Questions evolve from curiosity. Curiosity often leads to a deeper contemplation on the topic at hand, which can lead to research on said topic. Fr. Rene M. Kollar, O.S.B., not only likes research, but he enjoys pulling together all the facets of his research on a subject into articles – his vitae of published articles and reviews, papers and presentations has surpassed the century mark. Sometimes a series of articles on a particular subject become part of a book – he has had five books published and is working on a sixth.
His research and writings focus on his special interest – nineteenth and early twentieth century church history in Great Britain, with topics ranging from a history of Westminster Cathedral to the revival of monasticism in the West to his latest book, Searching for Raymond, Anglicanism, Spiritualism, and Bereavement between the Two World Wars, published last year by Lexington Books.
Chairman of the Saint Vincent College History Department since 1991, Father Rene has taught in the College’s History Department since 1974 and has been teaching church history at Saint Vincent Seminary since 1982.
Curiosity led the way to his latest topic. While an honorary research fellow of King’s College, University of London, from 1987 to 1988, Fr. Rene came across an article in a Roman Catholic publication, The Tablet, which noted the 1979 release of a forty-year-old report by a committee of the Anglican church on Spiritualism. His curiosity led him to Lambeth Palace, which is a major repository for the Anglican Church, where he began reading the committee’s report and delving into whatever related documents he could find, trying to discover why it took so long for the contents of these “secret” documents to be revealed.
The title of Fr. Rene’s book is taken from a book published in 1916 by Sir Oliver Lodge, whose son, Raymond, was killed on September 14, 1915, in the Ypres campaign of World War I.
“Prior to this tragedy,” Fr. Rene writes, “Sir Oliver, a leading figure in the Society for Psychical Research, had already become well acquainted with several mediums, and after he received the sad news from the front, some of them began to claim that they had already established contact with the dead son. Skeptical at first, both Lord and Lady Lodge eventually became believers after several sittings with a professional medium.”
The Lodge book had a tremendous impact, and large numbers of Britons began turning to Spiritualism for answers and consolation due to the tremendous loss of life in the war. British deaths alone are estimated at 772,000, Fr. Rene writes.
“The number of people killed in the war was phenomenal,” Fr. Rene said. “Entire neighborhoods got wiped out, colleges were decimated.” He explained that the Anglicans had a difficult time coping with all the deaths. The Anglican Church attempted to help its members deal with the deaths, but Spiritualism seemed to fill the void left by their loved ones. People felt comforted by the fact that they could “talk” to their deceased loved ones and receive “messages” from them through mediums or spiritualists.
A reader of his book will note the tremendous amount of meticulous research which Fr. Rene has done, using numerous manuscript collections, many newspaper clippings, and over a hundred printed works in his 187-page work.
“I spend a lot of time doing research,” he said. “I try to read all I can get my hands on about a subject; to comb through all the articles, news clippings and stacks of papers I can. I think it’s important for the historian to ask questions. I try to enjoy every facet of the whole project, although the writing is hard work. I write numerous drafts and have people look at them. It’s a challenge.”
Often, he doesn’t know at the outset what he will do with a topic, if a topic will evolve into an article or if there will be enough material to turn it into a book. He tries not to arrive at any conclusions during the research process, preferring to let the research lead to any conclusions drawn in his work.
After completing graduate studies at the University of Maryland, earning a doctorate in 1981, Fr. Rene began his prolific writing career, publishing reviews in Albion, The Catholic Historical Review, The American Benedictine Review, The American Historical Review, and numerous other publications. He was an associate editor for The American Benedictine Review (1990-1994). His articles have been published in The Irish Theological Quarterly, Journal of Ecumenical Studies and numerous other publications.
His first books were published in England: Westminster Cathedral: From Dream to Reality (1987) and The Return of the Benedictines to London, A History of Ealing Abbey from 1896 to Independence (1990).
“I was at Ealing Abbey, and I was literally looking for something to do, so I asked the current abbot if he would like me to do a history,” Fr. Rene said. “While doing research on that, I ran into the Westminster Story.” In 1995, Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., of New York, published a book based on Fr. Rene’s doctoral dissertation, Abbot Aelred Carlyle, Caldey Island, and the Anglo-Catholic Revival in England, which was followed a year later by A Universal Appeal. Aspects of the Revival of Monasticism in the West in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries.
Although his subject matter is diverse, primarily based on what interests him, his work has been influenced by one place – the classroom. Fr. Rene is both inspired by his current and past students, in both the college and the seminary, and grateful for the many good teachers he has had in his past. That love of the classroom prompted him to dedicate his last book to “The students of Saint Vincent College.” “I always like to do that,” he said. “I like teaching. The students keep me young, and keep me on my feet. So I dedicated it to those whom I’ve taught, because I’ve learned a lot from them too.”
A native of Hastings, Pennsylvania, Fr. Rene is the son of Bernice (Kosic) Kollar and the late Matt Kollar. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Saint Vincent College and a master of divinity degree from Saint Vincent Seminary. His graduate studies were done in history at the University of Maryland, where he received a master of arts degree and a doctor of philosophy degree.
He entered the Benedictine Monastic Community of Saint Vincent Archabbey in 1967, making simple profession of vows on July 11, 1968, and solemn profession of vows on July 11, 1971. He was ordained a priest in Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica by the Most Rev. William Connare, Bishop of Greensburg, on May 18, 1974.
His professional experiences at Saint Vincent College include: lecturer in History (1976–81); instructor in History (1981–82); assistant professor in History (1982–85); member of the Liberal Arts Program (1981–86); campus minister (1982–86); director of the Liberal Arts Program (1983–84); associate professor in History (1985–91); chairperson of the History Department (1991–present); professor in History (1991–present); member of the Board of Incorporators (1990–1996, 1997-present); and Executive Director of the International Issues and Insights Lecture Series (1991–93). At Saint Vincent Seminary he has been adjunct professor in Church History (1982-1996) and professor of Church History (1997-present). At the Archabbey he has been a member of the Council of Seniors (1991-1996); member of the Archabbey Human Resources Council (1992-1996); and chair of the Committee on Career Orientation and Professional Training (1992-1996).
Abroad in England, Father Rene has been honorary research fellow of King’s College, University of London (1987–88); guest lecturer in modern Church History for the Department of Christian Doctrine and History, King’s College, University of London (1988); and a visiting scholar at Heythrop College, University of London (1996-1997). In 1986, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
His professional memberships include the American Historical Association, North American Conference on British Studies, Ecclesiastical History Society (Great Britain), Church History Society of America, Phi Alpha Theta, Alpha Mu Gamma, Church of England Record Society, and the American Catholic History Association.
Father Rene has received numerous awards, including the Saint Vincent Student Faculty Award (1982), the Saint Vincent College Faculty Development Grant (1984-1989, 1993, 1994, 1996), the Saint Vincent Student Government Association Award (1989) and the Saint Vincent College Faculty Award (1992). He was named to Men of Distinction in 1989 and to Men of Achievement in 1990 by the International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, England. He was Saint Vincent College’s nominee for CASE Professor of the Year in 1992 and was named to Who’s Who Among American Teachers in 1994 and 2000.
Although many of his topics are of an academic nature, Fr. Rene’s writing style is both scholarly and readable. He credits the readability of his writing style to having had good teachers and with keeping his audience in mind.
“I try to present the material so that any educated person can read it,” he noted. “That’s what you have to do.”
Judging by his growing list of publications, he’s found the formula for success. His next book will study 19th century anti-convent literature in Victorian England.