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Stories about people and places that have been in the Bluegrass State a few years or many decades. Each one has a unique spirit.

Aged in Kentucky: Monk at Gethsemani has goal of 'amounting to nothing'

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Rhonda J. Miller
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Brother Paul Quenon is a poet and photographer at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.

“Aged in Kentucky” is a series of stories about people and places that have been in the Bluegrass State a few years or many decades. Each one has a unique spirit.

Paul Quenon is a Trappist monk, poet and photographer at the Abbey of Gethsemani, where he immerses himself in the elements of nature that emerge throughout his writings.

Brother Paul Quenon arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in 1958 at the age of 17.

His spiritual mentor was Thomas Merton, who is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century with more than 40 books on contemplation, mysticism, social issues and world religions.

WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Brother Paul at the Abbey, where he loves to walk amid the peaceful hills called ‘knobs.’

In addition to his memoir, “In Praise of the Useless Life,” Quenon has published several books of poetry, including "The Unquiet Vigil" and “Amounting to Nothing.”

"The important thing to realize is that God is searching for you. And sometimes God is wondering where you are."
Br. Paul Quenon

Quenon: “Sorry monk that I am, I never amounted to nothing. Somebody must have laid a curse on me and said, ‘You'll never amount to nothing,’ which was my life ambition. But I'm still too much of something.” So this is, you know, there's a kind of undercurrent of a mystical tradition there. That is especially like in Zen Buddhism, where you just lose the, you know, slough off the ego and these false outer selves that we contrive for ourselves to get along and society, or to get ahead in the world. And amounting to nothing is, you know, the ultimate degree of humility is to, you know, be so free of myself, that God can fill the self.

Miller: Thank you for offering that poem, because I was going to ask you to read it, but you offered it spontaneously. You've been in Kentucky a long time. Do you think that being in Kentucky, or the atmosphere or the land or anything has influenced you?

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Paul Quenon, Abbey of Gethsemani
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Nature is a continuing presence in the photography of Br. Paul Quenon. This photo is titled "Winter Sunrise."

Quenon: Oh yes, definitely. I mean, not that I've seen much of Kentucky other than the acreage around the monastery. We are living in what you call the “knobs.” These are small hills. And there's nothing particularly magnificent about them, but there's something compelling. And we're very fortunate that way because it's all quite lovely, really. I mean, we've got that, you know, 2,350 acres.

Miller: Is there anything generally you would offer to people who are searching or lost or tired or losing hope or tired of dealing with things like COVID?

Quenon: Well, it's good to be searching. And we get tired of searching. And the important thing is to realize that God is searching for you. And sometimes God is wondering where you are. And we get discouraged because we placed too much importance on our own role in, you know, saving the world, or maybe just saving our little circle of friends or a circle of concerns. God knows about all of that. And so, to a great extent, it’s a matter of leaving that to God. It will be taken care of. And to some extent, it will be it will take care of itself. All I have to do is be attentive to the role that I have in these things.

Miller: Well, Brother Paul, thank you so much for speaking with me. It's just been so wonderful.

Quenon: Well, it's my pleasure.

Miller: I've been talking with Brother Paul Quenon and at the Abbey of Gethsemani. For “Aged in Kentucky,” I'm Rhonda Miller.


“Aged in Kentucky” is a series of stories about people and places that have been in the Bluegrass State a few years or many decades. Each one has a unique spirit.

Aged in Kentucky: A conversation with Brother Paul Quenon at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky on Jan. 11, 2022. The 4-minute version, below, aired on WKU Public Radio.

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Rhonda Miller joined WKU Public Radio in 2015. She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.
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