Father Chuck Wood – Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter

(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser.  Since this is a long post, if you are seeing it through an e-mail, please visit the blog to see all of the photos by clicking on the title above so the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)

Followers of Thebeerchaser blog know that each quarter, I name an individual or group as my Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.  They may or may not have anything to do with bars or beer; however, the “honoree” has, in my humble opinion, made a contribution to society and a good story I try to convey.  (For the BOQ posts, see the tab on the left side of the header above.)

Dr. John Walker – Portland State University graduate school

As an example, my last group so honored was Lawyers – in light of the 40+ years I worked with these professionals.  Individuals who have garnered this designation include veterans with distinguished military service, authors, athletes, media personalities, civic leaders and academicians including my graduate school professor of public finance – Dr. John Walker.  

The individuals whose stories I related in 2020 include William Tucker (Billy) Main – an outstanding member of the 1967 Oregon State Beaver Giantkiller Football Team and Jack and Jan McGowan – the co-Executive Directors of the outstanding Oregon environmental group SOLVE.

Jan and Jack at their Sisters, OR home

This quarter, Fr. Chuck Wood, joins another man-of-the-cloth, Fr. Martin Grassel (Order of St. Benedictine) in BOQ membership.

Fr. Martin, a Benedictine monk, is also the Head Brewer for the Benedictine Brewery – one of three in the US owned and operated by Benedictine Monks.  I have been privileged to be involved as a volunteer with the Brewery and development of the St. Michael Taproom since late 2017, where our motto is “Taste and Believe” and our flagship beer is Black Habit.

Head Brewer and Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary Procurator, Fr. Martin Grassel

Through involvement with the Brewery, in part, I became a member of the Abbey Foundation of Oregon (AFO) Board of Trustees, which is where I met Fr. Chuck – another member of the Board.  Before telling you Chuck’s story, a few general comments on why I wanted to share it with you.

I’m a Presbyterian, so before becoming involved in the Brewery and the AFO, I had essentially no prior contact with either priests or monks.  Since then – fall of 2017 – I’ve become good friends with both a number of Benedictine Monks who live at the Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary and the priests involved with the Abbey.  (Perhaps the picture below, will show why you should visit the beautiful and expansive grounds on the Abbey Hilltop.)

Without exception, they have been wonderful caring and dedicated men of God.  The monks at the Abbey pray collectively six times a day and rise at 5:00 AM to commence their prayer and duties.  They also have diverse backgrounds, for example, Fr. Martin, graduated from the University of North Dakota in Computer Science and after graduation worked as a software engineer for Honeywell Corp in Phoenix, when he got the call which brought him to Mount Angel.

Abbott Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, grew up on a farm in a small town in Idaho and became the twelfth elected head of the Abbey and Seminary in 2016. Before he was elected Abbot, Fr. Jeremy taught theology at Mount Angel Seminary and at Sant’ Anselmo University in Rome.

Abbot Jeremy Driscoll OSB

He has published three books and fifteen scholarly articles on Evagrius (a Christian monk and ascetic) and related topics in ancient Egyptian monasticism.

He has also written widely on liturgical questions. and published three books of poetry in addition to a recent collection of poetic essays called A Monk’s Alphabet.  (A wonderful book I would strongly recommend.)

The Abbot has a wonderful sense of humor and his humility endears him to all.  To see an example, check out this short video – one of the weekly inspirational messages – this one at Thanksgiving – he has given to those of all faiths during the pandemic: https://www.mountangelabbey.org/monastery/abbot-jeremy/abbot-jeremy-videos/

And with apologies for digressing – again…but I have been amazed at the wonderful  perspective and collective sense of humor all the clerics I have met possess.   While I  talk about this merriment more below, look at a brief preview with Fr. Chuck and two of his colleagues (Fr. Mark Nelson and Fr. Mark Bentz)

This YouTube clip is entitled “Three Priests React to Priest and Church Jokes,” and while some of the jokes are corny, just observing the fun these three priests have doing the bit, is well worth watching. (Click on the center of the photo below)

Father Chuck

Chuck and his dad in Washington DC.

Chuck was born in Washington DC in 1960 into a Catholic family.  His dad was a graphic artist and designer who worked for the Depts. of Agriculture and Labor.  His mom, raised a Baptist, converted to Catholicism and worked as a clinical and hospital nurse at both Howard University and in a private clinic.

The theatre, music and art were all avid interests – “I was a creature of artistic variety and was involved in drama from the time I was in grade school, but our plays were terrible and my talents as an actor were not so good!”  (You’ll have a chance to judge that below…)

His best friend starting in second grade was Vincent Cowal – they kept in contact and in one of a number of amazing “coincidences” in Chuck’s life, Vince now teaches media and technology at Jesuit High School in Portland where he is a respected educator.

Chuck Wood was a good boy growing up – never in trouble, having no curfew, and was interested in going into politics and government – maybe as a diplomat.  He graduated from St. Anselm’s Abbey School – an all boys school for grades 6-12, which was on the grounds of a Benedictine monastery and where “Where Bright Boys Become Exceptional Men.” 

St. Anselm’s Abbey School

A turning point……

Then in his sophomore year “I became bored with being a good boy.”   After a year of somewhat disruptive behavior contrasting with his former demeanor – although not resulting in any major trouble – he had a change of heart because of the influence of a young priest.

Fr. Thomas Kalita came to Chuck’s Catholic parish and helped the young man come to the realization that being a Christian meant not just going to church, but having a personal relationship with Jesus and helping others.

Fr. Kalita – a profound influence

In October 1976 at an evening service, he committed to do that.  “It changed my life.  My life now is a direct line from that day.”   He said that “prayers and circumstance got me to the University of Notre Dame.”

A central factor and one that “became part of my identity” was his introduction to People of Praise.  Founded in 1971 in South Bend, Indiana, this organization has grown into a community of about 1,700 members…. in 22 cities across the US, Canada, and the Caribbean.  To summarize their philosophy:

Jesus desires unity for all people. We live out this unity the best we can, in spite of the divisions within Christianity. We are Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians and other denominational and nondenominational Christians…. Despite our differences, we worship together. While remaining faithful members of our own churches, we have found a way to live our daily lives together.

Our community life is characterized by deep and lasting friendships. We share our lives together often in small groups and in larger prayer meetings……. We strive to live our daily lives in our families, workplaces and cities in harmony with God and with all people.”  (People of Praise webslite)

Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the Notre Dame campus

Chuck became a member of People of Praise  (POP) in the fall of 1978 while a student at Notre Dame and also joined the Brotherhood within POP committed to a celibate life.

He studied economics and government and was a “bad actor” in a number of University productions and “hung around with artsy friends.”   During this time his interest in journalism was heightened by writing articles for the school newspaper and serving as editor of the student magazine.

Preparing for life after graduation, he applied and was rejected for several jobs including a nationally known Catholic publisher, but a priest told him about an internship at the Catholic News Service in Washington, DC. and through the help of a Catholic bishop, he secured an interview in his senior year.

When the six-month internship ended, he was hired as a reporter – a job he loved and at age 24, he thought would be a great lifetime career. Moving back to South Bend, he took a job at a small publishing company.  Although Chuck was firmly committed to People of Praise, he had not seriously considered the Catholic priesthood.

Looking back, when he was about eleven, his Aunt Leona – a protestant – commented to Chuck’s mom, “He will probably be a priest.”   After he was ordained his sister stated,  “Chuck was probably the last person in our family to know that!”

Cardinal Francis George – another strong influence in Chuck Wood’s spiritual journey

Chuck stated, “God nudged and prodded me to be open to the possibility.”   And part of that “prodding” was moving to Portland in 1996 after driving across the country in two vans with ten other Brothers from the People of Praise living in communities in South Bend and Minneapolis.

This was, in part, at the urging of Yakima Archbishop Francis George who would soon be appointed as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Portland and who was eventually created a Catholic Cardinal in Chicago by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

This move was a matter of faith as he was finishing his Masters in Theology at Notre Dame.  Three of the ten new Oregonians decided to attend seminary at Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary near Salem, Oregon – a Benedictine community.  Two started in the fall of 1996 and Chuck joined them in January.

“I attended high school on the grounds of a Benedictine Monastery and felt very comfortable in this environment,” he stated.  “I became immersed in the Benedictine tradition and love the intellect and culture.”

Mt. Angel Abbey Seminarians

Upon graduation in 2000, he was ordained a priest and his first assignment was at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in North Portland.  For two years at that assignment,  he and a colleague also co-pastored at Sacred Heart Church in SE Portland.

It also brought some special assignments with a Brother from POP in Minnesota involving teaching at a secondary school. He then returned to his long-term home in Oregon, where Fr. Chuck has served in a number of parish posts all in the Portland metropolitan area as follows:

2004 – 2010:  St. Henry’s Catholic Church in Gresham as Associate Pastor

2010 – 2012:  St. Clare Parish in SW Portland as Pastor

St. Clare Catholic Church

2012 – -2016: Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego as Associate Pastor

Now lest you think that Fr. Wood’s attachment to the arts diminished in his ministry and restrained him from showing his talents, take a look at this video below.

It shows him and Fr. John Kerns, the Pastor, rocking out and their “inspired” dance moves to the cheers of their congregation at Our Lady of the Lake’s 2014 Parish Festival.  (This one should make you laugh out loud….!)  And if you search YouTube, you can find more of Chuck’s artistic endeavors including a Gilbert and Sullivan entry. (Click on the center of the photo below)

2016 to present: St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church in Scapoose ( 20 miles from Portland) as Pastor

The beautiful sanctuary of St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church

St. Wenceslaus is a parish of about 275-300 households. They are fortunate to have a pastor with the faith, dedication, intellect, sense of humor and dance moves of Fr. Chuck Wood.

Since this is a blog about bars and beers, I ended my interview (unfortunately we could not meet face-to-face in a bar or brewery) asking Fr. Chuck about his beer-of-choice to which he replied:

“Because of pre-diabetes, blood sugar issues, I had to cut back on beer intake.  When I do drink beer, I like darker brews – stouts and porters such as Benedictine Brewery’s ‘Black Habit(an obvious choice) – and Hopworks Urban Brewing – ‘Survival – 7 Grain Stout.'”

In light of Fr. Chuck’s fondness for corny jokes, after I saw the video about the three priests, I sent him this bar joke – perhaps he will use it in the future….

A little variation with a computer reference..

“A priest, a minister and a rabbit walk into a bar and the rabbit says, “I think I may be a typo….” 

And finally, because I couldn’t resist, I leave you with just one more YouTube example.  Fr. Chuck sent this 2020 production to the Monastic Community, the AFO Board and the Abbey Staff by e-mail after Easter.

After a few months of the pandemic and lockdowns, people were looking for something light-hearted and positive and he accomplished that goal. He prefaced it with the following comment:

“While it’s still the Easter Season for a couple more days, I invite you all to take a look at an Easter video I put together. Just short of 6 minutes, it’s a spin on Pharrell Williams’ song, ‘Happy,’ from the 2013 movie, “Despicable Me 2.’ Pardon me if my ego is showing, but I’d be honored if you’d care to take a look.  Happy Easter!”

The reaction as you might expect was effusive and generated numerous thankful e-mail responses.  God bless you Fr. Chuck.  You are truly a Soul Man!  (Click on the center of the photo below)

Taste and Believe!


The history of beer is as robust as an imperial stout and has religious roots.  These generally date back to the sixth century when the monks at the Benedictine Brewery in Monte Cassino started brewing beer in the monastery founded by Benedict of Nursia.  Saint Benedict is also the originator of the Rule of St. Benedict.

Benedict of Nursia

As stated in a Jesuit Press article entitled  How Monks Revolutionized Beer and Evangelization,: 

“If you love beer, thank a monk.  Monks have been producing beer for 1,500 years, and in that time, they have revolutionized and perfected the beer making process.”

The Benedictine saints Bonifatius, Gregorius the Great, Adelbertus of Egmond and priest Jeroen van Noordwijk (Circa 1529-30)

Well, after more than five years of planning, constructing, training and testing,  Oregonians now have an opportunity to reap the fruits of that legacy in their own backyard.

The Benedictine Brewery is now brewing on site across from the hop fields on Mount Angel Abbey property in the City of Mt. Angel .

Abbot Jeremy Driscoll

The Brewery and the St. Michael Taproom were blessed by Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, in an inspirational ceremony on the afternoon of August 8th attended by monks, priests, seminarians, Abbey Hilltop employees and special guests.

Abbot Jeremy, an Idaho native was professed a monk in 1974, ordained as a priest in 1981 and elected the 12th Abbot of the Abbey in 2016.  The Abbey Monastery was founded in 1882 and the Seminary in 1889.

The ceremony commenced with Fr. Martin Grassel, OSB, who will be the General Manager of the Brewery and whose vision was the motivating force stated:

“Father Abbot, we ask a blessing on this building constructed for brewing beer, so we may live by the work of our hands bringing forth from nature and art, a drink we pray, will gladden hearts, bring friends together and lend them to the thankful praise of God.”

Abbot Jeremy and Fr. Martin at the Blessing Ceremony

The Timber Raising

Although planning for the Brewery commenced over five years ago and the monks have been brewing on a contract basis with Seven Brides Brewing of Silverton, the primary construction phase was marked by an old-fashioned barn or timber-raising last November. On that cloudy day, over one-hundred monks, seminarians and members of the Mt. Angel community gathered in the early morning.  

What began the day as a foundation and concrete pad ended up as a structural fame with six bents (two-dimensional transverse rigid frames and the building blocks that define the overall shape of a structure) using 14,000 board feet of Douglas Fir timber harvested from the Abbey tree farm.

To see pictures, video and read about that event see Thebeerchaser post:

https://thebeerchaser.com/2017/11/21/the-benedictine-brewery-beam-me-up/

The following video is one example of those shown in the aforementioned post.

 

The first prayer ceremony in the brewery.

Workers broke at noon for the first prayer service in the brewery, rather than the standard service in the beautiful Abbey Chapel.

Fr. Vincent Trujillo, OSB, led the service – which was “uplifting”– very consistent with the theme that day! The monks sang and were joined by the other participants.

Scrumptuous even without pigs stomarch…

We were rejuvenated by a delicious spread of barbecued chicken, baked beans, potato salad, fruit and green salad.  Missing from the traditional feast of historic barn raising in Amish and Mennonite communities was the standard main course – pig stomach!

What a wonderful collaborative effort that day.

 

Who Should Come to the Brewery and Taproom and Why?

With over 260 breweries in Oregon, most with taprooms, why should you visit the Benedictine?  That question is answered more thoroughly below, but one reason is that it is one of only three in the US in which monks are the owners and operators of the brewery. You have to travel to the wild Chama Canyon near Abiquiu, New Mexico for the closest to Mount Angel Abbey – that of Christ in the Desert Monastery.

Fr. Martin Grassel –

Fr. Martin as General Manager and Fr. Jacob Stronach, the Head Brewer will be guiding other monks who will assist in the brewing, bottling and maintenance of the equipment.  The beer will use locally sourced hops grown on Abbey land and water from the monks’ well.

Fr. Jacob briefing his colleagues on the brewing process

Fr. Martin is a University of North Dakota graduate in Computer Science who started his career in Phoenix as a software engineer for Honeywell Corporation before he got the call and made the trip to Mount Angel for seminary in 1995.

“Once I stepped across the threshold at Mount Angel, I knew I was home,”   His fascinating story can be viewed at

https://thebeerchaser.com/2017/07/26/father-martin-grassel-beerchaser-of-the-quarter/

The Environment

The brewery and taproom are in rural setting at the lower edge of the Abbey grounds and across from the hop fields.  A friend who is a noted NW architect and saw pictures of the taproom interior (not quite finished) and external shell responded with the following comment:

“The building looks splendid – adhering to the Benedictine principle of elegance through simplicity.  What a splendid project with which to be engaged – one in which rewards will precede heaven.”

Taproom as it nears completion

The interior of the taproom has a great Northwest ambiance – attractive wooden beams, community tables and benches.  There is a patio on the south end with picnic tables looking over the hop fields with the imposing steeple of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in downtown Mt. Angel in the background.

The magnificent steeple of St. Mary’s Catholic Church

And only a mile away, the Abbey Hilltop, overlooking Marion County farmland has an inspiring campus with the splendid chapel as the focus,

 

Besides the Chapel, there is a bookstore, museum which integrates art with natural history, a retreat center (guest house), seminary classrooms and dorms and a noted library:

“Housed in a world-renowned building …..the Mount Angel Abbey Library provides …. access to a large collection of books and other library material in a wide range of subjects including medieval manuscripts and rare materials from the Civil War.” (Abbey web site)

Library mezzanine

 

 

 

 

“It is one of only two buildings in the United States (the other is at MIT) designed by Alvar Aalto – one of the early giants of modern architecture. Completed in 1970, the library received the 2014 World Monuments Fund Award. Recently, Oregon architects voted it the second most iconic building in the state, after Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood.”  (Mount Angel Letter – Summer 2018)

The People

You and your family (including children) will find when you visit both the St. Michael Taproom and the Hilltop, that the Abbey Community including monks, seminarians and employees are a diverse, interesting and hospitable group.   And the people in the City of Mt. Angel are enthusiastic about this project and we expect them to be regular visitors to the taproom.

The Glockenspiel Restaurant will provide the food at the taproom ranging from chili, to pretzels to fondue and cheeses. As Fr. Martin said, “With Oktoberfest and a German heritage, this is a beer-loving town.”  (The St. Michael Taproom will be open to the public during Mt. Angel Oktoberfest, September 13 to 16, for tastings and tours and the Grand Opening will be September 22-3.)

The Mt. Angel Octoberfest Board at a Taproom preview event on the patio.

Br. Andre Love

The monks have come to the Monastery from all over the world with amazing backgrounds.   We already talked about Fr. Martin, but meet Br. Andre Love who is standing by the sign that he made which will hang on the outside of the brewery.

He is the Curator of the Abbey Museum, an artist who once owned a tattoo parlor and a talented designer who was a key figure in designing the Taproom.

Or you might raise a mug with Br. Bede Ramos who hails from the Philippines and  had a background in international human resources before he came to the Seminary.

Br. Bede with a bottle of Black Habit

And if you want to hear a marvelous southern drawl, just order a mug from the new Taproom Manager, Jennie Baxley, a Texas native who just drove across the country in her move from North Carolina to launch St. Michael.

She has a background in education and the hospitality industry and is shown in the picture below with Fr. Liem who is originally from Viet Nam – a monk for twenty-nine years.

The Beer

Initially, the number of beers will be limited to a certain extent as the Brewery ramps up production.  Taps will feature Belgian beers with NW hops including Black Habit – a smooth dark beer which has received an enthusiastic reception fom the brewing community and beer lovers. 

In addition, St. Benedict Farmhouse Ale and Haustus Pale Ale and Fr. Martin’s Helles Lager are some of the beers in the tap list still under development.  Cider (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and wine and root beer from Mount Angel will also be served.

The beer will be crafted in the brewing tradition that recognizes Saint Arnold of Metz, a Benedictine Monk who is known as the “Patron Saint of Brewers.”

“In medieval times, beer was an essential, as many places did not have access to clean drinking water. Arnold gladly brewed the beer for the local peasants and encouraged them to drink it instead of water”

St. Arnold of Soissons – Patron Saint…

He once said, “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.”

The People!!

This factor is worth restating as it will differentiate the Benedictine Brewery from others and also begs the question:

Is this a taproom where one has to be Catholic or have a religious bent to enjoy it and feel welcome.   Let’s look at the Brewery Guiding Principles authored by Fr. Martin:

“To say it should be a place of hospitality and welcome and family-friendliness would be too shallow. It should be a place where people are more than just welcome.

A place where they will feel blessed, where they will feel the peace of the Abbey, where they will encounter faith in an inviting and non-threatening way, where they will want to come back because of the spiritual atmosphere.” 

So how is that “blessing” imparted?  Fr. Martin goes on to state it is the feeling one will encounter there and leave with as exemplified: 

“By the greeting you receive.  The respect people are shown, the simplicity and the values encountered.  The presence of monks, priests and seminarians.  The peace of the Hilltop.  

The contemplative view of the hop fields.  The blessing of the taproom when it opens daily.  Having your personal items blessed if you make that request.”

You might even meet Abbey Jeremy, shown in the picture below toasting with Br. Anselm, from Bakersfield, California, who is one of four novices who one year ago made their simple vows (stability, conversion of life and obedience – essentially becoming junior monks).

And consider having Abbot Jeremy autograph one of the books he has written including The Monks Alphabet  – my absolute favorite and a wonderful read.

It’s a series of short essays with the Abbot’s own reflections on topics ranging from serious theology including his years spent teaching in Rome, to thoughts on literature to keenly observed moments in nature, to his unique experiences as a youngster.

The latter includes his adventures when he was nineteen – he and three friends had jobs as cowboys in New Mexico.  Fortunately, by then he had learned some lessons in life including how to avoid accidents:  “When I was five-years old, my brother and I burned our garage down.  It was a big accident.” 

So this fall, if you are taking a trip to nearby Silver Falls State Park, the Oregon Garden or just want to have an interesting and peaceful afternoon on the Abbey Hilltop, “tap” off your trip with a tour of the Benedictine Brewery and have a glass of Black Habit or one of the other Benedictine Beers.

Whether you meet Taproom Manager, Jennie Baxley, Fr. Martin, a resident of the Mt. Angel community, Br. Bede or someone who has traveled from Sacramento to see the wonders of Oregon, you will enjoy the fellowship and the beer.

(The video below is the Hilltop on the day of the St. Benedict Festival in July)