Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Father Alcuin Deutsch was elected the fifth abbot of Saint John's Abbey on December 29, 1921. He had served as prior during Abbot Peter Engel's last four years and showed a talent for administration। He was to serve as abbot for twenty-nine years, until his resignation because of failing health in October 1950.

In many respects he was the epitome of abbatial authority. As a young monk he had spent six years at the Colegio di Sant' Anselmo, the Roman headquarters of the Benedictine order. He made friends with European monks of his own age and visited communities like Maria Laach and Beuron in Germany and Maredsous in Belgium where monastic observance had been renewed following centuries of religious and political turbulence. Those years shaped his notion of what Benedictine life should be like.

He doesn't appear to have entertained any doubts on that score from the moment he assumed office. On becoming abbot he instituted a daily horarium structured around the Hours of the Divine Office, the daily Eucharist, and the common table from which no one was excused except those unavoidable absent to carry out assigned tasks elsewhere. (Those assigned tasks elsewhere included the large number of ordained monks and some brothers who were stationed in parishes or missions distant from the abbey.) He had a short form of the Divine Office in English prepared for the brothers to replace the devotional prayers in a mix of German and English that had been the mainstay of their common prayer from the early days when few of them had much schooling.

"Vacation" was not a word in Abbot Alcuin's dictionary. Going off-campus for entertainment or dinner was unheard of. Radio was just becoming popular; Alcuin regarded listening to the radio as a pernicious habit. He frowned on cigarettes. Cigars were approved; he could appreciate an occasional Italian cigarillo. Once Prohibition was repealed the abbey purchased a load of grapes annually to make a raw red wine that was served at table on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and major liturgical feasts. There was a beer at table on the Fourth of July.

With a traditional sense of missa et mensa--Mass and meals--as the cardinal community activities, Abbot Alcuin had the church sanctuary re-done in Beuronese style with Brother Clement Frischauf's Christus Pantocrator in the apse.

The monastic refectory was paneled in oak with monochrome murals by Brother Clement depicting monks at work and prayer. The paneling and the heavy oak tables and chairs designed by Father Raphael Knapp and still in use came from the Saint John's woods by way of the abbey sawmill and woodworking shop.

Saint John's flourished under Alcuin's direction। One of his first actions was to restructure the academic apostolate chartered as a seminary in 1857 and styled a university by legislative amendment in 1883। On becoming abbot, Alcuin divided the university into a preparatory school, a college, and a a four-year major seminary, each with its own dean serving under him as president। Benet Hall, the first college residence separate from the Quad, was completed during his first yer in office. The auditorium (1928), power house (1945), and diocesan seminary (1950) were the other major construction projects of his tenure. The farm produced much of the food for monks and students: vegetable gardens, orchards, dairy herd, hog farm, chicken house, butcher shop, mill. The German Franciscan Sisters contracted by Abbot Peter continued to do all of the food preparation for monks and students--including 30-gallon jars of sauerkraut--throughout Alcuin's years as abbot.

Early in his abbacy he encouraged Father Virgil Michel's interest in the European revival of the liturgy , gave him the time to travel in Europe and get to know the leaders of the liturgical movement there, then return to Saint John's and in one climactic year, 1925-1926, found the Liturgical Press and the monthly liturgical periodical, Orate Fratres, gathering around him a cluster of other monks in the prime of their careers as preachers, writers, teachers.

In his twenty-nine years as abbot, Alcuin sent 102 monks away for advanced studies, among them Godfrey Diekmann, who was to be Virgil Michel's successor and a peritus on liturgical renewal at Vatican II। Alcuin wanted the college to be good but small. He thought monastic communities and schools could get too large. He resisted what he thought of as the intrusion of secular education standards and only reluctantly consented to seeking accreditation in the late 40s.

For three decades he assisted one struggling monastic community after another by sending monks from Saint John's to help out. He built up Saint John's mission in the Bahamas as a thriving apostolate. The monastic community kept growing. It numbered 168 in 1921, 288 in 1950. After World War II, Abbot Alcuin started spinning off new missions to Mexico, to Puerto Rico, to Japan, to Kentucky. In the Bahamas he formed a priory and a secondary school, St. Augustine's, which continues to flourish under lay direction.

Abbot Alcuin poses with the von Trapp family singers on their visit to Saint John’s in 1947

Alcuin was an extraordinary abbot because of the breadth of his vision, his intelligence, and his fearless dedication to what he saw as monastic principles. He was not unkind, but his word was law. In 1945 he stopped newly ordained Father Herman Wind in the corridor after breakfast and told him he was to go to the Bahamas to join the other monks there. This was Herman's first indication of what turned out to be his life mission. Abbot Alcuin didn't invite the young monk to come in and talk about it; he simply told him to go. Writing his memoirs forty-three years later, Herman said the abbot's decision to send him to the Bahamas came as a cruel disappointment; he had entered the monastery in the hope of serving in his home parish, Saint Bernard's in St. Paul. Looking back in retirement, he was grateful for the direction his life took because of Alcuin's confidence in his ability and his sense of obedience. More than any of the other past abbots of Saint John's, Abbot Alcuin Deutsch lives on as the local archetype of the wise and prudent master Benedict envisions in his rule for monasteries.

Monday, January 31, 2011



Seven St. John’s and St. Ben’s college seniors entered an essay contest sponsored by the Benedictine Institute in the 2010 fall semester. The contest highlighted both Benedictine awareness and sense of vocation under the auspices of Corad, the campus vocations project funded by the Lilly Endowment. The question was how the Benedictine environment of the colleges had influenced the students’ sense of vocation in thinking about their own careers and their plans and dreams for the future.

Three of the students were from Saint John’s, four from the College of Saint Benedict. Prizes were awarded in early December by a jury of three readers who did not know the identity of the writers. In recognition of the quality of all of the entries, those not awarded a prize were given honorable mention.
Here are excerpts from each of their essays.

“’…they live by the labor of their hands,’ reads the Rule of Benedict number 48, reiterating the value of the Dignity of Work in appreciating God’s creation. I think of my own hands, and what they will do for a lifetime: write fervently; pray loyally. But more than imagining my own hands and their journey, the Benedictine Values beckon me to watch others’ hands and understand their labor in order to more fully understand my own; beckon me to seek a balance between what my hands have the opportunities to do, and what hands like [South African student] Lalitha’s are given.”
Emily Bina, New Brighton, majoring in Communication.

“I signed up for this experience [in a Men’s Spirituality Group] as an opportunity to talk – to share and process my own personal thoughts. As a senior student, I have remained in this group as an opportunity to listen – to learn more about this amazing community of young men and how other people’s views differ from my own. Beyond practicing the value of listening itself, this experience has allowed me to gain much insight into other young men’s reasoning for pursuing their unique vocations.”
Alex Brehm, Eagan, majoring in Communication and Hispanic Studies

“Throughout my nursing education here, we are constantly being reminded of the Benedictine values. Our program’s core is based on these values; listening, respect for persons, dignity of work, hospitality, stewardship, and the common good especially. In taking care of others and helping vulnerable individuals, we are constantly provided with opportunities to uphold our values. In nursing, we also come across many ethical situations regarding what may be best for individuals’ lives. Ethical issues are not easy to deal with and nursing is not an easy profession; there are continuous challenges to face and difficult situations to get through. It can be a very sad field, but also so rewarding knowing you can help make a difference for someone. My education here at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University has helped me to prepare for my future and be confident in upholding the importance of the Benedictine Values they have stressed to us.”
Jaclyn Imdieke, New London, majoring in Nursing

Life is a song, sing it. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I was feeling rather lost and alone. One of my strong Christian friends introduced me to Praise in the Pub for the first time. The rest is history. Every Wednesday night, I forget my anxieties; I look to the Lord, and re-center myself—all through singing. I wasn’t blessed with the voice of an angel, but that’s not important. Singing, something I never thought I’d enjoy, draws me nearer to God. Noon prayers with my Benedictine friend serves as another way I draw nearer to Him through singing. I truly could not imagine college anywhere else; without my Wednesday night Praise in the Pub or my noon prayers with Sister Rosemary. I am aware of God through the ordinary event of singing. His divine presence is everywhere, and on Wednesday nights, He is alive in Brother Willie’s Pub.”
Delaney Lundeen, Duluth, majoring in Hispanic Studies and Nutrition

“Since the summer before my sophomore year I have felt called to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. When I was first exploring this calling my Companions on a Journey group was the first place I felt comfortable sharing this call. In this group I was supported, affirmed, and able to explore what God has in mind for me and how I can live out God’s love in the world. . . . I can confidently say that my experience at St. Ben’s has created and refined my idea of vocation. . . . I cannot imagine what my understanding of vocation would be like had I not gone to St. Ben’s and I am grateful for what I have learned and how my relationship with God has grown in the past four years. I conclude with an encounter I had at the Episcopal House of Prayer. The Sister I met there looked to be approaching her mid-eighties yet was preparing for a three day vision quest. As I discern my vocation and where God calls me to be I realize this is an evolving call. However, I know that as I leave St. Ben’s, I leave with the goal to love as much as I can each day and be Christ to others as they exemplify Christ to me—a goal I believe I will hold constant for the rest of my life.”
Shannon Preston, Savage, majoring in Biology

“Acceptance into the community and making one feel at home is what I loved about the people from Saint John’s , be it a monk or a refectory worker, I felt at home right away. The following experience still lingers in my mind, and I am very thankful to a few individuals who have actually helped me to strengthen my faith as a Muslim and encouraged me to pursue my religious practices although I was literally a hop, step and jump away from the abbey church and the monastic community housing many monks. During the international student luncheon, Fr. Douglas Mullin came up to me and asked if I had all the necessary amenities to fast during the month of Ramadhan. He encouraged me to fast and advised that spirituality is integral to one’s life, and he even expressed his willingness to help me to form a Muslim student association. Our conversation lasted for a few minutes only, but during the conversation, I was left speechless for the fact that he was encouraging me to pursue my faith despite being monk and the Vice President of Student Development. After all, I was one of the many thousands of students who walk in and out of Saint John’s, but I was given personal attention like I was the only student on campus. I felt honored and fell in love with the people and community of Saint John’s for the mere fact that hierarchy was not a determinant for interaction.”
Shafak Mohamed Samsheer, Sri Lanka, majoring in Management

“Growing out of this self-knowledge is a new kind of stability I hadn’t known before. Despite being a senior with a wide-open future a mere six months away, I feel a new stability and trust in the future. Though I don’t know where I’ll be one year or five or ten from now, I am comfortable knowing in broad strokes that I want to serve my community. Thanks to my experiences here at St. Ben’s and St. John’s, I know that I have the skills and ability to succeed in life and in service to others. I know myself well enough to see what potential mistakes to look out for, and as the future makes its way toward me, I trust I will be able to meet it.”
Aaron Sinner, Cody, Wyoming, majoring in Political Science

Thursday, September 9, 2010


ABBEY: traditional term for a monastery of men or women headed by an abbot or abbess.

ABBOT/ABBESS: the leader of an abbey elected by members of the community either for a term or for life. At St. John’s Abbey, the abbot may serve until age 75 or for eight years, whichever is longer.

ANCHORITE: from the Greek anachörësis, meaning “withdrawal” or “retirement;” refers to a monk or nun who, for religious reasons. lives apart from society as a hermit rather than in community as a cenobite.

BENEDICT OF NURSIA: (ca. 480-545) author of the most widely used Western monastic rule; founder of the Abbey of Monte Cassino. His life was written by Gregory the Great, who recounts the story of the young St. Benedict fleeing the corruption of Rome to become a hermit. In time others who heard of his holiness came to join St. Benedict, and he became the founder of monasteries. Gregory reports several miracles worked by St. Benedict, many of which parallel the miracles of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings).

BENEDICTA RIEPP: (1825-1862) nun of St. Walburga’s Abbey. Eichstätt, Bavaria, who volunteered to be among the first Benedictine women bound for America and was appointed their first superior. She is revered as the foundress of those American Benedictine monasteries of women whose origins can be traced back to St. Walburga Abbey. She is buried in the cemetery of Saint Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

BENEDICTINE: n. a person who has made monastic profession according to The Rule of St. Benedict; adj. a person, institution, or spirituality inspired by The Rule of St. Benedict.

BONIFACE WIMMER: (1809-1887) a monk from the abbey of Metten who led a group of Benedictine men to the United States to found the first American Benedictine abbey, St. Vincent, in Latrobe,Pennsylvania. As the abbot of St. Vincent, he became the first Abbot President of the American Cassinese Congregation.

BROTHER: the term St. Benedict uses for a community member; today used for a non-ordained member of monastic communities of men.

CENOBITE: from the Latin coenobita, which in turn derives from the Greek koinos bios, meaning “common life.” A cenobite is a monk or nun who lives in community.

CHAPTER: gathering of the finally professed members of a monastic community to conduct monastic business (e.g., elect a prioress or abbot, admit new members for novitiate or profession, consider financial matters); used informally to refer to any monastic meeting.

CHAPTER HOUSE: place reserved for meetings of the chapter; at St. John’s Abbey the chapter house is located just to the east of the Abbey Church.

COMMUNITY: a monastic community. The gathering of those who belong to a particular monastery and who live according to the customs and interpretation of The Rule of St. Benedict proper to that monastery.

CONGREGATION: a network of autonomous monasteries who are associated with each other for support, sharing of expertise, and the visitation process. Saint John’s Abbey belongs to the American Cassinese Congregation.

CONVERSATIO MORUM: a Latin expression for living the monastic way of life, as expressed and understood in a particular monastery. Conversatio is part of the three-fold promise made by a novice in monastic profession. Conversatio encompasses celibacy and sharing of material goods and implies a willingness to undergo change and the challenges of growing in the spiritual life.

COUNCIL, SENIOR OR MONASTIC: a small consultative and deliberative body that assists the abbot/prioress with matters that do not require the attention of the whole chapter.

DIVINE OFFICE: (See Liturgy of the Hours.)

EICHSTÄTT: city in Germany where St. Walburga’s Abbey is located. St. Walburga engaged in missionary work in Germany. She was abbess of both a female and a male monastery. After her death in 779, her remains were taken to Eichstätt in 896. This is the founding monastery of Saint Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

FATHER: term used for ordained members of monastic communities of men.

FEDERATION: a network of autonomous monasteries, who are associated with each other for support, sharing of expertise, and the visitation process. Saint Benedict’s Monastery belongs to the Federation of Saint Benedict.

FINAL PROFESSION: term used by Benedictine women for lifetime monastic profession.

FORMATION, MONASTIC: the process of instruction and initiation into the monastic way of life. Initial formation prepares the newcomer for monastic profession, and ongoing or lifelong formation deepens monastic life.

GREGORY THE GREAT: (ca. 540-604) pope, saint, and author of the Dialogues, a collection of stories about Italian saints; the whole of Book II of the Dialogues is devoted to the life of St. Benedict.

HABIT: distinctive clothing, derived from medieval dress, worn by a monk or nun as an outward sign of monastic life. For monks the habit consists of a tunic, belt, scapular, and hood. For nuns the habit consists of the veil, dress, belt, scapular, and coif.

HORARIUM: from the Latin hora meaning “hour,” refers to the daily schedule of regular activities: liturgical celebrations, meals, work, recreation, times of silence, lectio divina, and chapter meetings.

HOSPITALITY: the welcome accorded to strangers, guests. pilgrims. the poor, and visitors to the monastery because they represent Christ, based on The Rule of St Benedict (53.1) and the words of Christ: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35). In ancient monasticism, hospitality meant breaking the fast to wait on the guest and share in a small meal, prayer, foot washing, and conversation on spiritual matters.

HUMILITY: from the Latin humus, meaning “ground.” A primary Christian virtue described in chapter 7 of The Rule of St Benedict. It is a way of transformation imaged as twelve steps of a ladder.

I.H.S.: a monogram for the name of Jesus, likely from the Greek, lesous, Jesus Christ, Savior; also understood to be from the Latin, Jesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus, Savior of All. This monogram is found on the ring worn by many Benedictine women as a sign of monastic profession.

I.O.G.D.: abbreviation of the Latin Ut in omnibus glorficetur Deus, meaning “that in all things God may be glorified,” a quotation from 1 Peter 4:11 used by St. Benedict when writing about the artisans of the monastery (RB 57.9). It has become a common Benedictine motto.

JUNIOR: term used for monastic women and men in temporary profession.

JUNIORATE: the stage of initial monastic formation between temporary and final or solemn monastic profession.

LECTIO DIVINA: prayerful reading of scripture from the Latin. meaning “sacred reading.” It is a distinctive aspect of Benedictine spirituality in which both the process of reading and the text read are sacred.

LITURGY OF THE HOURS: the times when Benedictines gather for recitation of the Psalms, singing of canticles and hymns, listening to readings from the scriptures or based on scripture, and prayers as a means of practicing the ancient Christian directive “to pray always” (I Thess. 5:17). St. Benedict set up eight times of prayer, known as “hours.” The day hours are Matins, Prime, Terce. Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. The night hour is Vigils. Since Vatican II the hours have changed in many monasteries. The Liturgy of the Hours is also known as the Divine Office and opus Dei, or the “work of God.” At St. John’s Abbey the hours are morning prayer, midday prayer, and evening prayer. At St. Benedict’s Monastery the hours are morning prayer, midday prayer, evening prayer, and vigils.

MAUR: a disciple of St. Benedict at Monte Cassino who is mentioned in Book II of the Dialogues of Gregory the Great. The story says that after a young monk, Placid, fell into the lake, St. Benedict sent Maur to rescue him. Maur, eager to obey, walked on water to where Placid was drowning and pulled him safely to shore.

MEDITATION: from the Latin meditatio. For Benedictines, meditation is an aspect of lectio divina that includes reflection on the Word of God in scripture, awareness of God’s loving activity in one’s life, pondering the beauties of creation and/or the expression of care and concern for others that moves one to deeper awareness of God’s presence. Meditation for early monastic men and women often manifested itself as continual repetition of a biblical phrase until it could be recited by heart and allowed one to be led by the spirit to contemplation. After the sixteenth century, the notion of meditation became a form of mental prayer focused on religious ideas and reflection on God.

METTEN: abbey in Bavaria that founded St. Vincent Archabbey, the founding monastery of St. John’s Abbey.

MISSION: the community living environment away from the monastery where monastic women live together and carry out their ministry. For monks a “mission” is a dependent house, usually in a foreign country.

MONASTERY: main house of a community of monastic men or women. Sometimes “monastery” is used to designate the community who live together in such a building.

MONK: from the Greek monachos,meaning “alone” or “single.” A man who belongs to a monastery.

MONTE CASSINO: the mountain in central Italy where Benedict founded a monastery in the sixth century; the monastery located there which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in the course of history.

NOVICE: a member of a religious community who is in a probationary period prior to making profession. The period of the novitiate must be at least one year.

NOVITIATE: describes both the probationary time of discerning a call to community life, and the space set aside for the novices to study, engage in recreation and interact with the novice director and other novices.

NUN: from the Greek and Latin nonna. originally a title of respect for a female elder, it later came to designate a female monk. Nun is also a translation of the Latin word sanctimonialis, or monialis for short, which in early Christian literature referred to women who were consecrated to a religious life. In the nineteenth century, Church policy distinguished nuns from sisters. Nuns lived a cloistered life in an abbey, made solemn profession, and elected a superior for life. Sisters, though living in a monastery, were not cloistered; they engaged in ministry, made profession, and elected a superior for a term. Currently, “nun” and “sister” are interchangeable terms.

OBEDIENCE: from the Latin words ob, meaning “to” or “intentionally,” and audiens, meaning “listening” Obedience is the virtue of listening to God so as to carry out God’s loving will, which can be sought in reflection on the scriptures, in the directives of the monastic leader, in mutual exchanges with community members, in the teachings of the Church, in the demands of ministry, and in all one’s relationships. Obedience is one aspect of the three-fold promise of profession.

OBLATE: in the early Middle Ages referred to a child who had been given by his or her parents to be reared in a monastery. Later the term came to mean laity who lived either in or near a monastery in some kind of affiliated relationship, but who did not make profession to the life there. Currently the term refers to men and women who desire to live a monastic spirituality within the environment of their home and workplace.

ORA ET LABORA: from the Latin, meaning “pray and work;” a motto often seen across entranceways to Benedictine monasteries and attributed to St. Benedict. In fact, he never used the phrase; it originated in a book about Benedictine life written by the nineteenth century German abbot, Maurus Wolter.

ORATORY: a place for prayer (RB 52); at Saint Benedict’s Monastery, the space in the lower level of the Gathering Place reserved for celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours, lectio divina, personal prayer, meditation, and retreat conferences.

ORDER OF SAINT BENEDICT (O.S.B.): describes the mainstream of the Benedictine monastic tradition. At Saint John’s Abbey, it is also used as the corporate name of the monastery.

PLACID: a young disciple of St. Benedict. (See Maur.)

PRIOR/PRIORESS: the leader of a priory; in monasteries led by an abbot/abbess. the one who ranks next to and assists the abbot/abbess.

PRIORESS: the leader of non-cloistered monastic communities of Benedictine women elected for a term. At Saint Benedict’s Monastery the prioress serves for a six year term with the possibility of reelection for four more years.

PRIORY: term used for a monastery that is not an abbey.

PROFESSION, MONASTIC: formal, public commitment to the monastic way of life through the promise of stability, conversatio morum, and obedience according The Rule of St. Benedict. After the novitiate, monastics make a temporary profession for at least three years, after which they may make final or solemn profession.

PSALMS: sacred songs of the Old Testament which form the basis of prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours. These 150 songs, often sung and or accompanied by music, represent the whole range of human emotion and relationship with God. In the time of St. Benedict. all 150 Psalms were recited over the course of a week; today the Psalter is often divided over the course of three to five weeks.

PSALTER: the collection of 150 Psalms.

REFECTORY: from the Latin refectorium, the dining room in a monastery. In a monastic refectory, the eating of food is often in silence while listening to a reading from scripture or another text.

THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT: sixth century guide for the monastic way of life written by St. Benedict. It is still used by Benedictine men and women throughout the world.

SCHOLASTICA: (Ca. 480-545) the twin sister of St. Benedict. She is known to the Christian tradition through the story, told by Gregory the Great, of her meeting with St. Benedict shortly before her death. One evening when St. Benedict refused to stay longer to engage in conversation with St. Scholastica, she prayed to God to grant a longer time for conversation. God heard her prayer and sent a storm so fierce that St. Benedict and his monks were unable to return to their own monastery. St. Gregory states that her desire was honored because her love was greater.

SENIOR COUNCIL: (See Council, Senior or Monastic.)

SISTERS OF THE ORDER OF SAINT BENEDICT: the corporate title of Saint Benedict’s Monastery.

SOLEMN PROFESSION: term used by Benedictine men for lifetime monastic profession.

SPIRITUAL DIRECTION: personal guidance in the practice of sharing faith life, prayer experiences, and struggles to discern the will of God.

SPIRITUAL/SPIRITUALITY: living by the “Spirit of God” (Rom 7:14- 8:14). Christian spirituality means the human search for the holy in which the Christian is led to self-transcendence, deeper freedom, and greater capacity in the love of Christ.

STABILITY: commitment made to a particular monastic community, part of the three-fold promise of monastic profession.

STATIO: from the Latin, meaning “standing;” the ranked ordering of members of a monastic community according to date of entry or a procession, often reflecting that order.

SUBIACO: monastery in central Italy which was the first monastic home of St. Benedict.

SUBPRIOR/SUBPRIORESS: ranks next to prior/prioress.

VOWS: (See Profession, Monastic.)

WALBURGA OF HEIDENHEIM: (710-779) the daughter of the Anglo- Saxon King Richard of Wessex and Queen Wuna. When King Richard decided in 720 to accompany his sons Willibald and Wunibald on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he allowed Walburga to enter the abbey school of Wimbourne. After several years in the monastery there, at St. Boniface’s request, she left England to do missionary work in Germany. When Walburga’s brother Wunibald died in 761, she and her nuns went to Heidenheim where, until her death, she presided over a double monastery, one of monks and the other of nuns. In 1035, Count Leodegar of Lechsgmund and Graisbach established a Benedictine convent over the site of St. Walburga’s tomb in Eichstätt, Bavaria. It is from this monastery that S. Benedicta Riepp, OSB, foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of St. Joseph, Minnesota would come. St. Walburga’s representation is found in a stained glass window in the Great Hall at Saint John’s.

WORK OF GOD: from the Latin opus Del, the term used by St. Benedict for the Liturgy of the Hours.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Living in Community

On March 24th, 2010 Abbot John Klassen and Prioress Nancy Bauer described what it means to live in community according to the Rule of Benedict and spoke about their own experiences, sometimes serious, sometimes funny, in guiding the monastic communities of Saint John’s and Saint Benedict’s. Here is a link to a video of the event:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Benedictine Appeal of These Places: Personal Witness

Many of the applications for Benedictine Heritage Tours this year included deeply felt appreciations of what is Benedictine about Saint John's and Saint Ben's. Here is a sample culled from the applications of seven faculty and staff members with their permission.

“The Abbey and staff that work here really are a community in every sense of the word. You see it in how everyone works together for a common purpose…I feel blessed to be a part of this community, and I strive to live by the Rule of Saint Benedict." Sandra Dirkes, Financial Aid

“Working alongside the Sisters of St. Benedict and members of the St. John’s Abbey has shown me how to be strong, patient and dedicated to the mission of the library and the college. Working with our faculty and staff has taught me to think outside of the box, learn and be willing to share.” Bonnie Kalla, Library

“One of the areas of advantage Saint John’s offers a young man is the Benedictine way of life as lived by the monks and witnessed by the students and employees. Another is the long reaching shadow of influence cast by the Abbey Church bell tower stretching around the globe.” Patrick Haws, Athletics

“The community at St. John’s was so supportive to me and my family... Even though I was not familiar with the Benedictine Values, they were being shared with me every day. I began to wonder where this sense of community came from. It made me want to learn about the history of this special place where I worked.” Laurie Birr, Information Technology Services

“I was awed and thoroughly and permanently influenced by my years of experiencing the Benedictine monastic music tradition. The richness, diversity and quality of sacred music that I experienced at these institutions has spoiled me for life.” Patricia Kent, Music

“Thoughtful, theological design is at the heart and soul of our physical environment at Saint John’s.” David Paul Lange, O.S.B., Art

"I have always appreciated how the Benedictines’ sense of time spans the centuries and how they are a part of a way of life that reaches back to the sixth century. As a lay member of this community, I know that I am changed by my interaction with the monastics and by my own efforts to communicate our common values. I recognize the practice of these values in the lives of the individuals whose stories I chronicle.” Glenda Burgeson, Communication and Marketing

Friday, December 11, 2009


Peter Engel was a boy of 13 when he started classes at Saint John’s College in September 1869. His parents had moved from his native Wisconsin to St. Michael, Minnesota, a few years earlier. By his own account they sent him to Saint John’s because he didn’t like farm work but showed some aptitude for studies. “I had at that time no clear idea about my vocation,” he wrote later (qtd Barry,Worship and Work, 224).

Four years later—“not before Christmas, 1873” he says as though it were a point of contention—he made up his mind to join the Order. He was sent to St. Vincent Abbey in Pennsylvania for his novitiate year, July 1874-1875, and stayed on a few months longer to study physics and chemistry. Apparently that was the extent of his graduate education in science. Years later he would send Anselm Ortmann to Johns Hopkins for advanced work in physics, the first of many Saint John’s monks to be engaged in graduate study in the new century.

He was elected abbot in 1894 and continued in office until his death in 1921. Like his predecessors Alexius Edelbrock and Bernard Locnikar he kept the title of college president while designating a vice president to carry out administrative duties. All the rest of his career would show that he was a born educator with particular interest in scientific fields. Colman Barry says that of Saint John’s early abbots he was the one most interested in developing the school (226).

“He had studied and taught natural philosophy, physics, and chemistry; developed a physics laboratory; opened a meteorological station . . .; installed a wireless telegraph station . . . ; and opened an astronomical observatory on top of the water tower” (226).

He had the buildings wired for electric light in 1898. On October 10 the current came on, generated by a new dynamo in the power house. “The study-halls were now brilliantly lit up by dazzling clusters of lamps” (Alexius Hoffman, St. John’s University: 1857-1907, 119).

The 1901 library with St. John’s Photo Studio on the third floor.

Half a dozen campus buildings of little architectural distinction, all of which are still in use, sprang up in a loose configuration behind the Quad in the first decade of the twentieth century: a combination library/music department/photo studio, now Wimmer Hall (1901), a gymnasium, now Guild Hall (1901), a residence for the Franciscan Sisters who staffed the kitchen for fifty years, now St. Francis House (1904), an infirmary, now Greg House (1907), a science building, now Simons Hall (1910).

A charming edifice that no longer stands was the brick observatory constructed according to Peter’s design in the summer of 1894. It stood on the high ground east of the Quad but was razed in 1961, a few years before word of historic preservation reached Collegeville, in order to clear the site for the Prep School.

Completed in Peter Engel’s first year as abbot, the observatory had a seven-inch telescope and a revolving dome.

Abbot Peter was keenly interested in photography. He took the lead in documenting his era on glass plates that now constitute an invaluable archival record.

Enrollment doubled during his term in office and was gradually separated out into standard American levels—high school, college, seminary—although not yet labeled as such. In 1894, the year before he took office, enrollment in the ecclesiastical course stood at 39, the other levels at 199. In 1921, the year of his death, there were 59 students in what was now called the School of Theology and 400 students in the academic, collegiate, and commercial departments.

Intercollegiate athletics got its start while Abbot Peter was president. Saint John’s joined six other colleges to form the MIAC in 1920. The 1920-1921 catalog announced that “the purpose of this conference is to foster at its highest the spirit of intercollegiate friendliness, which is so important a factor in giving athletic rivalry its proper educational value” (87).

In this 1912 view the Gymnasium and the new Science Center stand North of the Quad.

Peter Engel was admired and loved for his personal warmth and fair-mindedness in spiritual and pastoral matters as well as education. A man of the extreme center, Colman Barry calls him, quiet but firm (225). His twenty-six years of rule followed by Alcuin Deutsch’s twenty-nine years provided the guiding principles and the steady direction that shaped the Saint John’s we know today.