At peace with God: the Coleraine man who lived his life as a monk and hermit

HE lead a solitary life dedicated to prayer and contemplation,humility and service to God.

Monk Veder O’Kane, a member of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance - also known as Trappists - was laid to rest following a traditional monastic service at Dunboe Church, Castlerock on Sunday, February 24.

He had passed away at Antrim Area Hospital hospice two days before following a long battle with bowel cancer. He was 73.

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His body, clothed in his robe, was reposed at Portglenone Monastery for 24 hours and then at his brother Terry’s Coleraine home for the wake.

In accordance with the Order of Cistercians Veder was not buried in a traditional coffin but was brought into the church in full view on an open bier - a flat wooden board with four lugholes - to allow carriage by the pallbearers.

His wish was to be interred in the family plot where his father John and mother Rose were buried. As a measure of his devotion to his life-long divinity he himself provided the Prayers of the Faithful for the service.

Three of the remaining 14 monks at Our Lady Of Bethlehem Abbey, Portglenone - including one from Uganda - attended the service. The celebrant was Fr Francis Morgan who officiated alongside parish priest of St John’s in Coleraine, Fr Charlie Keaney.

Veder came from a large and well known Coleraine family of 14 children who grew up in Lilac Avenue in Millburn. As a boy Veder went to St John’s Primary School and then onto St Macnissi’s College (Garron Tower).

He joined the Portglenone Monastery in 1960 when he was just 17 years old, following the Rule of St Benedict and he made his first commitment to the Order in 1962 and final commitment in 1965.

The Cistercians observe strict silence, are largely vegeterian and obstain from meat, rise early for prayer and take part in physical work.

While in Portglenone Veder would get up at 3.45am and take part in seven sessions of communal prayer throughout the day until Compline – or night prayer - which concluded with the singing of the Salve Regina, or Hail Holy Queen, honouring the Mother of God, who has a special place in the hearts of Cistercian monks.

The brothers live out a ceaseless search for God. They do this by following the Rule of St Benedict (c.480-550), who is venerated as the ‘Father of Western monasticism’.

Like his monastic brothers, Veder observed a vow of silence every day which, according to the Cistercians, encourages an attitude of listening, and fosters a life of ceaseless prayer.

“Cistercians lead a monastic way of life in solitude and silence, in assiduous prayer and joyful penitence, thus rendering to the divine majesty a service that is at once humble and noble”, according to the Portglenone Monastery.

Speaking of Veder’s devotion to the Order, Dom Celsus Kelly, the Abbot of Portglenone, said: “He was always very sincere, genuine and thoughtful. He was a great lover poetry, an avid reader and what he read he consumed.

“He followed his path very truly and sincerely and from the 1970s and 80s lived the life of a hermit.”

Veder was given permission to leave the monastery and from 1970 lived in an isolated shepherd’s cottage at Galboly in ‘The Hidden Village’ in the mountains overlooking Waterfoot.

He told close family members that he never felt lonely there and would spend his day praying and contemplating, reading poetry or observing foxes and other wildlife. He had a particular fascination with the national flowers of countries.

“When he was younger he was a boarder at Garron Tower, so going to live in ‘The Hidden Village’ was in a sense, him returning to his childhood,” said his nephew Michael Bacon who would visit him often in his latter years, along with his cousin Kevin, who would come over from London.

“He lived a very holy, monastic life and was totally devoted to God.”

His humble abode, obscured by trees and a mile from the main coastal road, had no cooker, running water or toilet. The tiny house was sparsley furnished with just a table, chair and a small bed with a blanket. Visitors would have to stand or sit on the floor.

After rising in the early hours of the morning to pray he would drink hot water heated on a one-ring gas stove.

In the pitch blackness a lighthouse off shore would shine light into his bedroom every 15 seconds. In the stony silence at night he would read by gaslight or candle.

“When you entered his house, it smelled of a church hall and you got the impression of entering a holy space and felt a real sense of peace,” said Michael.

“His only real luxury was a wooden burner which had been put in for him and a wooden floor. A farmer would deliver him 20 bags of coal which he stored in another room.

“He was a very inquisitive man, deep and holy. He had very sharp humour too and was very witty. He was very protective over his religious views which he took very seriously.

“When I took my daughter Cara to see him he would talk to her about God and ask when she was taking her First Holy Communion.

“Once a week he would thumb a little down into Larne to have a shower.

“He wasn’t interested in possessions. If he had two pairs of shoes he would give a pair away. He was fascinated by everything to do with scripture and what it meant. All he talked about was God. He was a very deep, private man.”

At home Veder rarely ate a hot meal, existing on bread, cheese, jam or occasionally, if the weather was bad and he could not get out of the house, cold tinned tomatoes or potatoes.

He would venture out to Mass at nearby Waterfoot chapel each Sunday - sometimes covering his feet with plastic bags as he traipsed down the mountain - and became a well known figure among parishioners in the Glens area.

Although interested in the outside world, even the advances in technology, Veder shunned any publicity about how he lived his life.

“Veder was once approached by either Lesser Spotted Ulster or McGilloway’s Way - I can’t remember which - to do a programme but he rejected it,” said his brother Terry. “That would not have been his thing at all.

“He was a great story teller and talker and had very much his own sense of humour. He’s at peace now and where he has always wanted to be.”

Veder is survived by brothers Mickey, Terry, Cornelius, Kevin, Philip and Brian and sister Betty. He was pre-deceased by John and five other sisters, Sadie, Celene, Veronica, Rose and Martha.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The Times wishes to thank the entire O’Kane family circle for their kind help with this article, particularly Micky O’Kane, Terry O’Kane, Michael Bacon and Veder Doey and also Mark Jamieson for picture research.