The Rt. Rev. Emeritus Marion Eugene Balsavich
Born: Springfield, Illinois, June 11, 1925
Professed: July 11, 1946
Ordained: September 22, 1951
Elected: April 10, 1981
Resigned: April 22, 1990
Died: March 16, 2012
We request your prayers for our deceased confrere, The Rt. Rev. Emeritus Marion Eugene Balsavich, who fell asleep in the Lord at the age of 86 in the early morning hours of Friday, March 16, 2012 in the infirmary of the abbey, where he had been receiving hospice care for two weeks following a brief stay at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Spring Valley, IL, due to complications resulting from chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Abbot Marion was born in Springfield, Illinois, on June 11, 1925 and baptized on July 5 in Immaculate Conception Cathedral there as Eugene Ignatius. His mother, Mary Marenda, was a native of Spring Valley, and his father, John Balsavich a native of northern Illinois who had come to Spring Valley to work in the coal mines. The family lived in Springfield from 1921 to 1926 because his father found employment there, but then returned to Spring Valley. He had one brother, John Paul, four years older than he, who died in 2009, and he is survived by a younger sister, Mrs. Joan Crumbaugh of Leroy, IL.
After elementary education at the Immaculate Conception grade school in Spring Valley, he came to St. Bede Academy in 1939, initially as a day student, where he had an outstanding academic record and was an active participant in extra-curricular activities. During his last two years of high school, he accepted an invitation to live as a boarding student at the school in return for working in the academy office and in the student infirmary, and continued this arrangement during his first two years of college, with the intention of entering the monastic community.
His novitiate year was spent at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, followed by simple profession in July of 1946. He spent the next two years completing college studies, first at St. Benedict’s College in Atchison, KS, and then at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, from which he graduated magna cum laude with a BA in philosophy in 1948. He thereupon undertook further studies in the school of theology at St. Bede for three years until 1951, during which he also taught remedial reading at St. Bede Academy and Greek in the junior college.
Ordained a year early on September 22, 1951 by Bishop Joseph Schlarman of Peoria, he was then sent for graduate study in theology to the Collegio di Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, Italy, where he obtained the degree of licentiate in sacred theology after two years. He then pursued further studies for the doctorate in theology and, after successfully defending his dissertation on The Witness of St. Gregory the Great to the Place of Christ in Prayer (Pontificium Athenaeum Anselmianum, Rome 1959), was awarded the S.T.D. degree in June of 1955. During his last year in Rome, he had resided with the Camaldolese community at the basilica of San Gregorio on the Coelian Hill.
Upon returning to St. Bede, Fr. Marion became the principal instructor in dogmatic theology in our school of theology and also student chaplain and prefect of the seminary students in the junior college. A few years later he was appointed rector of the school of theology, a position that he retained until it closed in 1969. Beginning in 1957, he also taught moral theology as well as systematic theology until 1962, and he also offered a course in preaching to the junior monks of our community and those from several other monasteries who studied in our theology school during the 1960’s.
In 1962 Father Marion was appointed subprior of the abbey and master of clerics, as well as secretary of the chapter and of the council of seniors. He then served as prior of the monastery during the years when his predecessor, Prior David Duncan, who was elected abbot in 1968, governed the community as abbot, until his resignation in1981. During these years after the completion of Vatican Council II, he was instrumental in the planning and construction of our abbey church, completed in 1974, and, as chairman of the liturgy committee, did an enormous amount of work in restructuring the divine office and selecting suitable texts and translations, especially for the lectionary of the office.
Beginning already in 1967, Prior Marion was also active in the renewal efforts of the monasteries of the American-Cassinese Congregation, serving on the committee that produced the document Renew and Create, which was approved by the General Chapter in 1969, and then from 1978 to 1980 as secretary of the committee that studied the election of abbots and prepared the first edition of the Guidelines for Abbatial Elections, which was approved by the General Chapter in 1983.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s he also preached community retreats in several monasteries of both men and women, taught theology one summer at an institute in California, and assisted occasionally in local parishes, serving for a time as administrator of St. Thomas More Parish in Dalzell after the sudden death of Father Alcuin Mueller in 1974..
Upon the resignation of Abbot David in 1981 he was elected abbot of St. Bede on April 10 of that year and was blessed on May 25 by Bishop Edward O’Rourke of Peoria in our abbey church, in the presence of our metropolitan, Cardinal John Cody of Chicago. He served as abbot until he reached the age of 65 in 1990, when he submitted his resignation in accord with the proper law of our Congregation at that time.
Abbot Marion was an extremely organized person who dealt methodically with the issues posed by the conciliar-inspired renewal of monastic life and the problems arising from rapidly changing cultural and economic conditions. He accordingly challenged the community to reorganize the structures of our institution and to adopt clear policies for the direction and governance of both the abbey and of St. Bede Academy. During his administration the monastery building underwent a renovation that transformed our former choir chapel into an attractive chapter room, some monastic cells into rooms for elderly monks, and others into an infirmary equipped for compassionate care of the sick and accessible to nurses and visitors.
Above all, however, his emphasis was upon the intellectual and especially spiritual growth of the monks themselves, and his solid theologically-based liturgical preaching and monastic teaching and exhortations were a source of enrichment for the community. He was a perfectionist in everything that he did and, while this quality could be discouraging to others whose standards were less demanding, it seems to have been most of all a burden to himself, for he was generally dissatisfied with his own performance and appeared to lack confidence in his ability to do justice to his multiple undertakings.
During these years his talents, insights, and disciplined efficiency were further put at the service of our monastic Congregation when he served as visitator to other monasteries and as a member of the President’s council, but particularly as contributor to special projects required by the ongoing renewal activities. From 1982 to 1983 he worked for the committee that studied abbatial tenure and led to a 1983 change in our proper law. From 1983 to 1986 he served as the chairman of the committee that drafted a complete revision of the Constitutions of our Congregation, which were adopted by the General Chapter of 1986 and subsequently confirmed by the Holy See.
During the years when he was our abbot he had suffered a heart attack, from which he recovered, and also had surgery for skeletal problems in his back. A second surgery in 1998 did not completely resolve this issue, and in his final decade of life he was obliged to wear a leg brace and to use a walker, with increasing problems of balance and inability to stand.
After his resignation in 1990 he resumed his previous rank in the community and continued to take an active part in the community’s life. He was appointed guest master, initially “until further notice,” an assignment that continued to the end of his life and became a fruitful apostolate both for him and for many people who benefitted from his generous sense of hospitality.
He also served as director of the abbey’s theological library for many years, and selected the books that we read at table, as well as continuing to provide readings for the divine office. For much of this period he also took care of the scheduling for the use of the abbey church by the abbey and academy as well as outside agencies.
We are grateful for the suffrages that you will offer for our deceased confrere, and we promise faithful remembrance of your deceased.
Abbot Philip Davey, OSB and community