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 Once Prohibition was repealed the abbey purchased a load of grapes annually to make a raw red wine that was served at table on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and major liturgical feasts.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