by Kirk Kramer
Fr. de Feydeau was the “sub-prior” of the Benedictine community – second in command, the faithful lieutenant of the monastery’s prior, or head man in charge, Father Philip Anderson. After suffering from cancer for six months, Fr. de Feydeau died at the monastery on Nov. 15. He was the first monk to die there.
Cathy Costello of Edmond has been a friend of the Clear Creek monks for many years. She described Fr. de Feydeau’s feelings about his home in Cherokee County, and the community here he belonged to.
“When Fr. de Feydeau was diagnosed with cancer, Fr. Anderson asked him if he wanted to go back to France to the monastery there,” said Mrs. Costello. “He told Fr. Anderson he was already with his family, and wanted to die at Clear Creek with them.
“Fr. de Feydeau was the first monk to see Clear Creek,” Mrs. Costello said, referring to the fact that he headed the small advance guard who arrived a month before most of the monks. “And he is the first Clear Creek monk to see heaven.”
Fr. de Feydeau wore several hats at Clear Creek. Besides serving as sub-prior, he also held the job of “cellarer,” or the monk in charge of business matters. Before becoming a monk, he had been an officer in the French Navy. He also was in charge of the studies of the young monks preparing to become priests (the original band of 13 has grown to nearly 40). And he was closely involved in the design and construction of the new buildings that are rising on the monastery land, adjacent to Fort Gibson Lake north of Hulbert.
Dan Doyle of Tulsa, the son of the former owner of the 1200-acre property now owned by the monks, has for several years been the organizer of an annual work day at the monastery, when as many as 400 volunteers, Catholic and Protestant, from Oklahoma and elsewhere, have gathered to help the monks clear brush and build fences and cut timber and do some of the other chores required to maintain a large farming and ranching operation (the monks try to be self-sustaining as much as possible). Mr. Doyle worked closely with Fr. de Feydeau during the work days and on other occasions.
“My image is of Fr. de Feydeau in the monk robe with most of it trailing behind because of his constant forward momentum,” said Mr. Doyle. “The only time it would fall evenly was as he was preparing to step into the Bobcat, put on his mouse ear protectors and begin his self-imposed 43 minute time allotment to work on the mill or the cloister wall or whatever priority he had determined for the day between all the other tasks he performed. He would get on the Bobcat – pushing, pulling, lifting and digging – making a little progress every day, sticking on task over months to accomplish his vision. The work on the Bobcat was the most tangible representation of what he was doing for the monastery, supporting the abbot, the ceremony and the other monks.”
Mr. Doyle was impressed by de Feydeau’s decision to be buried in Oklahoma.
“I always thought he would go back to France to be an abbot in his home country,” Mr. Doyle said. “It would have been hard for me to leave for another country not knowing if I would ever come back. Being buried here versus France is a huge commitment. Not that he would be proud, not that it would be a sacrifice in his mind, but the duty to be the first of the monks to be buried at the monastery is symbolic of his dedication.”
Thomas Gordon Smith, a professor of architecture at Notre Dame University, also worked closely with de Feydeau over the last several years. Fr. de Feydeau had a profound influence on Mr. Smith’s design for the new church and monastery at Clear Creek, an influence based on Fr. de Feydeau’s deep knowledge of the distinctively monastic styles of architecture employed in Europe during the Middle Ages. Mr. Smith himself is a leader in the renaissance of traditional approaches to architecture, of which Notre Dame is a center.
“Father de Feydeau was insistent that the model for the new monastery at Clear Creek be the distinctive Cistercian branch, a severe and geometrical version of the Romanesque style,” said Mr. Smith. “I was prejudiced against Cistercian building because it was promoted by the influential modernist architect Le Corbusier. Fr. de Feydeau, on the other hand, saw that Cistercian could represent a radical return to basic Benedictine principles today, because the 12th-century development of the style emanated from spiritual and disciplinary reform. Fr. de Feydeau’s insight caused me to convert my resistance to understanding. He helped me to make Cistercian the prime font for Clear Creek Monastery’s architectural design.
“It is extremely rare in today’s Catholic Church for leaders like Fr. Anderson and the late Fr. de Feydeau to be acutely aware that architectural expression can reflect the deep renaissance occuring at Fontgombault and Clear Creek.”
While Fr. de Feydeau had a connoisseur’ s knowledge of mediaeval architecture, he was also fascinated by the history and culture of his adopted home in Cherokee County. In 1999, a few months before Fr. de Feydeau and his fellow monks left France, friends here sent them a history of Tahlequah. Fr. de Feydeau delighted to tell the story of how the town acquired its name, when a Cherokee chief uttered the word to express his approval of the site. In his inimitable French accent, Fr. de Feydeau would give the English translation of the word Tahlequah: “It’ll do.” He also would tell the alternative version of the story, which ends with the phrase, “Two is enough.”
Fr. de Feydeau was an accomplished artist. As an officer in the French Navy, he served on a battleship, the “Jeanne d’Arc,” that sailed around the world. Fr. de Feydeau planned to take his own personal camera on the cruise, but it was stolen just before the ship left. So instead of taking pictures on the trip, he made drawings of the sights he saw at the various ports of call.
Friends have suggested that an exhibit of his drawings should appear in a gallery at the Gilcrease Museum or Northeastern State University in Tahlequah or elsewhere.
Cathy Costello recalled Fr. de Feydeau’s teaching during a class on painting – or in the phrase of the Christian East, “writing” – icons.
“My daughter Anna Marie and I had the good fortune to write an icon with him.
Fr. de Fedeau would move into the room like an angel flying. He sat next to me, would look at what I was doing, then take a tiny drop of paint and begin to do more with that drop of paint in five minutes than I did with a quarter cup in five hours! Then the bell would ring for the divine office and he would fly out as quickly as he had arrived. ”
Lyle Cooney-Pead, an Australian visitor staying in the monastery guesthouse recently, spoke of the life of prayer and contemplation led by de Feydeau and his brother monks.
“They offer their lives as a witness to the fact that God exists and that he loves us and has sent his son to save us,” said Mr. Cooney-Pead. “Their whole life is a testimony, a sign-post reminding us the real purpose of our existence, which is to glorify God in this life and forever in heaven.”
In remarks addressed to a funeral congregation of 200 last Tuesday, Fr. Anderson, the head of the monastery, echoed those thoughts.
“As we prepare to commit the mortal remains of a beloved monk to the earth, we do well not to forget the luminous path traced by so many saints who have illumined the world and transfigured the experience of death,” said Fr. Anderson in his sermon. “Above all we must not forget what Our Lord said about the need for the grain of wheat to die, in order that it not remain sterile but produce much fruit. If we cannot help feeling the bitter grief of seeing a father and brother stolen away from the visible plane of our existence, we must not act like the pagans of yesterday and today, who live without real love in this world and without hope for the next.”
Cathy Costello was among the congregation at de Feydeau’s funeral.
“The funeral was so beautiful and simple,” she said. “The monks built him a simple box out of beautiful cedar found on their property. His open casket was set on the floor of the sanctuary, between the choir stalls of the monks, surrounded by six candles. At the end of the mass, with the monks chanting the ‘In paradisum,’ they slowly picked up the open casket, placing it on the shoulders of six monks and we all walked out to the grave. It was so beautiful watching this family carry their French brother. They set him on the ground, and after more incense, holy water and prayers, placed the wooden lid on top of the coffin. They lowered his body in the ground with ropes, and every member of the monastery and the lay community looked into the ground and blessed his casket with holy water. Some monks were crying. It was cloudy, and damp, and bitterly cold. Somehow it seemed fitting.”
The monks have a website: http://www.clearcreekmonks .org, which includes a section of photographs of their life. Mass is celebrated daily at 10 a.m. Other services are held, seven times in the day and once in the night. Their worship is open to the public – everyone is welcome to attend the services, sung in Latin and Gregorian chant.
Sunset View from the Monastery