Saint Vincent Archabbey Publications announces the release of Always Forward, A History of Saint Vincent Archabbey 1949-2020. Authored by Jerome Oetgen, a Saint Vincent alumnus who is perhaps the foremost expert on the history of Saint Vincent Archabbey, the book completes the other volume in the series, Mission to America: A History of Saint Vincent Archabbey, The First Benedictine Monastery in the United States.
Oetgen is the author of An American Abbot: Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B.; editor of Boniface Wimmer: Letters of An American Abbot; and co-author of The Saint Vincent Fire: January 28, 1963. He has also produced, written and directed two documentaries on Saint Vincent, Fire and Ice, The Saint Vincent Fire of 1963; and Saint Vincent: A Benedictine Place, which received a Telly Award in 2016.
Oetgen is a retired U.S. diplomat from Arlington, Virginia, having served in Latin America and Spain. He also served as director of the Latin American Fulbright Program at the United States Information Agency in Washington, D.C.
Always Forward is not just the story of Benedictine monks in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. From the days of Saint Vincent founder Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., whose work brought Benedictine monasticism to America, his successors developed and continued missionary work in North America, such as Benedictine Military School in Savannah, Georgia; in South America, where Benedictines serve at São Bento Monastery in Vinhedo, Brazil; and in Asia, where they serve at Wimmer Priory in Taipei, Taiwan.
Always Forward continues the account of the first Benedictine monastery in the United States, Saint Vincent Archabbey, as well as the parish, seminary, college, prep school, and scholasticate operated by the Benedictines, taking up the story near the conclusion to Mission to America. While Mission to America ended with the disastrous fire of January 28, 1963, Oetgen revisits the abbacy of Denis Strittmatter (1949-1963) adding in new material.
He next traces the story of Archabbot Rembert Weakland (1963-1967). Though a relatively short period of time, four years, the chapter title, Renewal and Change, and its length, details the iniatives of the seventh Archabbot of Saint Vincent prior to his election as Abbot Primate in 1967.
Archabbot Egbert Donovan (1967-1979) was known by many in the monastic community as being a humble man with an appealing sense of humor. Oetgen notes that in Archabbot Egbert’s first circular letter to the community, he suggested two potential mottoes, “Quo Rotundior, Eo Jocundior,” and “Dormire in Corde Tuo.” The Latin “mottoes” his friend Father Quentin Schaut and an anonymous Saint Vincent monk humorously suggested referred to two of the new archabbot’s well-known characteristics: his chubbiness and his habit of sleeping late. Loose translations could be: “The Fatter, the Jollier” and “To Sleep in the Lord.”
“In fact, however,” Oetgen writes, “he chose another motto for his abbacy, this one also suggested by Father Quentin and taken from the prologue to Saint Benedict’s Rule: Agendum est modo (‘We must act now’).”
The Consolidation and Continuity found in Archabbot Egbert’s abbacy was followed by that of Archabbot Leopold Krul (1979-1983), who served four years until his 65th birthday. Archabbot Leopold’s abbacy was, as the chapter title notes, Guided by the Holy Spirit.
The abbacy of Paul Maher (1983-1990) sheds light on the Archabbey’s missionary activities in Asia, as prior to his election Archabbot Paul was serving at Wimmer Priory in Taipei, Taiwan.
In an interview, Oetgen writes that Archabbot Paul “would return to Saint Vincent from Taiwan for consultations and vacation. In late May 1983, I returned on a routine trip that happened to coincide with the abbatial election. The election took place a week after I got back. It never occurred to me I would be elected. On the nominating ballot two others got more votes than I did: Archabbot Leopold and Father John Murtha. I assumed one of them would be elected and was glad of it.
“Before the scrutinium [formal discussion of nominees],” Archabbot Paul said, “someone joked with me about becoming the new abbot. I told him I had enough votes to be flattered but not enough to be elected, so I wasn’t worried. On the first ballot after the scrutinium, however, I got more than half the votes, and on the second ballot I was elected. Nobody was more surprised than I was. I’d only packed enough for a brief visit to the U.S. All my books and clothes were in Taiwan. It took a while before they could be shipped back.”
The book concludes with the abbacy of Archabbot Douglas Nowicki, O.S.B., (1991-2020), his 29 years in office coming just shy of the 32 years of founder Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B. Called by the author “Second Founder,” the abbacy of Archabbot Douglas has become known for its expansive growth in many areas of the monastery’s apostolates.
The book is now available for $39.99 from the Archabbey Publications online store, www.stvincentstore.com.