Father Thomas Keating, the Trappist priest who played a major role in introducing the controversial centering prayer movement in the 1970’s, died on October 25 at the age of 95.
According to the Catholic News Service, Father Keating died at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts where he served as abbot for two decades in the 1960’s and 1970s. Father Keating’s nephew, Peter Jones, reported that he had been in poor health for a number of years.
“He is beloved of the many monks who were formed under his direction,” the Abbey said in an announcement about his death.
Father Keating’s journey into the priesthood began with a pledge that he made to God to become a priest if he survived a serious illness he suffered in childhood. The Lord answered his prayer and he entered the Cistercians’ Monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Valley Falls, Rhode Island in 1944. Five years later, he was ordained a priest and took the name Thomas due to his admiration for St. Thomas Aquinas.
The centering prayer movement, of which he played a major role, began in the wake of Vatican II at the height of the Transcendental Meditation movement. Between 1961 and 1981, the monks at St. Joseph’s abbey held dialogues with Buddhist and Hindu representatives as well as a Zen master who gave week-long retreats to the monks once or twice a year for nine years. A former Trappist monk who had become a Transcendental Meditation teacher also gave sessions to the monks.
After exploring these other traditions, Keating asked his monks if they could devise a way to win Christians back to the faith who were “going to the east for what could be found at home.”
He suggested that they put the Christian tradition into a form that might appeal to people who had been instructed in an Eastern technique with the hopes it might inspire them to return to their Christian roots.
According to his book, Intimacy with God, this is how centering prayer was born.
The method, which combines eastern mantra-based techniques with Christian prayer, remains controversial.
Aside from being a prolific author, Father Keating founded Contemplative Outreach for centering prayer practitioners in 1984 and served as its president from 1985-99.
Several of his books, including Open Mind, Open Heart, became Catholic best-sellers.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated on November 3 at St. Joseph’s Abbey.
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