Clad in his long black habit, Brother Jacob Amos is a vision of prayerful, quiet contemplation.

He is, after all, a monk of the Order of St. Benedict at St. Bernard Abbey.

But the habit obscures another side of Amos, a more competitive side in which strength and agility are substituted for prayer and meditation.

Now entering his fifth year at the monastery, Amos was once an avid tennis player, sharing the court with some of the biggest names in professional tennis.

And though Amos hits the court only sporadically these days, he still remembers mixing it up with the best. As a junior at St. Meinrad College in Indiana, the future monk found himself on the court at the NCAA tournament with a brash youngster called John McEnroe.

And for the first few points, Amos was getting the best of the freshman from Stanford. Leading 3-1 in the first set, the Bay Area native said he started to get a little too confident.

“I said to myself, ‘I must be a pretty good player,’” Amos said. “I got smug and said, ‘John, are you going to argue or are you going to play?’ And I lost 6-3, 6-0 in about 30 minutes.”

Despite the arguments, Amos said McEnroe was actually a nice guy off the court. And though they went on to staggeringly different lives, the monk has always enjoyed playing the game he described as an intense internal struggle.

“There’s a personal competitive nature in tennis,” Amos said. “You come to a point where you are playing yourself, not your opponent so much.”

After earning his undergraduate degree at Meinrad, Amos entered law school at Notre Dame, where he helped coach a team that finished second in the NCAA tournament. While also coaching individual high school players, Amos always found time to play on his own.

By the time he quit playing competitively, Amos shared the court with tennis greats like Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith and Billie Jean King. But now, as he works toward a graduate degree in theology, the Benedictine monk said he takes a different approach to the game.

“I’m at the stage where the competition doesn’t matter as much,” said Amos, who is now in his 50s. “It’s just the fun of it now.”

But playing in that habit can’t be too much fun, could it?

“I wear regular tennis clothes,” said Amos, adding that he’s allowed to wear shorts only when going to and from the tennis courts. “I’ve hit a few balls with the habit on, just for fun. But after awhile, it gets pretty ridiculous.”

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