Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Meet Brother Kevin

Last night we took a tour with one of the most amazing people you’ll ever meet anywhere, Brother Kevin. Brother Kevin has been here since he was a high school student when St. Gregory’s had a school for boys here. He joined the monastery after graduation and has been here ever since. He is not a priest and I don’t know what his level of education is (Father Charles said he didn’t like school) but he is just a wonderful person and incredibly talented.

Brother Kevin’s great skill is tinkering with mechanical things. He makes these incredible, functional, Rube Goldberg-like contraptions out of all sort of junk. His crown jewel of contraptions is his motorcycle, which is named Recycled Grace. He built the motorcycle out of scrap parts about 28 years ago and he takes it for a two-week vacation every summer. It is Easy Rider meets Samford and Son meets Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He took a Subaru car engine, sawed it half, and uses for his engine – he said he can cruise at 70 mph at about half throttle. My guess is that if he went to full throttle he might do a Marty McFly and go back to the future. He took an old Oldsmobile glove compartment and it sits in the front of the motorcycle for him to put things in. There are pieces held together by duct-tape. Anyway, he’s put over 125,000 miles on this thing, and if you consider that he only goes anywhere a couple of weeks a year, you can imagine how long his trips are. Yesterday he had the motorcycle all torn apart, since he has been in the process of lowering the seat so he can get his feet down a little bit lower when he is stopped.

Brother Kevin can find something useful in just about anything. Some years ago he arranged for them to buy three surplus wings from B-29s(actually, he said that they are just the flaps from the wings). They are massive – about 30 feet long by 8 feet tall. Brother Kevin dug a trench, put the sharp edge of the wings in the ground, and now the wings serve as a fence back near a greenhouse. Talk about turning swords into plowshares! What is kind of funny about it is that the wings are made out of magnesium, which he said is a very flammable metal (apparently that’s why when WWII airplanes got shot down they burned so much), so there are no smoking signs near the fence. They’ve also painted a mural of some deer on one of the wings/fences.

Brother Kevin is also well known for making his own lawnmowers. One monk said that they had nicknames for his lawnmowers and called one of them “the World’s Fair” lawnmower because it had some kind of big ferris wheel contraption on it. He also built a chair and pulley system he used when he was cleaning and sealing the main campus building. Apparently he took a Dodge engine and used half of it to drive the powerwasher and half to drive his chair – which was an old office chair with two bicycle wheels on it for the pulley system. He spent ten years just cleaning the building.

Brother Kevin’s other great gift is landscaping. He has planted over 600 trees on campus in his lifetime. He’s a one-man Sierra Club. There are old pictures of the area from the 1920s where there are almost no trees at all – this was all Oklahoma plains. Now there are trees everywhere. Brother Kevin says that trees are the first step in hospitality because they welcome people as they arrive on campus and they provide shade for people. Father Charles said that a former abbot remarked, “only monks will plant a pecan grove anymore.” In a world of instant gratification the planting of a tree is an act of faith, hope, and love.

I remember when I met Brother Kevin last year, we talked about his life in the monastery. He said that when he began he was worried about being lonely, but that he feels completely loved here and completely happy. He had two biological brothers who were also here – one left before taking his final vows and one took his final vows, but left after 18 years and is now a math teacher in Oklahoma City.

I should also mention that several months ago Brother Kevin took a fall off of a 20 foot ladder. He said his neck was really sore for a week, which may have masked the headaches, which developed sometime later. It turns out that he had blood clots on the brain and had to have brain surgery. They removed a quart and half of fluid that had built up on the brain. He seems to be fine now, and his doctor has given him permission to go on his motorcycle vacation again in August.

I have worked at universities for 15 years and have been fortunate enough to meet some true geniuses in the fields of business, theology, medicine, etc.. But honestly, in spite of their genius, I honestly think I’m more impressed by Brother Kevin. There are lots of people who can teach math, or English, or theology, but I’ve never met another human being who can do the kinds of things Brother Kevin can do. I wish you could meet him. He is a gift to us from God.


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