Br. Asiel Rodriguez: A Long Road Leads to Newark

Br.+Asiel+Rodriguez%2C+O.S.B.%2C+maintains+a+busy+schedule+as+a+monk%2C+teacher%2C+and+faculty+moderator.

Christian Browne-Mixon

Br. Asiel Rodriguez, O.S.B., maintains a busy schedule as a monk, teacher, and faculty moderator.

John Mollozzi, Staff Writer

After a long and arduous journey of faith, Br. Asiel Maria Rodriguez, O.S.B., is preparing to fully commit himself to the Benedictine Abbey of Newark.  His many years of religious practice and study will culminate with the profession of his Solemn Vows on Saturday, March 21. Upon undergoing the ancient religious rite, he will become a fully-fledged monk.

Br. Asiel was born in Cuba on July 11, 1991. Growing up in Cuba, Br. Asiel had to endure the effects of Communism there. He was not allowed to openly practice his faith.

“There’s a lot of painful experiences there…we would have to go through the back door of the Church because we couldn’t go through the front,” he said, explaining how secretive his family needed to be in order to fulfill their responsibilities as Roman Catholics.

His persistent adherence to his faith caused his education to suffer, too. He was taunted in school by administrators who set him up for teasing by other students. Eventually, he was “kicked out of school for being Catholic.”

 He left for the United States when he was 14 and settled with his father in Union City in Hudson County. Years later Br. Asiel, still committed to his faith, would join a religious community in Spain. However, he would not stay there.

“I found myself looking for a better experience of prayer and work,” he said.

He would first come to Newark Abbey in 2015. He had prior connections to the monastery. “I kept in touch with the monks here before…I came here for Monkfest in 2015,” he said. “I spoke with Br. Patrick and the Abbot and they suggested I come here and give it a try.” When Br. Asiel left for Newark Abbey a year later, he knew he was relinquishing his studies there. He was mere months away from becoming a priest.

Most people might assume that, when a monk joins a monastery, he is required to give up his old name and take up one of religious significance. However, this assumption is not always true. Monks are encouraged to do so but are occasionally allowed to keep their own name. Such is the case with Br. Asiel. Asiel is his real name. Abbot Melvin Valvano, O.S.B., allowed him to keep it, in honor of his mother who passed away when he was young.

 “It actually means made or created by God in Hebrew,” Br. Asiel said. “That was my original name and I didn’t change it. It was a name given by my parents.”

Br. Asiel is not only a member of the monastery;  he is also an active member of the St. Benedict’s Prep community. At Benedict’s, as both students and faculty colleagues describe it, Br. Asiel has been a beacon of inspiration, friendship, and faith, not only to his students and group members but also to his fellow faculty and staff members.

Br. Asiel has a close relationship with his students in his Religion II and ESL classes as well as the members of his group, Father Thomas Long. He tells his students about his experiences growing up in a country where his freedoms were suppressed by a Communist government.

 “I always tell my students to appreciate the freedom they have here,” he said.

Br. Asiel stepped in as a group moderator along with Ms. Kitta MacPherson for TL. “Since he has joined our group as moderator, the feel of the group has been lifted dramatically…we have gone up in Group ranking too,” said Kevin Jackson SY, Group Leader for TL.

Just like his teacher-student relationship, he also is close to many members of the faculty.  

“I would say whenever I’m working with him I feel really inspired by his enthusiasm and also by his faithfulness to his vocation as a monk,” said religion teacher Mr. Stephen Adubato.  In the Business Office, Br. Asiel helps “wake up” some of his associates there, making them some espresso to reinvigorate them.

“He’ll make espresso, but what he does with the espresso is he whips it with sugar at a certain point,” said Ms. Danielle Assadourian, who works in the Business Office from which Br. Asiel manages the Abbey’s social media account. “He starts clicking the cup for us to let us know the coffee’s ready. That embodies him; he’s just an uplifting person.”

Just as he would do for his students, Br. Asiel tries to brighten his coworkers’ days, and helps them get that push they need to get through the day. “In my opinion, he has made the Business Office a more pleasant place to work in,” said Ms. Bebi Amzad, another colleague there. “He puts you in the mood to work. He’s always pleasant; he makes your day go faster.”

Br. Asiel has been an inspiring member of both the Abbey and the Benedict’s community. He has lifted up many people here ranging from students, teachers, coworkers, and some of his fellow monks. His journey will culminate with the profession of his Solemn Vows of stability, fidelity to the monastic way of life, and obedience on Saturday, March 21.

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