Abbot Emeritus Claude Peifer
Professed: July 11, 1947
Ordained: May 22, 1952
Elected as abbot: June 3, 2003
Resigned: June 6, 2011
Died: May 1, 2014
We request your prayers for our deceased confrere, Claude (John) Peifer, monk, priest, and abbot emeritus of St. Bede Abbey in Peru, IL, who died Thursday morning, May 1, 2014, of apparent heart failure at the abbey.
He was born September 20, 1927, the son of John and Armella Peifer of Lincoln, IL, where he attended St. Mary’s School. He then was a boarding student at St. Bede Academy and College, entering the abbey 1946 and taking his first vows July 11, 1947. Meticulous and disciplined by nature, with an excellent memory, he was naturally drawn to academia. After completing his undergraduate studies at St. John’s Collegeville, MN, he studied theology at St. Bede, was ordained May 22, 1952, then traveled to Rome where he received an S.T.L. from Collegio di Sant’Anselmo in 1954 and an S.S.L. from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in 1956. He did additional studies at L’École Biblique in Jerusalem.
Fr. Claude taught scripture and theology in the abbey’s academy, college and seminary, from 1957 to 1969. From 1972 to 1994 he was CFO and treasurer for both abbey and academy, serving as acquisitions librarian during roughly the same period and returning to this latter work after his retirement. From 1968 onward he held a variety of positions in monastic formation, and his example of love both for sacred scripture and for the Rule had a profound influence on the novices and juniors under his care.
In addition to his time at his studies and in various teaching assignments, Fr. Claude spent other extended periods away from Saint Bede. The first began in September of 1969, when he was made prior of the experimental community at Holy Mother of God Monastery in Henderson, North Carolina, a small foundation near Oxford, as part of the monastic renewal movement after Vatican II. Sadly, the foundation did not flourish, and Fr. Claude returned to St. Bede in August of 1970. Years later he spent nearly 18 months as chaplain to the sisters at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut, returning to Saint Bede in October of 1997.
In 2003 he was elected seventh abbot of Saint Bede, a position he held until his retirement in 2011. His tenure as abbot saw the reinstatement of morning chapter and a greater emphasis on lectio divina, both of which continue to have a positive effect on the community. Fr. Claude was very active in the American Cassinese Congregation of the Benedictine order, attending and speaking at numerous General Chapters and serving on the Abbot President‘s Council from 1974 to 1980 and again from 1989 to 2010. He was in great demand to give retreats, lectures and workshops at monasteries and convents throughout the order.
Fr. Claude was an internationally recognized scholar in scripture, having served on the editorial board for the New American Bible and as an associate editor and contributor to The Bible Today. He also wrote a popular commentary on First and Second Corinthians, as well as numerous articles for The New Catholic Encyclopedia, The Catholic Youth Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, and The Dictionary of the Middle Ages.
Fr. Claude’s literary influence in monastic circles was also widespread, having contributed regularly to The American Benedictine Review, and his book Monastic Spirituality is a standard text for monks in formation. An excellent Latinist, he served on the editorial board for the 1981 translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict, and wrote one of the appendices for the edition.
Rarely in good health, Fr. Claude had a history of heart disease and suffered several heart attacks, two of which required multiple bypasses. He followed his doctor’s regime for diet and exercise with his customary self-discipline, and for many years could be seen riding his bicycle around the property every afternoon. He suffered a serious heart attack at the General Chapter in June of 2013, which required a lengthy but largely successful period of recuperation. Nonethe-less, his death came as a shock, when on the morning of May 1, 2014, he sat down in choir just before morning prayer, slumped over in his stall and expired within a few minutes. He died as he had lived: his mind composed for prayer, strengthened by the sacraments, and surrounded by the community which he loved so much.
Abbot Hugh Anderson, the abbot president of the American Cassinese Congregation, remarked: “The work he did for the congregation and the order is immeasurable. Abbot Claude served the Congregation for many, many years as author, consultant, visitator, advisor, historian, formator, friend and confrere to all. When Abbot Claude spoke everyone listened because we all knew the wisdom he possessed; he will be terribly missed.”
In addition to his monastic community of Saint Bede, Fr. Claude is survived by a sister, Rose Mary Meyers of Mercer Island, WA.
We are grateful for the suffrages you will offer for our deceased confrere, and we promise faithful remembrance of your deceased.
Abbot Philip Davey, O.S.B. and community