SPENCER – Fr. Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O. a Trappist monk of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Snowmass, Colorado and St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, died very peacefully late Thursday night, October 25th, in the abbey infirmary at Spencer after a long decline in health.
Joseph Parker Kirlin Keating was born in New York City on March 7, 1923 to Cletus Keating, Sr. and Elizabeth Kirlin Keating. After graduating from Deerfield Academy, he studied at Yale University from 1940-1942 before transferring to Fordham University where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in December 1943. He entered the Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of the Valley in Valley Falls, Rhode Island in 1944, taking the name Frater Thomas. He professed his final vows in 1949 and was ordained a priest that same year.
A fire devastated the Rhode Island monastery in March 1950 and the monks were quickly lodged in a nearby CCC camp while they built a new monastery named Saint Joseph’s Abbey on the property of the former Alta Crest Farm in Spencer. During this time of transition, Father Thomas was appointed director of the professed lay brothers. When adequate accommodations were ready the entire monastic community moved to Spencer in time to celebrate Christmas there.
At the new monastery Father Thomas became vocation director in 1952 and then director of choir novices in 1954. In April of 1958 he was appointed superior of a new foundation in a pristine setting in Snowmass, Colorado named in honor of Saint Benedict. Three years later the abbot of the Spencer abbey resigned, and Father Thomas was elected to succeed him.
After twenty years as abbot at Spencer, Father Thomas retired, returning to the Colorado monastery to take up a life free from administrative duties and devoted to deeper prayer and study. During this time, he was led to promote to a wider audience the monastic method of contemplative prayer, and as a result he became a founder of Contemplative Outreach, an ecumenical spiritual network that teaches Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina. As such he pioneered in opening the Christian contemplative tradition for modern men and women. Throughout his monastic life, Father Thomas conducted numerous retreats, authored 28 books and practice guides on prayer and the spiritual life, as well as several audio and video series. In 2014 he was the subject of a documentary on his life and teaching titled Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence, co-directed by his nephew Peter C. Jones with Elena Mannes and narrated by John Osborne.
Father Thomas was predeceased by his brother Cletus Keating, Jr., and his sister Anne Jones. Along with the monks at the Spencer and Snowmass monasteries, he leaves his younger brother, Marshall, nieces and nephews Elizabeth White, Cletus Keating III, Susan Keating, Peter and Ted Jones, Elizabeth McCaslin, and Mary Martin, as well as several grandnieces and nephews, his dedicated secretary Bonnie Shimizu and his many devoted friends, colleagues and collaborators in local chapters of Contemplative Outreach throughout the world. The monks at Spencer are especially grateful to the staff members of Saint Joseph’s Abbey Resident Healthcare Facility, the monastery’s infirmary, for their very kind and excellent care of Father Thomas during his illness.
A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at Saint Joseph’s Abbey on Saturday, November 3 at 11 A.M. Burial is at a later date at the Colorado monastery. J HENRI MORIN & SON FUNERAL HOME, 23 Maple Terrace, Spencer, is directing arrangements.