Lawrence Joseph Brownsey, the future Br. Barnabas, was born to Lawrence and Mary Kathleen Brownsey in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 5 January, 1934. The Depression was gripping the country and even when he was old enough to remember, he recalled his mother helping to support the family as a cook to the well to do in the environs of Philadelphia, a job which enabled her bring home on occasion leftovers from the largesse of her employees. He also recalled her as a disciplinarian who maintained high standards for the household chores given to her children. Her devotion to the Catholic Church also bequeathed to her son a love of the ceremonial and practices of his Catholic faith. None of that discipline or devotion dulled his interest in athletics and sports, to the point of dreaming of a future in professional baseball.
However, he chose marriage and a family instead, resorting to more conventional ways of earning a living, teaching in public school and coaching a Little League team. All the while, he battled serious health problems as he would all his life. He had always been a voracious reader and had a taste for classical music and the other arts. I can remember conversations about the artistry of Maria Callas and finely balanced compositions and tonality of Thomas Eakins’ oeuvre in their native Philadelphia. His love of language predisposed him to be a great talker and narrator of anecdotes, memories and cautionary tales; even the Trappist life could not dampen taste for conversation. Trying his hand at other fields, Lawrence was able to indulge his taste for travel and at least flirting with other languages, which provided him with a repertory of tales about time spent in Germany and Japan.
Despite this wide range of activity and experience, satisfaction eluded him most of his adult life and, past middle age, found more and more consolation in his Catholic faith, leading him to wonder about religious life. Of course in the late ‘eighties most institutes of consecrated life were not willing to chance a candidate of such ripe years; but the then vocation director of Holy Cross Abbey and Fr. Mark Delery, then Abbot, encouraged his inquiry. In 1989 at the age of fifty-five he joined the community as a postulant and he took the name of Barnabas in honor of the Apostle who joined their company after the resurrection, a late-comer from Antioch who collaborated with Paul. And so began a new chapter in his life of discernment, accountability and purification and the challenges of community life.
Apart from adjusting to a variety of personalities and opinions very different from his own, in addition to the discipline of obedience and conformity to the common life, this purification also came in the form of responsibilities, drawing upon Barnabas’ life experience. He was involved in the first incarnation of this website (since gone through various revisions), the sales and mail order department of the fruitcakes, truffles and creamed honeys. He is the individual who actually christened our chocolate fruit cake slices Fraters (often pronounced by local customers freighters…) and left his mark on original system of taking orders and shipping parcels. UPS could tell as many intriguing tales of Br. Barnabas as he could tell of UPS. He also served in the Retreat House, ever ready to assist visitors with their needs and, over the years, developing quite an extensive correspondence.
Treatment for his ever fragile health punctuated his life at the Abbey until he realized that he needed the care provided at Carroll Manor on the campus of Providence Hospital in Washington, DC. He certainly maintained his identity and profile as a monk at Carroll Manor and mellowed into an acceptance of where his frail health was taking him. After a heart attack, he died peacefully in Hospice care at Carroll Manor and, no doubt, looks forward to joining his brothers at Holy Cross to await the Resurrection.