At 100, Trappist monk keeps eyes on God

For most of his life, the Rev. Luke Kot has lived by a centuries-old motto -- ora et labora.

Pray and work.

Well before light creeps over the pine trees surrounding the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, the white-haired Kot begins to pray. He will pray and work throughout the day until he closes his eyes at night.

Kot is the last surviving member of a group of 21 Trappist monks who traveled from Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky in 1944 to a remote area of Georgia to establish a monastery.

Recently, friends and relatives gathered on the grounds of the monastery to help Kot celebrate his 100th birthday. Kot credits his longevity to hard work and his faith in God.

"See, death didn't touch me," Kot said during a recent interview. "I told the Lord I want to serve you, love you, be a good Christian and help others be good Christians."

His energy level belies his age, and he's made few concessions to Father Time. When a nurse wanted him to use a wheelchair, he nixed the idea. He also resisted using a walker until recently.

He spends his time following a daily ritual and also answering his mail, making small repairs around the monastery and cleaning his room.

"Not that many people live to be 100," said the Rev. Methodius Telnack, who also lives at the monastery. "I told him anybody can do 100 these days, we're going to celebrate his 105th birthday."

Kot was working as a self-taught tailor at the monastery when Telnack first came to Conyers. "He's amazing and very energetic," Telnack said. "He's so joyful."

In 67 years, Kot's feet have rarely left Georgia soil. There was a trip to California, where he met screen legend Jean Harlow. Another time Kot, who learned how to drive when he was 54,  helped another monk deliver stained glass to Florida.

The celebration of Kot's century of life comes just as the monastery is undergoing changes. The original barn, which still stands on the 2,300-acre property, is now part of a newly completed $7 million Monastic Heritage Center, which includes a shop, cafe and interactive visitors center. Visitors can view a 20-minute film that gives a history of the monastery and tour the renovated barn. It includes a replica of a monk's "cell" -- or living quarters -- with its straw mattress and pillow.

Nearby is a green cemetery, which is open to all. The monastery, which is home to 40 monks, is known for its bonsai plants and stained glass, both of which generate revenue.

The son of Polish immigrants, Kot grew up in a devout Catholic household, the only son among three daughters. He was born in Montana, but when he was young his family moved to Niagara Falls, N.Y., to escape the harsh winters.

His father, who was uneducated and couldn't read, worked a number of jobs, including carpentry, metal work and working on trains. His mother was a midwife and took care of the sick.

At 14, Kot decided he wanted to spend his life with a religious order, but he didn't want to move to Europe to do so. He made a promise to God that if he found a monastic home in the United States, he would never leave. After working several years in a factory (Kot said he wanted to work so people wouldn't think he joined the monastery because he was lazy.), he joined the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, which is commonly known as the Trappists.

"Some people think when you go to a monastery, you're wasting your time," he said. "I say, ‘I'm wasting it on God.' Then they shut up. They can't say a word because God is love. When God calls you to the religious life, you give your life for others. Monks pray for people, and they help the poor. We pray for the world -- no exceptions."

He lived in the monastery in Kentucky until the order, which once lived under a strict vow of silence, decided to start a monastery in Georgia. Kot remembers those days. There was little on the land, formerly known as Honey Creek Farm, just a huge field, a couple of sheds, a tractor and a barn. For several months, the monks lived in the barn. The upper level was used for the monastery, chapel and living quarters. The livestock lived below.

Their Protestant neighbors were suspicious of the strange-dressing newcomers. It was also a time when there was strong anti-Catholic sentiment in parts of the country.

Things turned around, however, when someone donated a fire engine to the monastery. Although it was intended for the monastery, the monks used it to put out fires throughout the area and thereby endeared themselves to the community.

Kot said there was one Catholic family in Rockdale County at the time. Today, according to the Archdiocese of Atlanta, there are 1,884 families registered at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Conyers.

Kot is "typical of a true monk," said Dewey Weiss Kramer, author of "Open to the Spirit: Tradition and Continuity at Holy Spirit Monastery." "Rather than someone who is dour, he is someone who just relishes life. He will say it was hard but it was great."

Kot said he has no regrets about his life.

"I'll never leave," he said. "That's why I've lived so long. ... I live by faith, and God never deceives you. That's the eternal truth."

If  you visit:

Monastery of the Holy Spirit

2625 Ga. 212 S.W.

Conyers, Georgia 30094

A day in the life of a monk

A monk's life is devoted to God and helping others. That means prayer, work and more prayer. Here is a monk's typical day, according to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit's website:

  • 4 a.m. -- vigils (watching in the night)
  • 5:15-7 a.m. -- Lectio Divina (contemplative prayer) and breakfast
  • 7 a.m. -- Lauds (morning prayer)
  • 7:30 a.m. -- Conventual Mass
  • 8:15-9:15 a.m. -- interval for reading/prayer
  • 9:20 a.m. -- Tierce (midmorning prayer)
  • 9:30 a.m.-noon -- manual labor
  • 12:15-1 p.m. -- Sext (midday prayer)
  • 1-2:15 p.m. -- optional siesta (rest)
  • 2:20 p.m. -- None (midafternoon prayer)
  • 2:30-4:30 p.m. -- manual labor
  • 4:30-5:20 p.m. -- interval
  • 5:20-5:50 p.m. -- Vespers (evening prayer)
  • 5:50-6:10 p.m. -- community meditation
  • 6:30-8:15 p.m. -- dinner, interval for community gatherings
  • 7:30-7:45 p.m. -- Compline (night prayer), retire