Author to discuss unique Utah childhood growing up with Catholic monks, Latter-day Saints

The cover of Michael O’Brien’s new book, “Monastery Mornings: My Unusual Boyhood Among the Saints and Monks.” In the book, O’Brien shares his experiences growing up among the Trappist monks and the lessons he learned from them. (Courtesy of Paraclete Press)

Salt Lake City lawyer Michael O’Brien will be reading from his new book, “Monastery Mornings: My Unusual Boyhood Among the Saints and Monks” at Pioneer Book on Center Street in Provo this Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Michael O’Brien is a Catholic writer and employment lawyer living in Salt Lake City. Growing up in Ogden, O’Brien’s first real job was writing for the local newspaper. He studied government and theology at the University of Notre Dame, then earned his law degree from the University of Utah. 

O’Brien’s life has been shaped by his unique childhood among the Trappist monks at the Abbey of the Holy Trinity. After his parents went through a difficult divorce, O’Brien was encouraged by his Catholic mother to turn to the monks as father figures and role models. He found just that. 

“It turned out to be just the sort of friendship and support I needed in a very difficult time of my life,” O’Brien said. “(The monks) provided a lot of friendship, stability and guidance at a time when I really needed it.”

Young Michael O’Brien stands next to one of the Trappist monks at the Abbey of the Holy Trinity. O’Brien spent two to three days every week at the Abbey working among the monks from the age of 11 to about 21. (Michael O’ Brien)

The stability the monks brought helped launch him into an adulthood that could have been much different had they not been there.

From 1947 to 2017, the Abbey of the Holy Trinity provided a home and a solace for the Trappist monks in the Salt Lake Valley. During this time, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became dear friends of the monks, despite uncertain beginnings between the two groups. 

O’Brien said “some of the best friends the monks had were their neighbors who were Latter-day Saints.” 

In an article for the Ogden Standard Examiner, O’Brien shared how Latter-day Saints would organize events for the monastery’s anniversaries and bring food when monks died. The monks were even known to attend and speak at funerals of their Latter-day Saint friends. In one instance, the monks aided a couple in paying for their son’s mission. In return, the son named his firstborn after one of the monks. 

The Abbey of the Holy Trinity closed in 2017. The remaining five monks live in a retirement home in Salt Lake City. “Monastery Mornings,” is O’Brien’s tribute to the monks of his boyhood. “I want my friends, the monks, to be remembered,” he said. 

The Abbey of the Holy Trinity, located near Ogden. The Abbey was shut down in 2017, after being in operation for 70 years. (Michael O’Brien)

Reverend Oscar A. Solis, Catholic Bishop of Salt Lake City, called O’Brien’s book a thoughtful memoir that makes sure the legacy of the Trappist monks will remain. “This is a tribute to Utah’s Trappist monks and a reminder of their positive influence on Michael O’Brien and numerous others during their presence here,” he said in a book review.

On Wednesday night, O’Brien will read from his book and share recollections of his childhood among the Trappist monks. The first 10 students to arrive will receive a free signed copy of the book.  

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