Remembering Our Founders
Remembering Our Founders
Father Thomas Keating, O. C. S. O., was born March 7, 1923, and died on October 25, 2018. He entered the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance in 1944. In 1958 he was appointed Superior of St Benedict’s Abbey in Snowmass, Colorado, two years after the abbey had been founded. He was elected abbot of St. Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer Massachusetts, in 1961 and served for twenty years until he retired and moved back to St. Benedict’s Abbey in Snowmass.
During his time at St. Joseph’s Abbey, in 1975, he and two other Trappist monks, William Meninger and Basil Pennington, developed centering prayer, a contemporary form of contemplative prayer, based on the 14th century spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing.The three worked with practitioners of other traditions, including Zen master Joshu Roski Sasaki, and a former Trappist, Paul Marechal, who taught Transcendental Meditation. Keating especially was disappointed that so many Catholics were leaving the church to seek out Eastern religions, which offered contemplative practices that cultivated the inner peace and spiritual union that they desired. So, he resurrected the Christian tradition of contemplative prayer in a form that was accessible to people to inspire them to return to their Christian roots.
This form of prayer was originally referred to as the “Prayer of the Cloud” until Pennington conducted the first retreat to a lay audience in Connecticut, where participants suggested the name “centering prayer” based on a term Thomas Merton had used in Seven Storey Mountain. Merton wrote: You rest in [God] and He hears you with His secret wisdom. Keating, Meninger and Pennington began teaching others the practice to the point where they could lead centering prayer groups.
When Father Keating came out to Snowmass, in 1981, he began conducting talks on prayer at a local parish in Aspen. He also offered retreats. The prayer was well-received, and its practice began to grow, and people began to realize the fruits of practicing centering prayer twice a day. In 1984, in New York City, Gus Reninger, Ed Bednar, and Father Keating created a network of these centering prayer communities called “Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. Today there are at least 66 contemplative outreach organizations within the United States alone, and 19 internationally. In his last interview with Ken Wilber, Father Keating estimated that over seven million people, most of whom don’t speak English, practice centering prayer.
To anyone who knew Sister Bernadette Teasdale, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that she was an iconic presence within Contemplative Outreach. A gift from God. Her work with Father Thomas Keating changed the landscape for the sharing of Centering Prayer. Our community is what it is because of her work and passion. Sister Bernadette, still Mimi and Sister Mimi to friends and family, was the oldest of four children, born to deeply religious, faith filled Irish parents on April 9, 1934. Her father was a prominent attorney in Kansas City and was known for his flawless integrity and love of the law. Her mother was an amazing pianist who entertained many of their friends and family throughout her life. It was from her that she inherited the gift of giving through entertaining, cooking and making people feel warm and happy. Our community was blessed by her hospitality. We remember her pork roast lunches, her lively conversations and her lovely smile.
In 1987 the Archbishop of Denver chose her to join Father Thomas Keating to initiate and form the organization, Contemplative Outreach of Colorado. Father Keating had founded the national organization—Contemplative Outreach Ltd in 1984. The Archbishop invited Fr. Thomas to start a program of teaching Centering Prayer in parishes throughout the diocese. In turn, Fr. Thomas suggested to the archbishop that Sister Bernadette Teasdale would be an excellent choice to lead the project. Sr. Bernadette agreed to teach Centering Prayer in the parishes. She was joined by Fr. Carl Arico and Mary Murkowski, who developed courses and offered retreats based on videotapes that Father Keating had recorded. Father Keating was recovering from serious injuries suffered in a car accident. The success of this endeavor of sharing the practice of Centering Prayer transformed more than 4,000 souls into the Heart of Christ. She retired in 2011.
By 1989, a pattern of offerings –all provided by Sr. Bernadette- - had been established: a 6 week Centering Prayer course, one Advanced Course, weekend intensive retreats, a mini-retreat (with Keating) and a Facilitators’ Workshop. Classes taught by Sister Bernadette were exciting to be part of. She knew her content so well that she exuded an intense energy. Her classroom was full of questions and answers, comments and quips, along with jokes (mostly on herself) and stories. Being there was delightful. She could explain the most complicated diagram, express the deepest feeling, and share the most heartfelt memories in ways that engaged every person there.
By 2002 the Center’s annual conference drew 540 people, a half-day mini retreat included 350 participants, and course registrations reached almost 550. Fr. Thomas Keating remained the anchor, participating in mini retreats, annual conferences while maintaining his presence in national and international activities. Bernadette was the bustling presence at the conferences. She was in charge – making conversations and friends, always wearing her characteristic red hats. She seemed to be 5 places at each moment, with a big smile and hug for her friends – of which there were legions.
In 2008, Sr. Bernadette announced her intention to consider retirement. Recognizing the upheaval that her leaving might cause for herself and for the Center, she sought advice from a group of consultants to support the transition to other leadership. Contemplative Outreach of Colorado, now into its fourth decade, has built on the beautiful foundation she laid for us. Sister Bernadette stayed in Colorado until December of 2018, which was a blessing to her Keenan family and her Contemplative Outreach family. Each member cherished her as a gift from God. Her close friend, Msgr. Ken Leoni, when asked to describe her, said she was, “the essence of hospitality and love.”
Thoughts from friends of Sr. Bernadette:
"Amen! To know her was truly to love her."
"We are forever in Sister Bernadette’s debt. Her legacy is proclaimed each time we convene a class, share a retreat or enjoy a meal together. She is dearly missed but knowing where she is with her "non-stop" ticket, especially in these incredibly difficult times, gives one a feeling of peace and happiness for her."
"When I first came to the Center in September of 2000 to start the spiritual journey classes, Sister Bernadette was for me the welcoming presence of the Center. She exuded hospitality and made me feel so welcomed and at home."
"Ahh, Bernadette. She was a force of nature and a wonderful person. I am so glad she was in my life."
"Full of life, love and laughter Bernadette was an energetic force. She loved life and most of all loved God. She always gave herself to whatever she committed to. Determined and peaceful what a pleasure it was for me to know her! I picture her in her red hat with a twinkle in her eye and a big smile on her face!"
"She is in the presence of God and it is our consolation .. “To know her is to love her “ HOW TRUE !!! It resonates for me...Her sweet smile and manners were so comforting at all times , regardless of what was going on…I WILL remember her..."
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