts and talents and we will keep digging till we find them and help you make them grow!”  When I arrived there in 1964, their approach scared me even more than the St. Thomas Seminary approach because I thought if they were to dig, they would find out that I didn’t have any talents! I responded by trying to become invisible.  

Their approach obviously began to seep into my subconscious because the most courageous thing I did as a seminarian during those years was to stand up to my own cowardice. I grew up believing that "life is something that happens to you and all you can do about it is to accept it.” As a result, I arrived at St. Meinrad extremely bashful, backward and scared of life. However, one day on that fire-escape outside Benet Hall, pictured above, I blurted out a decision I had made somewhere in the very depths of my soul to a friend of mine from Indianapolis. “Pat, I am so damned tired of being bashful, backward and scared that I am going to do something about it, even if it kills me!”  

On that fire escape that day, I decided to take charge of my own happiness and quit blaming other people for the way I experienced life. I decided to quit waiting to be rescued. I decided, to paraphrase the words of George Bernard Shaw, “to be a force of nature, rather than a feverish little clod of grievances and ailments, always complaining that the world will not get together and make me happy.” I decided to quit playing the blame game and make myself happy, no matter what assignment I got, no matter who the bishop was, no matter what ideological direction the church or country took!  I started with baby steps and moved deliberately and courageously toward bigger and bigger steps.  The rest is history. I have been working my program ever since and I am still working it today! Thanks to that "fire escape decision," I have soared beyond my wildest imaginations back then! 

The latest manifestation is the decision to take charge of my own retirement rather than leave it up to the diocese to take care of it for me. Actually I have been planning to take charge of my retirement since ordination. For one thing, I wanted to own my own home by the time I retired so I started saving for it back in 1970.  It is only one of many of my goals that have been met! 

During the last several years, while I was on the staff at St. Mienrad Seminary, I had the chance to teach this to several hundred future priests as well. I will be gone, but I am sure some of them will remember what I said, whether they followed the advice or not. If they followed it, I am sure they will be filled with gratitude. If not, I predict they will be filled with regret. They will suffer the pain of "the missed opportunity." 

Recently, I came across the little written piece below that pretty much outlines my life path since that day on a fire escape at Saint Meinrad back in 1966. 

The Huffington Post

We take our freedom for granted so often, don't we? We can go where we want when we want to, say how we feel, do what we love to do. We know this, and yet surround ourselves with barriers, with reasons not to take the step out into the unknown. We don't follow our bliss, because although the idea of adventure is exciting, actually taking the chance is terrifying. 

Living your life gripped by fear of the unknown is no way to live, but how to you make the transition?

Like in all things, it's best to start small. People are fabulous at adjusting, it's one of the more impressive traits of our species. We can change and adapt to our circumstances. For example, have you ever had a real terrible experience that lasted more than a few weeks, like an unfitting relationship or a frustrating job, and you look back and wonder just how you made it through? You made it because (a) you are stronger than you know and (b) you adapted.

When it comes to making changes, making smaller adjustments over a longer period of time is the key to seeing them become part of your life. If you start too big, by taking on too much, you'll become overwhelmed, and you'll return to your old ways in no time (which is why so many New Years Resolutions ultimately fail).

If you're on the cusp of being brave and taking the leap into the unknown, even if it's a little unknown, you are a girl on a ledge. You can choose to turn around, return to where you came from and never know what lies over the side, or you can choose to take the leap of faith and begin to change your life for the better.

Let's talk a bit about bravery. What do you think of when you think of bravery? Do you think of a soldier on a dangerous mission? What about a single mother of two who has an upcoming interview at a new job? Or a bright girl with unsupportive parents who tries out for the high school basketball team?

Contrary to what you might think, being brave comes in all shapes and sizes, and is subjective to each person. Sometimes, just getting out of bed in the morning is an act of bravery, and learning to recognize these small successes is incredibly important in this life journey.

So many times, you are reminded of your limitations, of all the things that you can't or shouldn't do. Today I encourage you to yes, know your limitations, but at the same time, examine your possibilities. Stop telling yourself that you can't. Sure, there are some things you can't do, but start thinking about all the things you can do.

If this is you, if you're the girl on the ledge, you have the choice to stay in the life you have now. You can stay in the bad relationship or in the frustrating job or keep spending time with people who bring you down. Or you can take a step off the side, examine all of your possibilities and start to fly.
Who knows? You might even soar.


It started by putting my toes in the water! I have since learned to swim out in the deep! 

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