Livingston County monk turns 80, notes 50 years at abbey - Catholic Courier

Livingston County monk turns 80, notes 50 years at abbey

PIFFARD — In the early 1970s, following four years of military service during the Vietnam War, James Almeter seemed to have settled into working on his family’s farm in northwest Monroe County.

Yet he sensed that a different — albeit undefined — future awaited him.

“I was kind of restless — ‘Where’s my life going, I don’t know where it’s going.’ I was kind of hoping that I’d find God somehow,” he recalled.

That hope was realized through his involvement in the Catholic Church’s growing charismatic movement. At one prayer meeting, participants laid their hands on him and urged him to ask God to fill him with the Holy Spirit.

“I felt, like, a tingling. I was never the same after that,” he remarked. “I started thinking about God all the time, reading the Bible, reading about the lives of the saints, praying the rosary.”

Realizing the awakening of a religious vocation, he eventually found his way to Abbey of the Genesee, home of priests and brothers of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, more commonly known as Trappists. He formally entered the abbey on Feb. 14, 1974 and, 50 years later, remains a monk at the monastery in northwest Livingston County.

“It worked out very well. I’m very happy,” said Brother Almeter, who will celebrate his 80th birthday on May 14.

Town of Parma native served in Vietnam before entering Abbey of the Genesee

Brother Almeter grew up in a family of 10 children in the Town of Parma, attending the parish and school at Spencerport’s St. John the Evangelist and graduating from Hilton High School in 1964.

He briefly attended college before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in March 1966. He spent more than a year in Vietnam, loading bombs onto fighter airplanes.

“A few times I had some close calls. Sometimes the Vietcong would overrun the base,” he recalled.

Following his discharge in early 1970, Brother Almeter spent most of the next four years on the Parma farm that’s still owned by his family. But as he became more drawn to a vocation, he once hopped on his motorcycle and drove 35 miles south to Abbey of the Genesee to inquire about trying monastic life. He formally returned to the abbey a few months later, in December 1973, spending a month residing among the Trappist monks. One day during that period, he recalled praying to Mary in the abbey’s chapel about what he should do next.

“Just a beautiful feeling came over me, that everything was OK,” said Brother Almeter, who also described that pivotal experience in a video on the homepage of the abbey’s website, geneseeabbey.org.

Yet for years after entering the abbey, Brother Almeter wasn’t entirely sure he could handle a permanent commitment to the monastic lifestyle: Liturgy of Hours prayer seven times per day between 3:30 a.m. and early evening; never leaving the monastery grounds except in special circumstances; limited access to telephone and computers; and no television or radio use.

Gradually, however, Brother Almeter said he came to realize that by following the example of Jesus on the cross, he would receive the grace to endure his own crosses. In 1981, seven years after entering Abbey of the Genesee, he professed his solemn vows.

“Once I made my vows, it seemed like I had a lot more peace,” he said.

Livingston County monk says spiritual growth is a never-ending process

Brother Almeter worked for many years on the abbey’s farm and also took regular shifts in its bakery, where the famous Monk’s Bread is made. He said he’s endured a couple of strokes and now works much less, but is basically in good health and still serves as a cook.

“He’s a very kind and generous man, always willing to help, really the servant of the community in a hundred ways — a ton of goodwill, ” said Father Isaac Slater, OCSO, who serves as the abbey’s novice and vocation director.

Brother Almeter has been featured in two books. Famed Catholic author Henri Nouwen wrote about him in The Genesee Diary, which chronicled Father Nouwen’s seven-month stay at the abbey in 1974.

Father Slater added that he based his own children’s book, Brother Jude and the Blueberries, on Brother Almeter. The spotlight also found the longtime monk in 2006, when he spoke at his induction into Hilton High School’s Hall of Fame. The event marked one of the rare times he’s left the abbey over the past half-century.

These days, Brother Almeter said he enjoys taking walks on the monastery grounds and experiencing the soothing effects of God’s nature. He also spends considerable time in prayer, stating that even at age 80, he’s still deepening his closeness to God.

“To keep growing in God’s love, there’s no end,” he said.

Tags: Livingston County News, Profiles in Faith, Religious Orders
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