Sydney body-boarder takes vows as Benedictine monk

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Br Cassian Maria Aylward has swapped the surf of Manly for an Irish Monastery. PHOTO: Pawel Kula

A 28-year-old body-boarder from Sydney, who loved spending time in the Australian sun and surf, recently pronounced his first vows as a Benedictine monk, at Silverstream Priory in County Meath, Ireland.

Brother Cassian Maria Aylward made his first profession on 13 January, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, during Mass in the Oratory of the Priory. The vows, which are binding for three years, promise “Stability, conversion of manners, and obedience, as set forth in the Rule of Saint Benedict.”

Br Cassian, who was born at Mona Vale hospital and grew up in Beacon Hill on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, says he first thought about a religious vocation after a priest suggested it to him.

“While I was praying in church one day, after the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, a very kind and holy priest said to me, ‘You’re monk material.’ At that stage I was already open to the possibility of a vocation to the religious life in some capacity,” Br Cassian told The Catholic Weekly.

Br Cassian (far right) with fellow monks on the day of his Profession. PHOTO: Pawel Kula

Formerly a primary school teacher in Sydney, Br Cassian is a graduate of St Paul’s Catholic College in Manly and he obtained a degree in education from Notre Dame University, Sydney. He entered monastic life in 2016. On the day of his clothing as a novice he was given the religious name of Br Cassian, after St John Cassian.

The son of Paul and Diane Aylward, and brother of Matthew and Luke, Br Cassian is also the great-grandson of Dr Frank J. H. Letters, a noted Australian classicist, Catholic apologist, poet and Papal Knight.

“My family were, and still are, very supportive of my decision to enter the monastery. The same can be said for my friends,” Br Cassian said.

Br Cassian grew up in Beacon Hill on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. PHOTO: Pawel Kula

Dom Mark Kirby OSB, Conventual Prior, received Br Cassian’s first profession of vows at the Priory located in the quaint Irish village of Stamullen.

In his homily Dom Kirby asked the young man,

“Why did you leave your father and your mother, and your brothers Matt and Luke, and your dear grandparents, and all your mates in Australia? Why did you leave the sunshine and sparkling waves of the beaches of Sydney for this darkling east coast of Ireland?”

“You did it because, like John the Baptist in today’s Gospel, you saw Jesus coming towards you.”

Dom Kirby concluded his homily with a world of advice for Br Cassian:

“Should anyone, intrigued, or bewildered, or fascinated by the choice you have made, ask you why you became a monk, give them the only answer possible, the one answer intelligible, even to the littlest souls: ‘I saw Jesus coming towards me’.”

Br Cassian (far left) from Sydney’s Northern Beaches took his first vows as a Benedictine monk on 13 January 2018 at Silverstream Priory in County Meath, Ireland. PHOTO: Pawel Kula

Br Cassian said he takes great inspiration from French Carmelite nun, St Thérèse of Lisieux, who lived what he describes as “the fruitfulness of the hidden life.”

“She is arguably one of the greatest missionaries of the Church, and yet she never left the cloister!” Br Cassian said.

Indicating that the fruits of monastic life far outweigh the sacrifices, he said that “both the means and the end of the spiritual life in general, and the monastic life in particular” is to “belong entirely to Christ, to live for Him and by Him.”

“For Christ to be our life, we must, like St Paul, die daily. This can be very painful, but is also beautiful and desirable, because it unites us to God, who is an eternal and inexhaustible treasure.”

Br Cassian is currently serving as the Priory’s guestmaster, a traditional monastic role, making him responsible for welcoming and attending to the needs of any guests staying at the Priory.