Young Novice Finds His Way to the Hive


Photo courtesy of Newark Abbey

Br. Robert Islas is received into the novitiate during a Rite of Reception into Novitiate on Wed., Oct. 16 at Newark Abbey.

Geovanni Lopez and Giuseppe Loicoano, Staff Writers

Not many teenagers in the world know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. However, this is not the case for Benedictine Novice Br. Robert Islas. “Since I was three years old, I wanted to become a priest,” he said.

Br. Robert comes from a hardworking, struggling family of seven. His father was a truck driver and his mother cleaned stores in the area where he grew up in Jalisco, Mexico. By age three, Br. Robert already knew that the religious life was meant for him. “I used to pretend to have Mass with my sisters all the time,” he said. 

Br. Robert began his journey to becoming a monk while at a seminary in Mexico at the age of 15. He spent three years there before moving to Santa Ana, California, with his family. He explored monasteries in Mexico and California as potential sites for his vocation, but they made him feel lonely and restricted. He then moved to California with his family where he still felt a sense of emptiness in his heart. 

Doors opened when he met Newark Abbey monk Br. Asiel Rodriguez, O.S.B., through Facebook. At first he was reluctant to come to Newark as he had no family in the area. However, this changed after he had the realization that he and his family were going to be fine. He came to visit St. Benedict’s Prep for the first time in February of 2019. He immediately felt part of a community and fell in love with the people. Several signs he interpreted as being divine gave him great confidence. Once, after he just arrived at Newark Abbey, Fr. Albert Holtz, O.S.B., sang a song, “Pescador de hombres,” which had a meaning of God seeking new men to be with him. Also, while Br. Robert was reading a book on an airplane to the U.S., a quote jumped out at him. “The Lord says,” it read, “don’t be afraid. I have everything planned out for you.” These signs helped clarify his thinking.

“God calls you for a special place,” Br. Robert said. The strong sense of community at Benedict’s and these signs made it simple for Br. Robert to make his decision to stay at Newark Abbey. It was clear to him that God wanted him there. 

In joining the Benedictine Abbey of Newark, Br. Robert, at the tender age of 19, becoming the youngest member of the community. While he acknowledges he has much to learn, he views his age, in some ways, as an advantage.  “I feel good and happy because I understand you since I am very close to your age,” he said. 

Zahir Cenesca
Br. Robert Islas, a new novice at Newark Abbey, fields a question from Giuseppe Loicaono UDII during a visit to a journalism class in the Publications Room.

At St. Benedict’s, Br. Robert is a very busy man. He finds tranquility in cleaning the garden and exercising in his free time. He also enjoys playing volleyball, learning new languages such as Latin, and of course praying. He also currently has classes with Abbot Melvin Valvano who is helping him gain knowledge about the ancient Rule of St. Benedict. If everything goes according to plan, Br. Robert will be taking his Simple Vows  in October 2020. He will continue to work on his goals of first becoming a monk, and also studying theology and philosophy, and eventually reaching his lifetime goal of becoming a priest.