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Rated PG: Coming to a Karaoke bar near you, The Bread Monk

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It's probably not every night you stop in a Karaoke bar for some fun and see a monk with the mic, singing Jimmy Buffet. If you do, chances are it's Father Dominic Garramone.

The Singing Monk? He is the choir master at Saint Bede Academy and Monastery in Peru. You could call him Father Thespian, given that he used to do community theatre, majored in theatre in college before joining the monastery, and is the drama director at Saint Bede.

He's already known as the Bread Monk because of a past baking show that was a series on PBS and still lives today on Facebook and YouTube. Those skills have produced four cookbooks, with another in the works.

Speaking of his skills as a writer, how about the Writing Dom? He's had two plays published, including The Monsters Under The Bed, a children's play produced as recently as last summer at Arc Light Theatre at Illini Bluffs High School.

It seems there are a lot of nicknames one could give this man of the cloth with an ever-present grin beneath his bald head that somehow seems so appropriate for his vocation. Get to know him a little and you'll probably just want to call him your friend.

I got that chance this week when Father Dom came to his native city to teach the art of writing plays to three drama classes at Peoria High School. He gave a presentation of his collaborative writing method he uses at St. Bede, the same method used to write the plays he and the St. Bede Theatre Troupe have had published.

That same night he gave a similar presentation to maybe a dozen members of Corn Stock Theatre. While I attended mostly for a story and photos, I ended up enjoying the presentation and wishing it could have gone beyond the two hours allotted. The ideas put forth from people who have done a lot of theater were in some cases brilliant and almost always funny; it was interesting how that room of adults seemed to forget or just not care we were talking about adult stuff and using adult language in front of a monk. It was easy because Father Dom put us at ease with his own keen sense of humor and how he showed that despite the rather limited lifestyle he leads at the Monastery he keeps up with the rest of the world quite well, thank you.

Father Dominica was born Michael Garramone in Peoria, attended Catholic schools here and graduated from Spalding Academy in 1979. He did a lot of acting and singing while in school and dreamed of being a professional actor. That's why he majored in theater at Illinois Wesleyan University.

It was during his time at Wesleyan he started feeling there was something missing, that in some way he was meant to do something of a religious nature. When he visited a friend at the St. Bede Monastery he felt a calling the first time. When he went back, he said, "that second time I knew that's where I wanted to spend the rest of my life."

He was accepted into the monastery but was told he needed to finish college first. He further was advised to go to a different college, one where he could get somewhat of a feel for what his monastic life would be. So after two years at Wesleyan he transferred to Saint Mary's University in Winona, Minn.

His major there? Still theater. "They told me to keep my theater major, which kind of surprised me. But I did. So then I was the first one ever at seminary with a theatre degree. They weren't really sure what to do with me," he laughed, chuckling.

Father Dom admits he wasn't happy about having to complete college before entering St. Bede, "but now I realize they were smart to have me do it that way. St. Mary's showed me some of what it would be like in the monastery without being as restricted. I needed the in-between from college to monastery before I took my vow of stability," he said.

The vow of stability is most important for monastic life because it is the one in which a monk commits to one place, in this case St. Bede's, to spend that life. "That is my community forever," he said.

There any income earned by a monk is the property of the monastery, even proceeds from cookbooks and plays and television shows. "I have no idea what my teaching salary is. I never see it," he said. When he needs money for something or needs to travel or what have you, he must ask for permission.

"Monastic life does have some severe restrictions, but the thought is to use and need as little as possible to live. It really is a healthy way of living," Father Dominic said.

That kind of life is not without its problems when the outside world creeps in, he added. He had the cooking show on PBS and while he didn't care about the money it still caused problems. "I voluntarily gave it up because the demands of the series were starting to make me feel I wasn't being totally faithful to my monastic vocation. And I am still very committed to that vocation. I am committed to the Benedictine Society of Saint Bede. Oh, I still do pledge specials for PBS and I have my website (www.breadmonk.com) but I make sure they don't interfere," he said.

He also wants to continue teaching. "I really love teaching. Someone said to me once that I must really love my kids to be a teacher and I said what I love is the act of teaching. I love watching a kid who is a little bit shy and afraid to be involved react to seeing a whole world open up for him. It can be doing something on stage or watching a student throw pizza dough four feet in the air and catch it like a pro," he said.

He is especially proud of the Stage Crew at St. Bede, where the students can become part of the drama department in any and all aspects "and find an acceptable peer group they can belong to and enjoy. I spend as much time as I can supporting my students. They want that; they need that."

He also supports family when he can. Any time off he gets from St. Bede's usually is spent with family in Peoria, including his mother and siblings. But he doesn't get the chance to see his sister Lisa and her son Treygor perform at Corn Stock Theatre or Peoria Players as much as he'd like because of his own schedule.

"But I do enjoy singing with Lisa. She and I love to go out and do Karaoke. One time I was singing "Come Monday" and I changed the words at the end to say 'I spend six lonely months in a house full of monks...' It got a lot of laughs," he said.

I do not doubt that. He could probably do a stand-up comedy gig next.

But as long as teach is his thing, his workshop produces some interesting material. The collaborative writing is done by using affinity charts to map different ideas presented by the class. The ideas are written on stick-it notes, then presented anonymously on a board. "The goal is to have everybody actually share ideas," he said, describing how in some classes the people with the best ideas are too shy to share them aloud. "It's astonishing what kids will come up with when they know it's safe," he said.

Adults, too. Given that several in our group are starting to round the bend toward retirement, later-in-life theme ideas were abundant. Father Dom seemed to like them, too.

He took particularly note of one idea that said simply: "I just want to sleep ... and golf." I have no idea why everybody assumed I wrote that one.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).

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