Photo courtesy of Saint Vincent Archabbey
Father Damian J. Warnock, O.S.B., 89, a monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey for 66 years, died Friday, October 28, 2022. . He was a son of the late James and Mary Myrtle (McClane) Warnock. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 21, 1932, he was one of ten children, including the late Ruth M. Gilardi, Violett Scott, John M., James H., William G., Robert J., Thomas M., Paul R. and Robert G. Warnock. Surviving are three nieces, Marlene DeFazio of West Mifflin, and Frances Bianchi and Margaret Mader of Pittsburgh.
He attended Saint Joseph Parochial School in Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, and was a 1950 graduate of Washington Vocational Center in Pittsburgh. Some years after graduation he discerned a religious vocation, and entered Holy Trinity Byzantine Monastery in Butler, Pennsylvania, in 1967. He made simple profession of vows there on July 21, 1968. Two years later he transferred his vows to Saint Vincent Archabbey, and made his solemn profession as a Benedictine monk on October 22, 1971.
Working toward his goal of ordination he earned a bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts in 1975 from Saint Vincent College, and a master of divinity degree in 1978 from Saint Vincent Seminary. He found his studies challenging, but he persevered, and developed a strong relationship with his classmate, Father Ronald Gatman, with whom he was ordained by the Most Rev. William Connare, Bishop of Greensburg, on May 19, 1979.
When he arrived at Saint Vincent as a junior, he was assigned to serve at the Archabbey Press. He was named its director in 1973, a role he fulfilled while continuing his studies toward ordination.
Following ordination he was assigned to Saint Vincent Seminary for eight years, where he served as vice rector and dean of students. While at the Seminary he developed a deep and enduring friendship with Father Jude Brady, who was assigned to serve as spiritual director during Father Damian’s time there. From 1992 to 2002, he managed the Saint Vincent Post Office, until he was appointed chaplain at Latrobe Area Hospital, serving in that capacity until 2006. In 2006, he was named director of the Office of the Porter at the Archabbey. His final official assignment was serving in the assisted living facility Brookdale, just a short distance from the Abbey.
At the monastic wake service, Archabbot Martin recalled Father Damian’s exceptional gentleness, omnipresent in his life, (except when ice cream was being served!). He related his experience observing an elementary school teacher teaching a class on the virtue of gentleness, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. He noted that she ended the class recounting the story of The Wind and the Sun from Aesop’s Fables. The wind and the sun were arguing about their relative strength using a coated man as a subject. Large gusts of wind almost knocked the man over, but the cold air made him grip his coat harder. Then the sun radiated his warmth. The man was so comforted and relaxed that he removed his coat. Gentleness is often stronger than force. Father Damian might have been the strongest among us all!
In his funeral homily, Father Jude recalled an accident Father Damian suffered while returning to the Abbey after attending a wake for his previous superior. There was a heavy rain, and Father Damian’s vehicle hydroplaned and went down a ravine, causing severe injuries to his head and face. He also developed walking pneumonia as a result of the accident.
“Working with him and knowing him, I was very involved with him during a very long time of recuperation,” Father Jude said. “During the time, one could see how much pain and discomfort he had, but he never complained. He showed the admonition in our First Reading in the Book of Sirach, “prepare yourself for trial—be steadfast and undisturbed in time of adversity”
Father Damian identified with the suffering of Christ, with the request coming from the Lord in the Gospel of Matthew’ “take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.
After his tenure in the Seminary Father Damian entered a very busy and diverse pastoral ministry. He became a noted confessor to many priests, monks and laity, most especially when he served as porter. His empathy, compassion and kindness were noted. He spent countless hours going to visit the sick and bringing them the Eucharist and administering the Sacrament of the Sick. He cherished his assignment at Brookdale and the residents loved his quiet, gentle and healing presence.
Father Damian’s way of life was a theology that is direct and deep. Even when his memory began to fail, he accepted this cross and others as he had during his life. He gave up his driver’s license. He obediently moved into the infirmary. But he demonstrated, in a very powerful way, that we can have an effect and can evangelize even in our weakness. His kindness and openness and his ongoing depth of faith were an inspiration to many. He won the hearts of everyone in the infirmary and he would repeatedly say how grateful he was for the kindnesses that were shown to him. He appreciated the novices taking him to prayers and to dinner during his illness.
When he could not sleep or when he would get restless he would talk a walk. He could be found in one of the various chapels, praying quietly. He exemplified the virtue of humility and hospitality as our Benedictine Rule admonishes us to become. Peace exemplified his being, a peace that was deep, a peace that was sustaining, a peace that could only come after a life of enduring struggles, challenges and sufferings.
Realizing that we all need to be purified before we enter the Beatific Vision, we pray that Father Damian will pass quickly and come to experience what he heard in the reading to the Corinthians: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
May the Soul of Father Damian and all the Faithful Departed rest in the Peace of Christ.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated for Father Damian on Friday, November 4, 2022 and he was laid to rest in the Saint Vincent Cemetery. We ask for your charity and customary suffrages. It is consoling to know that every monk of our monastery offers three Masses for the repose of Father Damian’s soul, and that he will be included among those confreres for whom all professed monks of our Congregation offer Mass monthly.
MAY FLIGHTS OF ANGELS SING THEE TO THY REST
+Martin R. Bartel, O.S.B. Archabbot