“He was one of the best [people] I’ve ever met!” These were the words that fell from Brother Stephen Freeman’s lips as he held back a well’s worth of tears. He spoke vividly of his relationship with the late Brother Benedict Cooper, who passed away on Dec. 30. The beloved Saint Leo Brother was born Harry Cooper on July 13, 1937, and is survived by two daughters and a son.
Bro. Cooper had been on the grounds of Saint Leo’s Abbey since 2003, staying in the small motel across from the gift shop. Although not an Oblate at the time, he participated daily by praying, eating and communing with the monks and other Oblates after the passing of his wife.
In 2011, Cooper officially became an Oblate, going a step even further and committing himself through vows to living on the grounds of the Abbey for the remainder of his life.
Bro. Freeman continued to list the similarities that drew him to such a wonderful individual; both men were fathers and grandfathers, they both served in the Army, and spoke for hours about their families and the love they shared for them. Freeman grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and Bro. Cooper New Amsterdam, New York, which gave them even more to bond upon.
“He was a man that loved classical music!” Freeman stated, “Often as I did tours of the Abbey I would introduce him to students as the Music Director of the Abbey, as he would always be found listening to classical music.”
Bro. Freeman recalls that there was only one flaw with his friend, which was that he never knew how to say “no.” From the time Cooper had spent at the Abbey (which was two years prior to Freeman’s arrival) until his passing, Bro. Stephen had known him to always be available and willing to assist in tasks, no matter what it may have been. Duly noted in his obituary, Bro Benedict’s biggest contributions were noted in his service in the Sacristy of the Abbey, keeping things in order and clean.
Bro. Cooper’s pride showed vivaciously as he sang as part of Saint Petersburg’s Cathedral choir, the community was left with an indelible mark as the rich and strong tone of his voice would often overcome the singing of everyone else. At h’is wake, his daughters spoke of their father’s happiness and love for the monastic lifestyle which was further confirmed through his brothers at the Abbey inclusive of Brother Freeman.
Bro. Cooper’s cousin, Felecia Tullis wrote to him in memorium, “You helped me learn that those we love and who have passed are not gone from us, if we remember and keep them in our hearts!”
“He was known to have a wonderful sense of humor,” said Freeman, which could only be seen as taboo for many that think of those in monastic life as individuals uptight and without joy.
Freeman paused in his recollection of his friend looking down with eyes full of tears and stated that even now, Brother Benedict Cooper’s name sits on the pew besides him, which he will not allow anyone to remove just yet.
“Even at dinner I think of him, as beside me there is a cross and a candle that commemorate his position at the table,” said Freeman.
Visibly heartbroken and thinking of his own mortality, Brother Stephen took joy in speaking about Brother Benedict Cooper.
Brother Cooper’s humble life was a true testament to the great impact we can all have on this world through our individual talents. Respect, Integrity, and Community were the attributes collectively, and unanimously, family and friends remember him by. As we take these and other core values central to Saint Leo throughout this semester and indeed our lifetimes, let us remember Brother Benedict Cooper and use his legacy as an example of the influence we should have on this world.