Bishop Matthew H. Clark will ordain two monks — transitional deacons Eugene Chung and Stephen Muller — to the priesthood at 9:30 a.m. Friday, May 5, at the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard. The abbey is home to the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, and houses the famed bakery where Monk’s Bread is made.
Deacon Chung was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1954, and came to the United States in 1979. In 1980 he converted to Catholicism, following the example of his mother and sister. After attending a retreat in 1986, he applied to New Clairvaux Abbey, in Vina, Calif. At the time he was working for Transamerica Corporation in Los Angeles as an underwriting analyst
He transferred to the Abbey of the Genesee in 1990. His service to his fellow monks has been varied, including such tasks as baking, accounting, cooking, farming, purchasing, laundry and working in the library. Discerning a vocation to monastic priesthood, he entered Indiana’s St. Meinrad School of Theology for priestly studies in 2002; he is in his final year of school there.
Deacon Chung said he was happy to become a priest during the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, who adopted the same name as the founder of Western monasticism, St. Benedict of Nursia.
"I am very grateful to God and to my community for my being a monk and becoming a priest in this historic moment of the church," he said.
Deacon Muller, 44, was born on a farm outside Porterville, Calif., the youngest of 10 children in a devout family that gathered to pray the rosary every night. He said his parents stocked their home with books on the saints and other spiritual topics, and that his father always spoke highly of the religious and ordained life. By the time he got out of high school, Deacon Muller knew he wanted to be a priest.
Toward the end of his fifth year of studying to become a priest of the Diocese of Fresno, Calif., Brother Muller said he felt God calling him to the monastic life. He entered the Trappist monastery of Holy Trinity in Utah for five years, and then spent another eight years at a Carthusian monastery in Vermont. He also spent time outside monastery walls traveling the world, a sojourn that eventually brought him to the Abbey of the Genesee, where he’s lived since 1999. He made his solemn vows to the order in December 2002.
Deacon Muller is production manager in the abbey’s bakery, and said he looked forward to becoming a priest.
"It’s a lifelong dream finally coming true after such a long wait," he said. "As far as my vocation as a monk, I feel it will compliment it. And it will provide me with a new way of service to my brothers here, and also to the people who come here to the abbey for Mass or confession or counseling."
Deacon Muller said he hoped to be a compassionate confessor, noting that he has become aware of his own weaknesses over the years, and can relate to the weaknesses others feel.
"I want to convey to them that God still loves them no matter what," he said. "There’s nothing that they could do that would be so hideous that he wouldn’t still love them and long to draw them in close to himself."
Deacon Chung will celebrate his first Mass at the abbey at 9:45 on Sunday, May 7. It is open to the public. Deacon Muller will celebrate his first Mass for invited guests on Saturday, May 6.