In Praise of the Useless Life

A Monk’s Memoir
Foreword by: Pico Iyer

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Format: Paperback

Publication date: April 13, 2018

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Winner of two 2019 Catholic Press Association Awards: Memoir (First Place) and Cover Design (Second Place).

Monastic life and its counter-cultural wisdom come alive in the stories and lessons of Br. Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O., during his more than five decades as a Trappist at the Abbey of Gethsemani.  He served as a novice under Thomas Merton and he also welcomed some of the monastery's more well-known visitors, including Sr. Helen Prejean and Seamus Heaney, to Merton's hermitage. In Praise of the Useless Life includes Quenon's quiet reflections on what it means to live each day with careful attentiveness.

The humble peace and simplicity of the monastery and of Quenon's daily life are beautifully portrayed in this memoir. Whether it be through the daily routine of the monastery, his love of the outdoors no matter the season, or his lively and interesting conversations with visitors (reciting Emily Dickinson with Pico Iyer, discussing Merton and poetry with Czeslaw Milosz), Quenon's gentle musings display his love for the beauty in his vocation and the people he’s encountered along the way.

Inspired by his novice master Merton, the poet and photographer’s stories remind us that the beauty of life can best be seen in the “uselessness” of daily life—having a quiet chat with a friend, spending time in contemplation—in our vocations, and in the memories we make along the way.

Product Details

Pages: 160

Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5 inches

ISBN: 9781594717598

Imprint: Ave Maria Press

  • “Simple and profound.”


    “This beautiful book is both simple and profound, written with humor, a grounded sense of humanness, and luminous attention to what lies at the heart of things. After turning the last page, you might, as I did, sit for a while caught by the mystery and meaning of your own life.”

    Sue Monk Kidd

  • “Valuable in a culture so terribly marred by narcissism.”


    “Paul Quenon’s written a book that strikes me as valuable in a culture so terribly marred by narcissism. As we wrestle with faith in a world that ignores or denounces it, we need to be reminded that 'Prayer is a breathing that purifies the air, like leaves on the tree.' Monks, as people of prayer, may be useless, but this book is evidence that they are also necessary and even indispensable.”

    Kathleen Norris
    Author of The Cloister Walk

  • “His own inner journey.”


    “It is sometimes said that monks are ordinary people living an extraordinary life. By granting us a glimpse into the daily, common life of a Cistercian, and describing his own inner journey, Br. Paul Quenon proves that the opposite is also true: monks can be extraordinary people living what comes to be a very ordinary, even ‘useless’ life by the world’s standards.”

    Cyprian Consiglio, O.S.B. Cam.
    Author of Prayer in the Cave of the Heart

  • “Transforms.”


     “Paul Quenon does not romanticize the monastic life. He presents frankly its challenges and pitfalls, and we understand that life can be an unending prayer in the best and fullest sense, even with inevitable, instructive, and mundane annoyances amid the beauty. We may transform our own lives by studying Quenon's.”

    Fenton Johnson
    Author of The Man Who Loved Birds

  • “You don't have to be a monk to be inspired by his story.”


    “This artfully written memoir is anything but useless. It shimmers with lyrical descriptions of life in the monastery, love for nature, poetry, and music, and meaningful encounters with remarkable people, not the least being Thomas Merton. Br. Paul reveals the essence of a truly contemplative life—a life that appreciates beauty, knows how to wonder, and is dedicated to love. You don't have to be a monk to be inspired by his story.”

    Carl McColman
    Author of Befriending Silence

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