Our History

Benedictines from St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, first came to Illinois in 1861 to staff St. Joseph’s Church in Chicago.  The monks stationed at the parish desired to build a new school and to found a new monastery.  Happily, Bishop John Lancaster Spalding of Peoria arranged for their arrival in Bureau County where the construction of St. Bede College was completed in 1890.  Twenty years later the monastic community had enough members in it and the financial stability to become an independent abbey.  Click on any of the headings below to read about the growth and development of St. Bede both as an abbey and as a school.

Recent aerial view

An aerial photo of St. Bede Abbey and Academy

1. European Roots 7. Abbot Lawrence Vohs
2. Turn of a Century 8. Abbot David Duncan
3. A New Venture 9. Abbot Marion Balsavich
4. Founding Monks 10. Abbot Roger Corpus
5. Abbot Vincent Huber 11. Abbot Claude Peifer
6. Abbot Justus Wirth 12. Abbot Philip Davey

 

 

 

European Roots

St. Bede traces its history back to sixth-century Italy, where St. Benedict of Nursia developed a new form of monastic life which gave priority to three elements: the desire for God expressed in meditative reading and shared prayer, a life together lived like a family, and compassion for others expressed in service and hospitality.

St. Benedict founded the abbey of Monte Cassino in 529, and wrote a Rule for monks which helped his style of religious life to reproduce itself all over Europe.

One of these European foundations was the abbey of St. Michael at Metten in Bavaria.  This venerable community dates from 766 AD, and is the “grandmother” of St. Bede Abbey.  Charlemagne was one of its benefactors, encouraging the abbey’s missionary, cultural and educational tradition.  Metten had a reputation for its art, its learning and its influence for good that it would hand on to its daughter houses.

Under Napoleon Bonaparte, the abbey was confiscated and its 23 monks scattered in 1803.  But King Ludwig I of Bavaria bought the lands and restored Metten in 1830 with the help of two grateful Benedictines, Frs. Ildephonse and Roman.

As Metten enjoyed its revival, it began to draw candidates in 1832, including a young, zealous diocesan priest, Fr. Boniface Wimmer.  After his formation as a Benedictine, Fr. Boniface asked for and received permission to bring the monastic life to the United States.

In 1846, with the help of Bishop Michael O’ Connor of Pittsburgh, the Benedictines put down new roots on 315 acres of Mount St. Vincent, forty miles east of Pittsburgh.  Wimmer brought with him four students and fourteen laymen, investing some with the Benedictine habit on October 24, 1846.

After five years the monastery had nearly one hundred members, the school had ecclesiastical, classical, and commercial departments, and Fr. Boniface was ready to introduce the Benedictine sisters to the United States.  All of this progress brought the elevation of St. Vincent’s to the status of abbey in 1855, with Boniface Wimmer as its first abbot.  The American-Cassinese Congregation of Benedictines had been created, with the approving nod of Pope Pius IX.

The abbot was eager to found other communities, and priories were begun in Minnesota, Kansas, and New Jersey by 1857.  Before he died in 1887, he also sent monks to begin new communities in Florida, Illinois, Colorado and Canada.

Back to top

 

The article below was written by Fr. Claude Peifer, OSB, for the Abbey Views portion of the 2010 spring edition of the Bedan Record, Volume 34, Number 1, pgs. 13-16.

Turn of a Century 

Historical background

After the discovery of America, the colonization of Mexico and of Central and South America was conducted chiefly by Spain and Portugal, countries that were predominantly Catholic, and religious communities from the Iberian peninsula sent missionaries to work among the native peoples. Portuguese Benedictines established monasteries in Brazil already in the 16th century, some of which still exist today. North America, however (except for the French settlers in Canada and the Spanish in Florida and the Southwest), was colonized principally by Protestants, and there was no monastic presence here in the early days.

The early 19th century, however, saw the beginning of a great wave of immigration that brought increasing numbers of people into the United States who came from largely Catholic countries: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, the Slavic nations, Switzerland, Ireland. There had been few priests in the new American republic, but European bishops and religious superiors gradually began to send clergy to care for the immigrants. The monasteries of Europe, however, far from being in an expansion mode, were in a state of severe decline. The Enlightenment, the French revolution, and then the Napoleonic conquests and the spread of revolutionary ideas to much of the continent had destroyed most of the abbeys, and by the 1830’s only a couple of hesitant efforts at restoration were underway.

It was in this context that a young Bavarian diocesan priest named Boniface Wimmer became a monk at the newly restored abbey of Metten in 1838. He soon became aware of the plight of German‑speaking Catholic immigrants in America, who were in danger of losing their faith for want of priests. Within a few years he had devised a plan for founding a monastery in the United States to alleviate this problem and had persuaded his abbot to allow him to attempt this bold venture. In 1846 he arrived in Pennsylvania with 19 young men who had volunteered for the great adventure.

Against all odds, Wimmer succeeded. There were many vocations among the immigrants, and his foundation at St. Vincent in Latrobe, PA grew rapidly into a monastery, a school, and a seminary that were soon producing priests and lay brothers who began staffing German parishes and establishing daughter houses. Already before the Civil War new monasteries had sprung up in Minnesota, Kansas, and New Jersey, and in 1857 Wimmer received authorization from Rome to establish a new monastic congregation, of which he became the first abbot president.

Benedictine presence in Illinois

Archabbot Boniface later added independent abbeys in North Carolina and Alabama before his death in 1887, as well as dependent houses as far away as Georgia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Colorado. Already in 1861 he had sent monks to staff St. Joseph Parish in Chicago, a German congregation on the near north side that had been founded in 1846. The parish grew rapidly and flourished. Although its buildings were destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871, a new parish plant was soon constructed at another site. The monks also made missionary journeys to care for the German Catholics elsewhere in northern Illinois, as far west as the Quad Cities. Through this activity they became familiar with German congregations in towns such as Ottawa and Henry along the Illinois River, an area that would later be selected as a permanent site for another monastery.

By the 1880’s the half‑dozen monks who were then stationed at St. Joseph Priory had become convinced that Illinois was an ideal place for a new monastic community that would operate a school, and in one of his last letters Archabbot Boniface spoke of his hopes for another abbey in Illinois. In the meantime, in 1885, he had sent Czech monks to take charge of St. Procopius Parish on the south side of Chicago, founded in 1875. It became an independent priory in 1888 and an abbey in 1894, but later, in 1914, the abbey moved to Lisle, IL. This year the community is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

The monks at St. Joseph Priory, which was still dependent upon St. Vincent, decided already in the 1880’s that the school and abbey that they envisaged should be outside of the city, and looked to the area with which they had become familiar through their mission trips, which in 1875 had become a separate diocese, centered in Peoria. The first bishop of the new diocese, John Lancaster Spalding, was an enthusiastic advocate of Catholic schools, and he had made it clear that he would welcome such an institution.

Archabbot Andrew Hintenach

Archabbot Andrew Hintenach

Meanwhile Archabbot Boniface had died in December of 1887, and the election of a successor created a division in the community at St. Vincent. Most of the priests stationed in parishes and missions outside the monastery wanted to continue the expansionist policies of Wimmer, whereas some of those living in the monastery wished to concentrate upon a renewal of monastic life and discipline within the abbey. The electors first chose Abbot Innocent Wolf, who had already served for ten years as abbot in Kansas, but, when he declined the honor, they turned to Father Andrew Hintenach, who had previously served as novice master, subprior, and prior. He had spent his entire monastic career in the monastery until June of 1887, when Abbot Boniface assigned him to the Alabama missions. His policy was to consolidate the far‑flung enterprises of St. Vincent and make as many of them as possible independent.

In view of this, he was reluctant to undertake new foundations, and the Chicago monks were at first unsuccessful in persuading him to support their project, but in 1888, after further persuasion by Bishop Spalding, he presented the matter to the monastic chapter at St. Vincent, which approved the project, though reluctantly and without great enthusiasm. Early the next year the archabbot bought a 200‑acre farm between Peru and Spring Valley that had been located by Father John Power of Spring Valley and a local layman, Charles Devlin, at the instance of Bishop Spalding. The property was known locally as the “Webster farm” because the famous Daniel Webster had owned it as an investment from 1837 to 1839, and his son had lived on it for a time in a log cabin that he had built.

Founding of St. Bede

In the summer of 1889 the required canonical authorizations were issued by Bishop Spalding and by the Holy See, the Chicago architectural firm of Bauer and Hill was hired to draw up plans for the building, Father Casimir Elsesser of St. Vincent was appointed by the abbot to supervise the project, and Brother Wolfgang Traxler was sent out to direct the construction. Excavation took place in the fall, but not much building seems to have been done before 1890. The work was continually plagued by lack of funds, and Father Casimir was continually borrowing money to make ends meet and sending importunate appeals to Archabbot Andrew. In spite of numerous obstacles, such as that of finding an adequate water supply, which eventually found a solution only with the completion of an artesian well in 1892, the building was ready for occupancy by monks and students by the first day of school in September of 1891.

By the end of the 19th century, the Bavarians were giving way to a new generation of American‑born monks. The Chicago monks who had promoted the new foundation wanted it to be thoroughly American and therefore chose a name that would not associate it with their German background. Hence they chose an English monastic patron, Bede the Venerable, who lived from 673 to 735 and spent his entire life, from the age of seven, in the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow in Northumberland. Largely self‑taught, he had become the most learned man of his time, the brightest light of the Anglo‑Saxon renaissance, and one of the most revered authorities of the Middle Ages. He had been venerated as a saint since the ninth century, and was soon to be declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1899. He was an appropriate patron both for a monastery and for a school. The institution had been legally incorporated as St. Bede College on February 19, 1890.

The earliest years

Fr. Albert Robrecht

Fr. Albert Robrecht

The archabbot appointed Father Albert Robrecht as rector of the school, and he arrived with Father John Müller in early August of 1891. Four others came later to complete the monastic community and the school faculty before opening day on September 7. About fifty students enrolled for the first year, the majority of them boarders, and there were sixty‑nine the second year, the result of advertising and recruiting efforts in the diocese and in the Chicago area. The building could accommodate more than one hundred boys, and enrollment did not exceed that number until 1898. Two programs were offered, as at St. Vincent, a six‑year classical course and a two‑year commercial course, besides a preparatory program that seems to have been equivalent to junior high school. The formal dedication of the school was postponed until October 12, when an elaborate celebration was held, presided over by Bishop Spalding, Archabbot Andrew, two other abbots, many diocesan priests, Catholic parish societies with accompanying brass bands, and numerous laity. The bishop delivered a eulogy that must have lasted for an hour, as was customary at the time.

Fr. Emmeran Singer

Fr. Emmeran Singer

Three other monks, Fathers Emmeran Singer, who was appointed prior, Alcuin Maucher, and Alexius Grass, and a diocesan priest, Father James Canevin, completed the community for this first year. Father Alexius remained at St. Bede for ten years, Father Alcuin for only two years at this time, but he was again assigned to St. Bede in 1907. He subsequently became one of the charter members of the new abbey and its first prior, but he died prematurely in 1913. By November the community was asking the archabbot for more help, and he sent Cornelius Enders, then a deacon, who was expected to complete his theological studies on his own while working full time in the school, a pattern that was often repeated later.

Fr. Stephen Lyons

Fr. Stephen Lyons

In 1892 both the prior and the rector returned to St. Vincent. Archabbot Andrew, who had resigned in June of that year, to the dismay of many of his monks, himself came to St. Bede as prior for the 1892‑93 year, while Father Stephen Lyons was the new rector, and Father Eusebius Geiger was also added to their number for this year and the one following. Thus began a pattern of rather frequent changes of personnel in the early years, as monks moved back and forth from the mother house, some of them happy to escape from what they perceived as exile in Illinois. The monks initially lived on the top floor. In a few years there were some who wanted to stay permanently. Between 1891 and 1910 more than fifty monks from St. Vincent were to work and pray at St. Bede, and some others served in parishes in the Illinois Valley area and at St. Mary’s Hospital in LaSalle. Three of them died here and are buried in our cemetery. Two successive archabbots helped us to get started, and our mother house paid for the land and buildings and generously guaranteed financial stability for nearly two decades until we were self‑sufficient.
 

Back to top

A New Venture

On June 15, 1861, the Benedictine monks of St. Vincent’s Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, took charge of St. Joseph’s Church in Chicago.  Abbot Boniface Wimmer performed the first official liturgical act there by baptizing a baby.  Ten years later in October of 1871 the Great Chicago Fire destroyed the parish buildings.  The monks re-established the parish at its present location on Orleans St.  By 1889, the monks stationed at St. Joseph’s Church were petitioning their motherhouse for permission to establish a college in the Peoria Diocese, having obtained the whole-hearted support of John Lancaster Spalding, the first Bishop of the Peoria Diocese.  The monastic chapter at St. Vincent agreed, and on May 15, 1889, a 200-acre farm which at one time had been owned by Daniel Webster, was purchased for the new foundation in Bureau County.  The total cost of the transaction, including traveling expenses, recording fees, and attorney fees was $19,508.40.  On July 22 Pope Leo XIII also sent his permission and blessing for the new venture.

In early October of 1889 excavation began for the school building.  Bauer and Hill of Chicago were commissioned to be the architects.  Br. Wolfgang Traxler, OSB, of St. Leo’s Abbey, Florida, arrived to act as supervisor, and eventually, as foreman as well.  Money was scarce for the digging of a well and for installing electricity, so the monks of St. Bede borrowed funds from their Benedictine brothers in Chicago at St. Joseph’s Church and at St. Procopius’ priory.  The total cost of the project was about $110,000.

Two years later, on September 7, 1891, the first scholastic year began with 50 students and a faculty of six monks.  About five weeks later, on October 12, St. Bede College was dedicated.  A chartered train brought guests from Chicago.  A procession was formed in Spring Valley, another in Peru, both led by brass bands, as 3,000 guests converged on the new school.  Bishop John Lancaster Spalding, accompanied by Archabbot Andrew Hintenach of St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Abbot Innocent Wolf of St. Benedict’s, Atchinson, Kansas, Abbot Hilary Pfraengle of St. Mary’s Abbey, Newark, New Jersey, and Prior Nepomucene Jaeger of St. Procopius Priory in Chicago, Illinois, blessed the building inside and out.  The bishop gave an address from a stand erected in front of the school, expressing the prayerful hope that someday people would be able to say of the new foundation what they said of its patron:

May God’s blessing rest upon [this college]; may good men’s hands be outstretched to help it; may those who year after year shall enter its halls, return to their homes, like merchants from distant shores, laden with a rich store of wisdom and lore; and some day, when we who are here shall sleep with our fathers in the cool earth, let a loving hand write above its portals Bede’s epitaph: O Bede, God’s servant and bright star of the monastic brotherhood!  From regions which do lie afar to the whole Church thou hast brought good.

Throughout the 1890s the college grew and developed.  Literary and debate societies were formed by the students of St. Bede, and Bishop Spalding himself sometimes judged their performances.  By 1898, enrollment had grown to 100 students, and by 1904 was approaching 200, so St. Vincent’s contributed $30,000 to add a south wing to the school building.

Two years later tragedy would strike both the student and monastic community.  Several of the prefects decided that the ice on the slough in the river bottoms was thick enough for skating, provided that the boys did not congregate in one spot.  Thus, early on Saturday afternoon, February 3, 1906, Frs. Maurice and Gilbert took some fifty boys skating.  But one of the boys took his camera along and all the other boys ran to get into the picture together.  The ice gave way and some ten students fell into the icy water.  The prefects ran to help and Fr. Gilbert was able to pull some of the boys out, but in doing so, he himself fell into the water.  One by one four bodies disappeared from view – one of them being Fr. Gilbert.  A memorial to him and to the three students can be found on the west wall of the first floor of the north wing of the academy building.

While the school continued to grow, the priests of the monastic community ministered to people living in the area.  Notably, on January 8, 1893, Fr. Alexius Grass became the pastor of St. Benedict’s Parish in Ladd where he offered the first parish Mass in the Ladd public school.  Construction of the first parish church in the town began later that spring.  Additionally, on November 13, 1909, the Cherry Mine Disaster affected the small mining community of Cherry.  Fr. Wencel Scholar, pastor of Holy Trinity parish in that town, offered heroic assistance to the families of the victims.

Back to top

The article below was written by Fr. Claude Peifer, OSB, and printed in the Abbey Views portion of the summer edition of the 2010 Bedan Record, Volume 34, Number 2, pgs. 11-12.
 

The Founding Monks of St. Bede

The efforts of some St. Vincent monks, who had been working in Chicago since 1871, were largely responsible for the opening of St. Bede in 1891. It had already been incorporated as St. Bede College the previous year.

The new school and the small community of six monks and one diocesan priest who originally staffed it were content to remain under the authority of St. Vincent in the opening years, and most of the monks who were assigned to St. Bede returned to the mother house or to another assignment after a longer or shorter stay here. Their roots were in Pennsylvania, or even in Bavaria, and Illinois did not seem attractive to all of them. Moreover, the archabbey had numerous other slots to fill.

Early arrivals

It took some years before there were enough monks interested in remaining here permanently to make independence a viable option, even though some had stayed here under obedience for a long time. Fr. Alexius Grass had arrived with the very first group in 1891 and continued to live and teach here for ten years, until 1901. He must have been a polymath, for he taught mathematics, physics, history, religion, penmanship, typewriting, and violin, and served as rector for one year, in 1901-02. He then served St. Vincent in other capacities until his death in 1918 at the age of 58.

Fr. John Müller, who anglicized his name to Miller, had also come in 1891 and stayed even longer, until 1905. His teaching was almost entirely in the commercial course, but he too served as rector during two school years, 1902-03 and 1903-04, and then returned to his commercial teaching for his final year here. He died in 1931 at the age of 71.

The first to be assigned to St. Bede of those who would later become members of the future abbey was Fr. Alcuin Maucher, who also arrived with the first contingent in 1891. He initially spent two years at St. Bede, 1891-93, and then was recalled to other assignments. In 1907 he came back and resumed his duties here, teaching arithmetic, spelling, drawing, and physics, and served as student chaplain for the year 1909-10. When the petition for independence was circulated in 1909, he added his signature and thus became one of the thirteen founders. As the oldest member of the group, at the ripe old age of 46 (!), he was appointed the first prior, but he died prematurely after less than three years, in January of 1913. He was then only 49 years old and had been a monk for 29 years, a priest for 25.

After three years of existence, St. Bede welcomed another monk, Fr. Justus Wirth, who was to play an important role in its future. Born in Bavaria in 1871, he had emigrated to Pennsylvania at the age of 15. He studied at St. Vincent, completed his novitiate year, and made his monastic profession in 1890, when St. Bede was under construction. In 1894, a year before his ordination, he was assigned to St. Bede and was destined to remain here for the rest of his life and to govern the community from 1926 until his death in1942.

He taught Latin, Greek, German, history, geography, bookkeeping, religion, and guitar (!). He served as disciplinarian in 1902-03, and in 1909-10 as both rector of the college and prior of the community. In the meantime a number of young monks had been sent to St. Bede who were willing to stay here and favored independence, a course of action that had been previously discussed but not acted upon. The question came to a head in the fall of 1909, so Prior Justus was the one who gathered the signatures and sent the petition to St. Vincent.

Another monk who came in 1894 was Dennis Severin, who was three years younger than Fr. Justus. A Pennsylvania native, he had studied at St. Vincent and had just made his profession two months before coming here. After three years he was recalled to St. Vincent, where he was ordained a priest in 1899 and then assigned to other duties, until he was again sent to St. Bede in 1905. During both periods he taught arithmetic and German, sometimes English as well, and served as prefect first of the younger and then of the older students. In 1909 he became prefect of studies and also taught Latin. Not long after independence he lost his hearing, and then served the community as procurator for 33 years, from 1912 until 1945.

Young monks who stayed

In the following years more young monks arrived, often before ordination, so that they had to do their priesthood studies here on a largely independent basis, while simultaneously teaching and often serving as prefects of boarding students. Thus Dominic Brugger, who had been born in Erie, PA in 1875, arrived soon after his profession in 1896 and stayed until his death in 1948. In 1910 the new abbot appointed him subprior, a position that he retained under successive abbots almost until his death.

The following year, 1897, it was Columban Kaule who came. Somewhat older, he had been born in Bavaria in 1870, came to the United States and to St. Vincent at age 16, and was professed in 1893, so that he had only his final year of theology to complete before his ordination here in 1898. He also stayed until his death in 1944. He was a teacher of German, history, speech, and religion, and was especially remembered as director of dramatics. After independence and the early death of Fr. Alcuin Maucher, the first prior, he was appointed prior and served in this office under the first two abbots, until 1942.

Vincent theology professor

Fr. Vincent Huber as a young theology professor

1897 also marked the first appearance at St. Bede of Fr. Vincent Huber, whom Archabbot Leander Schnerr then appointed as both prior and rector of the college. Except for a one-year interruption for health reasons in 1903-04, he was to fill these positions continuously until he was recalled to St. Vincent in 1908, only to be elected as our first abbot in 1910.

In 1898 Eugene Huegel arrived, also only one year after his profession and only 21 years old. He too was a native of Erie and had been a student and then a novice at St. Vincent. The remaining seven of the thirteen who formed the abbatial community of 1910 came upon the scene later. With one exception, they were somewhat younger, born mostly in the 1880’s of American parentage, though still of German extraction, and had made their monastic profession in the new century.

The first of these to arrive was Maurice Toole in 1903. He too was a native of Pennsylvania, but he was unique among the founders in being of Irish extraction, though he had learned German at St. Vincent. Upon the achievement of independence in 1910, he was appointed rector of the school and directed its fortunes for the next ten years, until 1920. The next arrival was Alexander Fromme, whose assignment here was the result of a tragic accident; he replaced Fr. Gilbert Simon in February of 1906 after the latter was drowned together with two students on an ice-skating expedition.

Later arrivals

Fr. Wencel Scholar prepares to celebrate an outdoor Mass

In 1907 Frederick Wuenschel (later Winchel) arrived, assigned to St. Bede only after his ordination. A native of Erie, he had been professed at St. Vincent in 1902. The next year Andrew Miller came, likewise soon after his ordination. He was a nephew of Archabbot Andrew Hintenach, and had made profession at St.

Vincent in 1903. Though he served as teacher and prefect here for four years, the rest of his life was devoted to parochial ministry, from 1912 until his death in 1949.

In the final year of St. Bede’s dependent status, 1909, two more monks arrived. One was Casimir Miller, who was from Baltimore and not related to Andrew Miller, though the two had been professed together in 1903 and ordained together in 1908. Casimir, however, was sent here a year after their ordination. He proved to be the last of the original capitulars to die, surviving until 1963 after many years of vigorous activity both in school work and in parochial ministry in various parishes.

Finally, Fr. Florian Heiss was the last to arrive. Professed in 1900 and ordained at St. Vincent in 1905, he had been assigned to parish work in Covington, KY, where St. Vincent staffed a German parish. Only in the spring of 1910, hearing of the approaching independence of St. Bede, did he ask to transfer here and thus became one of the electors in March of that year. After five years of teaching, he became pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Peru in 1915 and remained there until 1948. He died in 1959.

The last of the capitulars had an entirely different background. Born in Slovenia in 1876, Wenceslaus Sholar came to the United States while still in his teens and made profession at St. Vincent in 1895. Ordained in 1900, he was engaged in parochial ministry among Slavic immigrants in Pennsylvania until 1909, when he came to St. Bede and was appointed pastor at Ladd. Since Cherry was then an out mission of Ladd, within a few weeks he had to deal with the terrible mine disaster that devastated the town in November of that year. He elected to remain at St. Bede when the community here sought independence. It was he who developed our museum of natural history, acquiring some of the specimens on his own hunting expeditions and preserving and mounting them himself. He lived until 1942.

Back to top

 

Abbot Vincent Huber (1910-1925)

The first abbot of St. Bede Abbey was born on May 10, 1855, in Carrolltown, Pennsylvania, the first place where Boniface Wimmer thought of establishing the first Benedictine monastery in America.  After taking his classical studies at St. Vincent, he entered the monastic community there and professed his first vows on July 11, 1875.  Five years later he was ordained by Bishop Tuigg of the Pittsburgh Diocese on July 15, 1880.  Because of his exemplary conduct as a religious and his application to his studies, Fr. Vincent was sent to Rome that fall to continue his studies in dogmatic theology at the Gregorian University.

Abbot Vincent Huber

Abbot Vincent Huber

Upon receiving his licentiate maxima cum laude, in 1883, he was recalled to St. Vincent, where he began teaching in the seminary.  In the following years he held such positions as rector of the college, prefect of the seminary, and prior of the monastery.  In 1897 he was appointed prior at St. Bede and rector of the St. Bede College, where he taught courses in religion.  In 1903, because of ill health, he spent a year at the Benedictine monastery in Colorado.  Returning to St. Bede in 1904, he once again served as prior of the monastery and rector of the college.  In 1908 he was recalled to St. Vincent where he served as the rector of the seminary there.  In 1910, when St. Bede was granted its independence, Fr. Vincent was unanimously elected the first abbot and was blessed by Bishop Edmund Dunne of Peoria on June 29, 1910.

During his sixteen year tenure as abbot considerable building projects were inaugurated and completed.  With some careful financial management, he was able to retire the community’s debt of $22,000.  With the financial flexibility, the monastic community approved the construction of the north addition of the academy building which began on April 14, 1904.  By Christmas of the same year the new wing was ready for use.

Franciscan sisters agreed to take over the duties of the kitchen, laundry and bakery in 1910, and the renovation of their wing was the next project.  In 1911, a separate boiler house was constructed.

Abbot Vincent was eager to continue the education of his monks teaching in the school, and sent them to summer school in Chicago, Notre Dame and at the University of Illinois in Champaign.  Because St. Bede also was conducting a seminary at the time, the abbot also sent two men to study in Rome.

In April of 1925, construction of a large gymnasium was begun.  The building, which was blessed on Thanksgiving Day of that same year, contained four bowling alleys, eight pool tables, several club rooms and a swimming pool in the basement.  The upper floor was devoted to basketball and drama.  The cost of the building was about $200,000.

Abbot Vincent was in great demand as a speaker.  He edified a Congress of Abbots meeting by giving a talk in perfect Ciceronian Latin.  Interested in vocations and the religious life, he gave conferences to those students who giving consideration to entering the monastic life.  He also worked on the Tyrocinium Religiosum translating the document which was used for many years in various novitiates throughout the country.

When Abbot Vincent looked over the labors of all of his men, he saw them farming about 200 acres of land, running a small print shop, conducting the school and assisting or staffing local parishes.  The traditional Benedictine values were being given expression in the monks’ praying of the Psalms and offering Mass together, in their family life of shared work and recreation, and in their desire to help their neighbors by educational and pastoral assistance.

On his way to Rome to attend the Congress of Abbots in 1925, Abbot Vincent suffered a stroke while visiting the Abbey of Beuron.  He was accompanied back to St. Bede by Fr. Bernard Zimmer, but by the following year he realized that his condition was permanent; he resigned the office of abbot and spent the next fifteen years in a wheelchair.

Br. Isidore Faul cared for Abbot Vincent for all of his time after his stroke.  Br. Isidore was no doubt responsible for keeping Abbot Vincent mentally alive by arguing theology with him.  Br. Isidore would deny some major doctrine, e.g., the Trinity.  This would cause great anxiety on the part of Abbot Vincent who would accuse Br. Isidore of heresy and then prove to him the truth of the doctrine denied by the use of Scripture and other arguments.  Even while this was happening, Br. Isidore would be thinking of another doctrine which he could deny.

Abbot Vincent possessed such mental alertness that he began to memorize the Gospel of John in Latin, a project he began while in his early eighties.  He would recite it to anyone he could catch walking about the hallways of the monastery.  One evening in the community room he extemporaneously recited the Dies Irae, giving a commentary on it sentence by sentence.

As he was observing his 86th birthday on May 10, 1941, Abbot Vincent suffered another stroke, from which he never recovered, and died on May 30, 1941.  Abbot Vincent had spent 65 years of his life as a religious and 60 years as a priest, having served the community as its abbot for fifteen years.

Back to top

 

Abbot Justus Wirth (1926-1942)

Abbot Justus Wirth

Abbot Justus Wirth

The second abbot of St. Bede Abbey was born in Bavaria, Germany, at Allersburg, on April 4, 1871.  Educated at the Abbey of Igolstadt, he came to America at the age of fifteen with the intention of studying for the diocesan priesthood, but due to some confusion he arrived at St. Vincent, where he completed his classical course, entered the novitiate, and then professed first vows July 11, 1890.  Three years later he was assigned to St. Bede, where he taught Latin and Greek and had to continue his theology courses largely by himself.

Fr. Justus was ordained to the priesthood in the student’s chapel at St. Bede by Bishop John Lancaster Spalding of Peoria on June 24, 1895.  The archabbot at St. Vincent renewed Justus’ assignment to St. Bede, and in 1909 he was appointed the prior of the monastic community and rector of the College.  It fell to him as prior to draw up the necessary petitions and papers for the priory to be raised to the status of an independent abbey.  Interestingly enough, he sent the petition which contained the names of the charter members to St. Vincent and then on to Rome, thinking that his signature at the bottom of the petition sufficed to have his name included among the founders.  However, when the rescript arrived from Rome and he name was absent, he had to go about to ensure that his name was included among the charter members.

Assigned in 1910 by Abbot Vincent as pastor of St. Joseph’s in Peru, Illinois, he built the parish hall and remained there in the assignment until he was appointed as pastor of St. Joseph’s in Chicago in 1915.  He was still pastor in Chicago when, on June 10, 1926, he was elected as the second abbot of the abbey.  He was blessed two months later on August 10, 1926.

The parochial commitment of St. Bede grew under Abbot Justus’ direction.  In addition to staffing St. Joseph’s in Peru, Illinois, St. Benedict’s in Ladd, Illinois, St. Francis in Ottawa, Illinois, and St. Joseph’s in Chicago, the abbot took on the responsibility for supplying pastors for St. Joseph’s in Rockdale, Illinois, in 1927, St. Mary’s in Naplate, Illinois, in 1928, and St. Thomas More in Dalzell, Illinois, in 1935.  It was clear that his own experience of parish life had left a place in his heart for the sheep without a shepherd.

Abbot Justus and his monks set to work and successfully paid off the debt from the building of the school gymnasium, and prepared plans for a library wing of the school, and a monastery building for the monastic community.  The Great Depression, however, postponed the latter.  Improving economic times, however, allowed the community to lay the cornerstone of the monastery building on October 12, 1941.  In the meantime, the abbot contented himself with continuing to send his monks away to study for their graduate degrees.

In 1931, Bishop Schlarmann of Peoria named St. Bede the diocesan Preparatory Seminary.  Two years later, on June 6, 1933, Bishop Schlarmann offered Spalding Institute in the see city to be staffed by Benedictines.  The first faculty members of the school included the following: Fr. Boniface Martin as the prior; Fr. Gilbert Bulfer as the rector of the school; Fr. Bernard Zimmer as registar and prefect; Fr. Leo Zimmer; Fr. Charles Rodemeyer; Fr. Simon Rakauskas; and Fr. Leonard Brisch.  Acceptance of Spalding Institute meant that St. Bede had to sacrifice some of its own dreams for a rapid development of its own college.

By 1941, ten monks of St. Bede were engaged in pastoral work full time, eleven were teaching at Spalding Institute, and more than thirty were busy on the campus in the high school, college or seminary, or occupied with the farm.  The school’s enrollment was approaching 300 students.  Programs for music, drama and athletics were flourishing.

Abbot Justus was a work-a-holic, and true to his lifestyle he suffered a heart attack and died on March 26, 1942, while sitting at his type writer composing letters concerning the furnishings of the new monastery building.  He was in the 70th year of age, the 51st year of his profession, the 47th year of his priesthood, and had served the community for 16 years as its abbot.

Back to top

 
Abbot Lawrence Vohs (1942-1968)

Abbot Lawrence left

Abbot Lawrence Vohs

The third abbot of St. Bede Abbey was born in LaSalle, Illinois, on September 10, 1900, and was baptized with the name of Andrew in St. Patrick’s Church, LaSalle.  After attending St. Patrick’s parochial school, he entered the Vincentian Minor Seminary in Perryville, Missouri, and there completed his classical studies.  He then dropped out of the seminary and worked for several years at the Alpha Cement Company until he entered St. Bede College in 1921.  A year later he was accepted into the novitiate and on July 2, 1923, professed his first vows.  His ordination to the priesthood took place on December 8, 1928.

On the college faculty he taught mathematics and attended summer sessions at the University of Notre Dame for advanced courses in math and physics.  In 1933 he was with the first group assigned to Spalding Institute in Peoria, where he continued to teach math and physics.  While assigned to Spalding he attended one summer session at the University of Illinois.

Upon the death of Abbot Justus, Fr. Lawrence was elected to succeed him as abbot and was blessed on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, 1942, which was also the anniversary of Abbot Vincent’s blessing.

Under his stable and careful administration Abbot Lawrence allowed for continuing growth in the monastic observance, in the formation of the young, and in the patrimony of the abbey.  Abbot Lawrence insisted on moderation in food and drink.  He enhanced the liturgy of the abbey with a Sung Mass and Sung Compline every day.  He released the young monks from prefecting duties in the school so that they could have more time for their studies.

The community was able, by careful management, to recover from two fires.  The first fire occurred on May 27, 1945, which destroyed the attic of the north wing of the school, with extensive water damage on all floors below.  The second fire occurred on March 9, 1953, which destroyed the school gymnasium.  A new gym was constructed and completed in 1955.  On October 15, 1956, the school’s first homecoming dance was held in the new gym.

The monastic community increased its land holdings for agriculture.  On May 5, 1967, the community approved the purchase of a portion of the Weber property, paying $175,000 for 50 acres between Webster Park and the back lane.  The purchase was not actually finalized until 1969.  Adding other lands to the north, east, and south helped to insure the abbey’s environs would not be commercialized anytime soon.

Abbot Lawrence also built the Repair and Replacement funds for the needs of the school and abbey over the next several decades.  With the extra funds on hand improvements/additions could take place.  The monastic community approved the construction of a new water tower and a new print shop.  In February of 1957 the monastic community approved to enclose the cloister with windows for a cost of $16,000.  In April of the same year the monastic community approved a plan to add an elevator in the monastery and a fourth floor.

In his own quiet, understated way, Abbot Lawrence could be very decisive.  He was responsible for the decision to terminate St. Bede’s relationship with Spalding Institute, when Bishop Schlarmann would not approve a new monastic foundation so close to himself in the see city.  The abbot’s integrity was appreciated by the Benedictine Federation who elected him as a visitator of the American Cassinese Congregation for three separate terms.  He was delegated by Rome to organize the American Conference of Major Religious Superiors of which he became its first president.  In 1965, Abbot Lawrence could see that the hard work of his monks paying off because the enrollment of students on campus had reached an all-time high: the junior college had 122 students, and the high school was bursting with 456 boys.

During the later months of 1967, a growing number of health problems, particularly with his heart, made Abbot Lawrence decide to seek the election of a coadjutor.  After a quarter of a century devoted to guarding and increasing his flock, Abbot Lawrence resigned his office as of January 26, 1968.  Sixteen months later, on May 7, 1969, Abbot Lawrence died in the 69th year of age, the 46th year of his profession, and 41st year of his ordination, having served the community as its abbot for 26 years.

Back to top

 

Abbot David Duncan (1968-1981)

Abbot David Duncan

Abbot David Duncan

The fourth abbot of St. Bede was born on July 28, 1916, in LaSalle, Illinois, to Stuart and Henrietta Duncan.  He was baptized at St. Patrick’s Church in LaSalle and was given the name of Nicholas.  He was educated at St. Patrick’s parochial school and St. Bede Academy; he spent two years at Catholic University of America and one year at St. Bede College before entering the novitiate in 1937 at St. Vincent Archabbey.  He professed his first vows as a monk on July 2, 1938.  After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Benedict’s College, Atchison, Kansas, in 1939, he took his theological studies at St. Bede Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood on June 13, 1943, by the Most Reverend Joseph H. Schlarmann at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria.

On the faculty at St. Bede Academy he taught primarily history and English, prefected boarding students, and served as faculty moderator of the school newspaper and yearbook.  He was also chaplain for one year and assisted in local parishes on the weekends.

After receiving his Master of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1948, he was appointed as rector of the academy and junior college.  In 1950 he became subprior and master of clerics of the abbey.  In 1961 he was appointed as the prior of the community.

On February 12, 1968, he was elected as the fourth abbot of St. Bede Abbey and confirmed as Coadjutor to Abbot Lawrence Vohs, who had resigned in January.  Abbot David’s blessing took place at St. Joseph’s Church, Peru, Illinois, on March 21, 1968, and Abbot Lawrence died in May of 1969.

At a community meeting early in his administration, Abbot David was impressed when Fr. Gilbert Bulfur proposed that the community press ahead with its long-standing dream of building an abbey church.  Abbot David was very conscious that a fund had been established for this purpose under the previous abbatial administration in 1950, when Mrs. Aura Samels made the first donation.  The fund had grown slowly over the intervening years, but it was still very inadequate for a million-dollar project.  But Abbot David felt confident that he could make contacts needed to complete the funding, so he set to work.  Eventually he appointed a Building Committee that included Prior Marion Balsavich, Fr. Ambrose Hessling, Fr. Joseph Heyd, and Subprior Herbert Comyns.

The 1960s had already seen some reduction in the commitments of the Abbey.  The newly-constructed public junior college for LaSalle, Peru, and Oglesby made St. Bede unable to compete any longer on this level in terms of faculty and facilities, so Abbot Lawrence had discontinued the Junior College in 1967, in favor of concentrating on the Academy and making it excel.  For similar reasons, Abbot David closed the St. Bede Seminary in 1969, and the boarding department of the Academy was phased out.

The high school profited from this intensification of effort: the lay faculty was enlarged, lay persons were added to the Board of Directors, a lay principal was hired, a development program was put in place, and professional investment counseling was arranged.

In 1972, the Academy became co-educational, and welcomed girls into its classrooms.  The largest freshmen class in St. Bede’s history assembled for the 1973-1974 school year.  The Academy soared to its largest enrollment in 1974-1975 with 480 boys and girls on campus.

Abbey Church

An exterior view of the St. Bede Abbey Church

Meanwhile, the abbey church project had made real progress.  Abbot David had obtained an anonymous matching fund of $100,000 in 1971, and the monks accepted the building design presented by Mitchell/Giurgola in August of that same year.  Charles Eichelkraut & Son Construction Company laid the foundation in April of 1972.  The abbot secured another matching grant, this time from the Dr. Scholl Foundation, in 1974.  The total cost of the St. Bede Worship-Assembly Building was $1,369,000.

The church was consecrated by Bishop Edward O’ Rourke of Peoria on October 6, 1974, in the presence of hundreds of benefactors and local clergy.  Abbot Martin Burne of St. Mary’s Abbey, Morristown, New Jersey, was the homilist.

The Worship-Assembly Building was recognized immediately for being beautiful, simple, flexible, and inspiring in its use of natural light.  The main area for Mass is surrounded by several chapels, a reception area, a lounge, a conference room and a lecture hall with a stage: many useful areas for the varied activities which the community can host or initiate for building God’s kingdom.

When Abbot David saw his sixty-fifth birthday approaching rapidly, and recalled that the new law of the Benedictine Federation resignation of abbots at that age, even though the law was not retroactive, he decided to hand over the reins to a younger man.  He resigned on Ash Wednesday, March 5, 1981.

In Abbot David’s retirement he continued to play the organ for liturgical functions on occasion and to instruct postulants and novices in Benedictine monasticism.  He also remained the abbey’s candle maker until the last year before his death.  Abbot David died on October 24, 1991, from complications of emphysema and lung cancer.  He was in the 75th year of age, the 53rd year of his profession, the 48th year of his ordination, having served the community as its abbot for thirteen years.

Back to top

 

Abbot Marion Balsavich (1981-1990)

The fifth abbot of St. Bede was born in Springfield, Illinois, on June 11, 1925, the second of three children of John and Mary Balsavich, and baptized as Eugene Ignatius.  His parents were from Spring Valley, Illinois, and returned there the following year after his father’s employment in Springfield ended.  Although they belonged to Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Spring Valley, he attended Immaculate Conception grade school in that city and then in 1939 came as a day student to Saint Bede Academy.  Later, as an academy upperclassman and then as a college student, he lived and worked as a boarding student and maintained an outstanding academic record.

Abbot Marion Balsavich

Abbot Marion Balsavich

In 1945 he applied for admission to the novitiate with three classmates who all persevered in our community.  They made their novitiate at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, with profession there on July 11, 1946.  His class was sent first to St. Benedict’s College in Atchison, Kansas, for a year of philosophy studies and then to St. John’s University, Collegeville, for a final year of college, with graduation in 1948.  This was followed by three years in the clericate at St. Bede, with theological studies in the mornings and academy teaching in the afternoon.  Frater Marion taught remedial reading for a year, and then Greek to college seminarians.

In 1951 Abbot Lawrence arranged for his early simplex ordination to the priesthood, which took place in Peoria on September 22, and assignment to the Collegio di Sant’ Anselmo in Rome to obtain a degree in systematic theology.  In October he sailed to Italy on a boat together with the future Archabbot Paul Maher of Saint Vincent’s Archabbey.  He was awarded the licentiate degree in 1953 and the doctorate two years later, after a successful defense of his dissertation entitled The Witness of Saint Gregory the Great to the Place of Christ in Prayer.  During his last year in Rome, because of overcrowding at Sant’ Anselmo, he resided with the Camaldolese monks, appropriately, at San Gregorio on the Coelian Hill.  He had spent one summer plus some shorter periods with the Benedictine nuns at Veroli, with whom he kept in contact for the rest of his life.

Upon his return to St. Bede in 1955, Fr. Marion taught dogmatic theology to the clerics and became rector of our school of theology until it closed in 1969.  Later he also taught moral theology and homiletics.  He was also student chaplain and prefect of the college seminarians until 1962, when he became subprior of the abbey and master of clerics.  After the liturgical reform in 1965, he chaired the liturgy committee that planned the community’s first vernacular office.  For the rest of his life he continued to work on finding, translating, or composing suitable texts for the liturgy, especially for readings at divine office.

In 1968 when Abbot David was elected abbot, Fr. Marion was appointed prior and served in this capacity during the abbot’s entire thirteen years in office, and also as chairman of the committee that planned the abbey church, which was constructed in between 1970 and 1974.  On April 10, 1981, he was elected the fifth abbot of St. Bede, and was blessed by Bishop Edward O’ Rourke of Peoria in the abbey church on May 25, 1981.

It was immediately apparent to the community that Abbot Marion was very conscientious about his abbatial role as teacher of his monks.  His Monday night conferences became a regular feature of their lives.

He also showed a talent for developing policies and procedures for candidates, vocations, postulants and novices.  He also chaired several committees for the American Cassinese Congregation, especially the one that produced the American Cassinese Congregation’s new Constitutions and Directory.  When he took up his duties as president of the school board, here again he set out to expand the board and provide it with a reasonable set of policies and procedures.  He initiated a study of various questions about the academy and guided the process until some answers were forthcoming.

Abbot Marion will not doubt be remembered for many years to come for the assiduous efforts he made to restructure, revise and improve the monks’ celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours.  He spent a lot of energy prodding his musicians and his liturgy committee members to produce new materials for this project, and, over a period of several years, he devoted countless hours of his own time to the myriad details involved in the production of new books for community prayer.  His good zeal for this and other improvements in the liturgy will continue to have a formative effect on the spirituality of the monastic community, and on others to whom their values influence, for many years to come.

Abbot Marion also helped the community to decide to remodel areas of the abbey for better care of the sick and the elderly, meetings of the monastic chapter and to increase land holdings.  The monastic chapter approved the purchase of the remaining 152 acres of the Weber property for $250,000 on February 12, 1990.

Upon reaching the age of 65, in 1990, Abbot Marion resigned, as then required by law.  For the rest of his life he served as guest master and as abbey librarian, also selecting our table reading.  For most of that time he was also in charge of scheduling the use of the abbey church for outside groups.  Skeletal problems that were not entirely alleviated by two back surgeries required him to use a walker for the last few years of his life.  He also lived with a chronic form of leukemia, which had become severe in 2011 and lead to his death on March 16, 2012, after only a week in the hospital and two weeks of hospice care in our infirmary, where he died peacefully.  At the time of his death Abbot Marion was in the 87th year of age, the 66th year of his profession, and 61st year of his ordination, having served the community as its abbot for nine years.

Back to top

 

Abbot Roger Corpus (1990-2003)

Abbot Roger Corpus

Abbot Roger Corpus

Abbot Roger was born in Peru Illinois on July 14, 1930, to Francis and Honorine Corpus, and was named Francis after his father. He had one sister, Charlene, and he remained very close with her and her family throughout his life. He attended grade school at St. Joseph’s parish school, followed by high school and junior college at Saint Bede. He entered the monastic community in 1950 and professed vows on July 11, 1951, taking the name Roger. Two years later, he earned a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., and then returned to St. Bede for four years of theology studies. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop William Cousins on June 2, 1957.

From 1957 to 1990 he taught English, photography and film making at St. Bede Academy and earned a master’s degree in communication arts from the University of Notre Dame during summer sessions. As a teacher he was known as being patient and gentle, but also demanding. Former students often spoke of his influence in helping them “see with a photographer’s eye” and to view films as more than mere entertainment. In addition to teaching, Father Roger also served the Academy for periods as infirmarian, prefect of the boarding school, and moderator of the Mothers’ Club.

In 1981 he was made prior of St. Bede Abbey, serving from 1981 to 1985. In 1986 he took part in a month-long monastic renewal program at Collegio Sant’Anselmo in Rome, and was then re-assigned as prior from 1987 to 1990. On June 8, 1990, he was elected the sixth abbot of St. Bede, and was re-elected in 1998. During his tenure, development efforts for abbey and academy were integrated and revitalized.

When he resigned as abbot in 2003, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky appointed him administrator of St. Mary’s Parish in El Paso, and he was named pastor two years later. Despite having very limited experience in pastoral administration, he was successful in creating a strong parish community. Parishioners were especially grateful for his ministry to the sick and for his comfort and compassion during times of struggle or tragedy.  He served at St. Mary’s until his retirement to Saint Bede in 2014, but kept in regular contact with many of his former parishioners.

Abbot Roger exemplified St. Benedict’s injunction that the abbot must instruct his disciples more by deeds than by words, not only in his dedication to his religious duties but in his willingness to engage in manual labor. Even as abbot he could be seen at work in housekeeping and painting projects. After his resignation as abbot he served as a wise and humble counselor to Abbots Claude and Philip, and took an active part in community life while serving in the parish and in his retirement. He continued to be interested in contemporary films, and was an enthusiastic participant in abbey movie nights and the discussions at lunch and recreation that followed. As he aged Abbot Roger suffered from significant joint pains, digestive problems and heart ailments which he bore with his customary patience and quiet dignity.  When did not appear at Morning Prayer or breakfast on Sunday, May 24, the prior went to check on him and found him dead in his bed from an apparent heart attack.  At the time of his death, Abbot Roger was in his 85th year of age, the 64th year of his religious profession, the 58th year of his priesthood, having served the community as its abbot for thirteen years.

Back to the top 

Abbot Claude Peifer (2003-2011)

Fr. Claude 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.

Abbot Claude better

Abbot Claude Peifer

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  monastic 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.  Nonetheless, 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.”

At the time of his death, Abbot Claude was in the 87th year of age, the 67th year of his religious profession, the 67th year of his ordination, having served the community as its abbot for eight years.

Back to the top

Abbot Philip Davey (2011- present)

 

Abbot Philip Davey

Abbot Philip Davey

The monastic community elected its eighth abbot, Fr. Philip Davey, on June 7, 2011.  He was blessed on September 14, 2011, in the abbey church by Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria.  Like other abbots before him, Abbot Philip has shown himself a capable spiritual father and administrator.  As a spiritual father, he has reminded the monks of the importance of lectio divina and of the importance of the transformation that the Rule calls for in the life of a monk.  Showing a caring pastoral aspect of his personality, Abbot Philip has generously spent innumerable hours at the bedside of sick and dying monks.  As an administrator, he has sensed that the monastery building is too large for the present community. Therefore, Abbot Philip has asked confreres to seriously consider shedding things that have accumulated over the years in an attempt to have the monastic community live on two of the four floors of the monastery building.

Created by 815 Media