Trading Wall Street For Life In A Monastery

Henry Quinson

In 1989, Henry Quinson left his trading career and entered a monastery in the French Alps. Sony Classics hide caption

itoggle caption Sony Classics

Henry Quinson was a successful currency trader handling a $15 billion portfolio when, at age 27, he walked away from his comfortable life, gave his life savings to charity and joined a rural monastery in France.

"I thought the spiritual part of my human life was more important than a career or making money," Quinson tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "For me, the spiritual life was something that had to take the first place."

For six years, Quinson lived at the Tamie Abbey in the Savoie region of France, among an order of Trappist monks who follow the 7th-century teachings of St. Benedict. According to the Benedictine rule, he spent his days in almost complete silence.

"Monks never talk to each other," he says. "They only talk when they have a meeting with all of the monks for some very, very important decisions they have to make. ... Otherwise, it's very, very silent except about four hours of praying together. It's usually psalms that are sung, so that is a very important part of expressing yourself."

After six years in the monastery, Quinson moved to a largely Muslim neighborhood in inner-city Marseilles, where he currently teaches immigrant children and works as a freelance translator. In 2009, he became the monastic adviser on the French film Of Gods and Men, which won the Grand Prix at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Lambert Wilson as Brother Christian in Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men. i i

Lambert Wilson as Brother Christian in Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men. Marie-Julie Maille /Why Not Productions/Sony Pictures Classics hide caption

itoggle caption Marie-Julie Maille /Why Not Productions/Sony Pictures Classics
Lambert Wilson as Brother Christian in Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men.

Lambert Wilson as Brother Christian in Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men.

Marie-Julie Maille /Why Not Productions/Sony Pictures Classics

The movie, which stars Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale, is based on the story of seven French monks who worked in a monastery in a rural Algerian village. In 1996, during the Algerian Civil War, they were kidnapped and later executed. Though the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria was officially held responsible for their murders, recent documents declassified by the French secret services indicate that the killings may have been a mistake on the part of the Algerian army during a rescue attempt.

Quinson knew several of the monks depicted in the movie, including one brother who spent time at his monastery in France before moving to the monastic community in Algeria.

During the Algerian Civil War, "We were all asking ourselves this question: 'Should they stay or leave?' " Quinson says. "But I think the bond was so strong between these monks and their neighbors, and it put them in a position that is a position that anybody could find themselves in — you can't walk away when people are in a bad position. In their position, I would [have] probably come to the same conclusion and [would have] stayed in the monastery although I knew there was a risk."

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