Father Cuthbert, O.S.B., class of 2002 and newly ordained priest, didn’t have the most auspicious start at Priory. “I spilled tomato soup on myself at my lunch interview with Mr. Guilliams,” he laughed. “It was a little awkward.” The soup didn’t stop him, though. He was admitted to Priory in 1996.
Before settling in St. Louis, the Elliott family moved around. His father worked in marketing at General Motors, and his mother worked in real estate for a Fortune 500 company; both of those jobs necessitated many moves when their only child was very young. Born in Philadelphia, Father Cuthbert moved first to southern California and then to Chicago. He came to St. Louis in 1993, the summer before his 4th grade year and the summer of the Great Flood. “My first view of St. Louis was that it was partially submerged,” he said. He enrolled at Wilson School, and in 6th grade a comment by his teacher set Father Cuthbert down a different path. “The first time I heard the word ‘Catholic’ was when my 6th grade teacher asked the class if anyone was applying to Priory, and if anyone was Catholic,” he said. The Elliotts arranged for their son to visit Priory and Chaminade, and the experience at each school made his decision easy. “It was total chaos the day I visited Chaminade, and it just wasn’t appealing to me. Then I went to Priory and had a great experience. Three of us from Wilson School ended up here, which was nice,” he said.
Like many Priory students, Father Cuthbert focused on his grades over extracurriculars. “I ran cross country without distinction, eventually becoming a manager of the team. Mr. Gleich still says that I was one of the best-dressed managers,” he said. He also participated in track and field, “My event was the 1600 meter, which I also ran without distinction.” Father Cuthbert acted in each winter play, and starred as Applegate in Priory’s first musical, Damn Yankees, which is being reprised this year. You’ll have to buy a ticket to find out if he’s making an appearance on the stage again.
He converted to Catholicism at the age of 16, led to the Church by the monks of Saint Louis Abbey. “I was on a school trip with Mrs. Raley, Father Bede and another monk in England in 2000. We split into two groups, and half of us followed the footsteps of Saint Cuthbert. We went to the island where he was a hermit, and I had a mystical experience of God. I decided then that I wanted to be a Catholic. A year later, after many conversations about Catholicism with Fathers Bede and Ambrose and other monks, I was brought into the Church.” His family, although not all Catholic, were understanding and supportive.
During his six years at Priory, Father Cuthbert started to feel a call to the monastic life. “By the time I graduated, I knew. I wrestled with entering the monastery immediately, but decided to go away to college to be sure,” he said. He headed to Holy Cross in Massachusetts, where he “learned a lot, made friends, and enjoyed being in New England. In my personal legend, I always think of myself as an east coaster even though I only lived there for five years,” he laughed. He studied classics and theater, earning a double major only after twisting the dean’s arm to let him study both. He acted and directed, running the only student theater company on campus.
By the time he graduated, he absolutely knew what to do next.
He headed straight back to Saint Louis Abbey, entering in July and taking his simple vows a year later. He served as kitchen master for three years, taught freshman theology part-time in the School for two, and studied philosophy for two years at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. His favorite monastic duty is reading at meals. At dinner each evening, when the community eats together, one monk reads aloud from a book selected by the abbot. The community cycles through different types of books, focusing on spiritual material during Advent, Lent, Christmas, and Easter. At other times, history books are usually favored because they tend to be easier to follow. The community has recently read Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which features Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet. “When we commit to a book, we really commit,” said Father Cuthbert, “because it could take months to get through it!”
Like Father John, his least favorite monastic duty is caller. “I think it’s very important to do, but it requires you to get up early and sacrifice any time you might normally use to shower, have coffee, or enjoy spiritual reading. And you can’t request permission for a late sleep!”
Father Cuthbert has just returned to campus after studying theology at the University of Oxford. While there, he helped organize an undergrad trip to France, showing the students different monasteries. He was the captain of the St. Benet’s Hall Boat Club, claiming, “We were not very successful, but we put on a good effort. They’ve been more successful since I stopped being involved, but I’m sure that’s just correlation and not causation.” Editor’s note to all would-be rowers at Priory: Father Cuthbert said he’s happy to help out should someone want to organize a boat club or crew. While at Oxford, Father Cuthbert visited the Holy Land with other students from the university. Together they visited ancient and biblical sites that are very much mired in current affairs. On his last night there, a riot outside where he was staying involved a car set on fire. “It was a very intense experience,” he said.
Father Cuthbert likes to share these experiences with his current Priory students. For instance, during his undergraduate studies, he toyed with the idea of becoming an archeologist. In the summer of 2004, he excavated part of the ancient city of Pompeii as a member of the Anglo-American Project in Pompeii, sponsored by the University of Bradford in England. “We had a fun, international group with an interesting project,” said Father Cuthbert. Its goal was to excavate a section of the city below the currently exposed AD 79 ruins. He spoke about how much information historians and archeologists can get by going deeper. “Our project was to find how the use of urban space had changed over time. In the process we found some really interesting artifacts, like a pair of loaded dice from a bar, and lots of ammunition such as sling bullets and ballista balls. Some of the Ballista balls we found were unusual—they were shaped like footballs rather than soccer balls—and we were able to match them with holes in the city walls that had previously been a mystery. Articles have been written on this find!” Father Cuthbert’s enthusiasm for this work is apparent, and he shares it now with his students at Priory.
He’s currently teaching freshman Church History, one set of freshman Latin, and one set of sophomore Greek and Roman History. “It’s going well,” he said. “I can tell the students, ‘I spent a summer working in Pompeii in 2004, excavating an apartment block.’ I can draw on things people wouldn’t necessarily talk about.”
Given his teaching load and his monastic responsibilities, Father Cuthbert doesn’t have a ton of spare time. “If I had time, I’d read fiction,” he said. “Lately I’ve gotten into spy fiction, but I also like classic 1940s and 1950s hard-boiled detective stories, and I like reading history. I like historical fiction, too.”
He also enjoys running with some of the other monks. “I’m not the fastest runner on the road, but I do like to go running with them when they let me.” He jokes about joining the other monks to play basketball in the gym, too. “By ‘play’ I mean I set a very bad example for people who actually play basketball. Mr. Suarez was in the gym one day coaching students and I imagined him saying, ‘Don’t do what they’re doing.’ It was embarrassing!”
Father Cuthbert likes going to the movies, too, and as a sci-fi fan is excited about the new Star Wars film (although he doesn’t care for the newer Star Wars films to date). He grew up watching the Star Trek – both TOS and Next Gen, for those fans who understand – and says there’s a difference between Trekkers and Trekkies, so ask him when you see him.
He visits National Parks when he can, having hit close to 20 of them so far. His favorite is the Grand Canyon, and he’s hiked the south rim top to bottom and back three times. But next summer he plans to visit Ocean City, Maryland “with a stack of fiction” and his mom. They share a strong connection to the place; she was visiting Father Cuthbert’s grandparents there when she went into labor on the beach. “She made my dad drive all the way back to Philadelphia,” he laughed. The family place on the beach is sadly long gone now, so Father Cuthbert, his mom, and her standard poodle will have to find a new place to stay.
Fun Facts about Father Cuthbert:
- In college, Father Cuthbert won a scholarship from the French government to attend a theater festival in Avignon, making it through the application process and the phone interview all in French. He was the only American in the group, traveling with people from Mexico, Israel, Germany, and the former Soviet Union. The group attended plays, participated in acting workshops, and engaged in conversations facilitated by the French government.
- He once had dinner with the niece of the emperor of Japan; he had been invited to a formal dinner at Oxford “and she was sitting across from her husband who was next to me. She didn’t talk to me, though.”
- One Ash Wednesday when he was at St. Benet’s in Oxford, one of his fellow students brought a guest he was hosting that weekend to Mass. The guest was Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
- While in college he once ate a meal sitting only five feet away from Julie Andrews (who was sitting at another table). “Sometimes I say I had dinner with Julie Andrews. It was a total coincidence that she was there, but it’s fun to say.”
- He is currently researching the Crusades and the historiography of the Crusades, hoping some day to offer an elective for seniors at Priory.
Father Cuthbert is always on the go, so in case you don’t catch him in a class, running with monks, or showing off his mad basketball skills on the court, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 364.