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Posted August 12, 2004

Book: An American Abbot: Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., 1809-1887
Author: Jerome Oetgen
The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, DC, pp. 466

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The achievement of Boniface Wimmer, the father of the Benedictine presence in the United States, has been generally underestimated in the history of American Catholicism. Modern historians of the Catholic Church in the United States have tended to neglect the story of Catholicism on the American rural frontier where between 1830 and 1860 the majority of the 1.5 million German immigrants settled. It was chiefly to serve these farm-bound immigrants that Wimmer came to America in 1846, and for the next forty years, as his evangelization efforts expanded to include Irish. African Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants from eastern Europe, he consistently exhibited the traditional Benedictine preference to establish monasteries and religious centers in farming regions and to work among the people of the countryside rather than those of the cities.

In his own lifetime Wimmer was widely esteemed both by the American hierarchy for his distinguished pastoral work and by European ecclesiastical and monastic leaders for the crucial role he played in the nineteenth-century revival and development of Benedictine monasticism. Though his work may not have brought him to center stage in the American Catholic Church, he was nonetheless one of the key supporting actors.

An Excerpt from the Book:

In June he wrote the abbots of the American Cassinese Congregation that because of his ill health he had decided to postpone the ninth general chapter after all. In July he petitioned the Holy See to elevate the Bohemian monastery of St. Procopius in Chicago to rank of independent canonical priory. Later in the month, on the forty-first anniversary of his departure from Munich for America, he wrote his confrere, Father Celestine Englbrecht:

Today you and I are the only surviving clerics [of the original band]. And, if I am not mistaken, of the brothers only three are still alive. Near to death and slowly dying, I naturally think quite often about the days gone by and wonder how things turned out the way they did. No one imagined us capable of accomplishing anything significant, and yet we did accomplish something. God’s grace was obviously with us. Our chief object – the establishment of the order in America – has been achieved, and our second major purpose – training and providing a sufficient clergy for our German Catholics – is well underway. May unbounded thanks be given to God a thousand times, for He chose and made use of us as instruments for the execution of His designs. For many, our foundations have had serious defects, but it could not have been otherwise without a miracle, and I firmly believe that it can be made better, once a well-regulated order is established in our abbeys and priories.

Hence do we not want to become faint-hearted or discouraged. Rather we want to work on confidently and courageously as well as we can. Inasmuch as things have come this far only with the evident protection and grace of God, so may we not expect from ourselves success in the future, but again only from the grace and protection of God, who cannot fail us so long as we work not for ourselves, but for Him, for His holy Church, for the order, and for souls.

Table of Contents:

1. Thalmassing to Metten

2. Answering the Call

3. The First Years

4. Growth and Expansion

5. Visions and Rebellions

6. Consolidation and Further Growth

7. Laughter and Tears