Eighteen years ago, when Guerric Heckel became a monk at Mepkin Abbey, he figured that he might never again eat turkey on Thanksgiving.
Heckel left the Catholic priesthood to join the Moncks Corner monastery, where the brothers adhere to a particular way of life that includes a vegetarian diet.
But every Thanksgiving since 1995, the Trappist monks have traveled for fellowship with the nuns at the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy convent. For more than a half-dozen monks Thursday, who only occasionally leave the abbey and rarely chit-chat at mealtime, it was a step out of their daily routine.
“I haven’t been without a turkey Thanksgiving in all those years thanks to this,” Heckel said. “Just being able to sit down for a meal and talk about the goings-on of the day is a real treat.”
The nuns of the May Forest motherhouse off Fort Johnson Road have been hosting the event, which included a church celebration, since the convent marked its 165th anniversary. It’s a chance for the two groups to huddle and show gratitude.
Abbot Stan Gumula said the monks don’t travel to James Island “because we want to have a fun day,” but to thank the sisters for their generosity over time. In its 63-year history, the monastery often has sought medical care from St. Francis Hospital.
“They do not generally come out among the public like this,” said Sister Mary Joseph Ritter, the convent’s general superior. “This is a special occasion.”
Side by side, monks and nuns heaped sweet potato pie, asparagus and three kinds of cranberry sauce onto their plates.
Curtis DeNeane has been whipping up the feast for nearly 17 years.
Pecan, pumpkin and apple pies graced the dessert table. A chunk of chocolate in the shape of a turkey served as its centerpiece.
DeNeane said he prepared eight turkeys, three beef tenderloins and a few trays of shrimp cocktail for the monks, sisters and other invitees.
“This is a time for the monks to splurge on meat,” the chef said. “All of it seems to go.”
Like many of the monks, Theophilus Ross has not often seen the world outside the abbey during his three years there.
The 58-year-old ventures from the abbey only for medical appointments and to visit family. That’s why getting out and “becoming a part of this tradition” with the nuns was a pleasure, he said.
The food was just a perk.
“Beef, turkey, shrimp — I had it all,” he said. “I’m not shy.
“I’ve always been a meat lover.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.