Monks continue message of forgiveness five years after shooting

Monday, June 11, 2007

CONCEPTION, Mo. -- The doors at Conception Abbey are still unlocked and open, and forgiveness continued to be the reigning theme Sunday as the members of the rural monastery quietly remembered a day of horror five years ago.

"We have a desire to be able to move forward, [to] move on," said the Rev. Gregory Polan, the monastery's abbot, adding, "it will certainly be in the hearts and minds of all of us."

Lloyd Robert Jeffress, a 71-year-old retiree, walked into the abbey 90 miles north of Kansas City on the morning of June 10, 2002, and opened fire with an AK-47 assault rife, killing two monks and leaving two others seriously injured. Jeffress later killed himself.

Investigators said the shooting appeared to be random as Jeffress had no connection to the abbey or the two dead, Damian Larson, 62, of Wichita, Kan., and the Rev. Philip Schuster, 84, of Pilot Grove, Mo.

They later noted Jeffress was still unhappy about the Catholic church granting an annulment of his marriage in 1979 and was in poor health.

Since the shootings, little has changed in how the monks go about their daily routines.

If anything, Polan said the shootings helped reinforce the teachings of St. Benedict, the founder of the abbey's religious order, who instructed that the monks keep death before their eyes as a way to gain perspective of how they live their lives.

This teaching "means much more to us" since the shootings, Polan said.

The two injured monks -- the Rev. Norbert Schappler and the Rev. Kenneth Reichert -- have recovered fully, Polan said.

Also, nine new members have joined the monastery with another four set to enter in the fall.

"These are all signs of new life," Polan said.

Local law enforcement has also kept a close relationship with the monastery, a bond that began on the day of the shooting.

"The unbelievable strength and faith... have overwhelmed us," said Nodaway County Sheriff Ben Espey. "We're always welcome. They've always told us... It brought a lot of people closer together."

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