Category Archives: Abbots & Abbesses

+Rt. Rev. Paul Maher, OSB: RIP

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Archabbot Paul R. Maher, O.S.B., the tenth Archabbot of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania died Thursday, June 29, 2017, the Solemnity of Ss. Peter & Paul. He was 91 years old. A native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, he served as Archabbot from 1983 until 1990.

Archabbot Paul received his early schooling in Latrobe, where he attended Holy Family School and was an altar server in Holy Family Parish. Having completed elementary school, he went to Saint Vincent Preparatory School for his secondary education. He graduated from Saint Vincent Prep in 1943, in the middle of the Second World War. Just turned 18 years old, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. For the next two years he served in the European Theater as tail gunner on a B-24 bomber. He flew 21 combat missions over southern Germany and Austria and was honorably discharged at the end of the war.

The influence of his older brother William, who had become a diocesan priest, and his older sister Rita, who became a Religious Sister of Mercy nun, helped him reach the decision to study for the Benedictine priesthood. In 1945 he returned to Saint Vincent and began his studies at Saint Vincent College as a candidate for the Benedictine Order. In 1947 he was admitted to the Order as a novice and made his simple profession of monastic vows on July 2, 1948. He professed solemn vows three years later, on July 11, 1951.

Archabbot Paul received his A.B. Degree from Saint Vincent College in 1950 and immediately began his studies of theology in Saint Vincent Seminary. In 1951 Archabbot Denis Strittmatter, O.S.B. sent the young Benedictine brother to Rome to complete his theological studies at the Pontifical Atheneum of Sant’ Anselmo. Two years later, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Placido Nicolini, O.S.B., at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi on June 21, 1953. After ordination, he continued graduate studies at Sant’ Anselmo for another four years, earning a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1957.

Upon completion of his doctorate, Father Paul returned to Saint Vincent, where he taught philosophy in the College and Seminary from 1957 to 1966, serving as chairman of the College’s Department of Philosophy from 1961 to 1966. During his years of teaching at Saint Vincent, he also served as moderator of one of the College’s residence halls (1958 to 1960), socius (superior) of the monastery’s junior monks (1960 to 1963), and vice rector of Saint Vincent Seminary (1963 to 1966).

In 1966, Archabbot Paul was named prior (superior) of Saint Vincent’s mission to China and a member of the faculty of Fu Jen Catholic University, Taiwan. He remained in Taiwan as monastic superior and university professor for seventeen years.

He was elected Archabbot on June 7, 1983, and on June 30, 1983, received the abbatial blessing in the Archabbey Basilica from Bishop William G. Connare of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Among those present at his blessing were Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee; Bishop Norbert Gaughan, auxiliary bishop of Greensburg; Bishop Rene Gracida of Corpus Christi, Texas; and the two retired Archabbots of Saint Vincent, Archabbot Egbert Donovan and Archabbot Leopold Krul.

Mark W. McGinnis, author of the book The Wisdom of the Benedictine Elders, described Archabbot Paul as a “very intelligent, highly experienced abbot who has the demeanor, gentleness, and openness of an ideal priest.” His brother monks would agree with this and add that he was an ideal monk: humble, generous, thoughtful of others, and devoted to the Benedictine life of prayer and work.

Following his retirement in 1990, Archabbot Paul became a parish assistant at Saint Benedict Church, Carrolltown, Pennsylvania, where he resided until 1996. He returned to the Archabbey that year to serve as guestmaster and archivist until 2009. Archabbot Paul was the son of the late William A. Maher and Edna G. (Hunt) Maher. He was one of twelve children, two of whom are currently residing in Latrobe.

He was a very humble man eschewing the use of pontificalia as he was entitled by his office. He only grudgingly agreed to have a coat of arms at the behest of the archivist of the community, the late Fr. Omer U. Kline, OSB. His coat of arms was designed in consultation with the late Br. Nathan Cochran, OSB of St. Vincent and alludes to the traditional Irish arms associated with the name Maher; his baptismal and monastic patron, St. Paul (the sword) and his missionary work via the double-barred Scheyern cross being used at St. Vincent as the “mission cross” given to those monks sent out into the mission fields. From a lack of correct heraldic custom the crozier (veiled or otherwise) was omitted from the achievement and the extra knots and loop of cords below the galero was a bit of license by the artist who wished to fill the space left by the lack of a crozier. The motto, “Resonare Christum” (Echo Christ) was also used by the late John Cardinal Wright of Pittsburgh.

May he rest in peace.

 

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Benedictine Abbot Primate

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Last September the Benedictine Confederation, more commonly referred to as the Order of St. Benedict, elected its 10th Abbot Primate since the institution of that office by Pope Leo XIII in 1893. They elected the fourth American monk to hold that office by choosing the Abbot of Conception Abbey in Missouri, Rt. Rev. Gregory J. Polan, OSB (67). He succeeded Notker Wolf and became Abbot of Sant’Anselmo and the Most Rev. Abbot Primate on September 10, 2016.

Seven of his eight predecessors bore a coat of arms as abbots and as Abbots Primate. Two of the Americans, Jerome Theisen, OSB a monk of St. John’s in Collegeville and Marcel Rooney, OSB also a monk of Conception chose not to be armigerous either as abbot or as Abbot Primate. (the fourth American was Rembert Weakland, OSB a monk of St. Vincent Archabbey in Pennsylvania and the Archbishop-Emeritus of Milwaukee)

At the time he became Abbot of Conception in 1996 Abbot Gregory wasn’t particularly interested in a coat of arms. But the community had a heraldic tradition and one of the monks there devised arms for him to assume keeping it very simple. The plain gold field with the single charge of a black bull’s head is a symbol associated with the abbot’s family. This was then quartered with the arms of the abbey.

Upon his election as Abbot Primate the same monk who originally designed the arms decided to prepare something the abbot could use as Abbot Primate. The personal arms are “Or, a bull’s head erased Sable; on a canton Azure a fleur-de-lis Argent”. The addition of the small augmentation of the blue canton charged with a silver fleur-de-lis, borrowed from the arms of Conception Abbey, are employed as a way of paying homage to the abbot’s Motherhouse by augmenting his personal arms rather than changing the design entirely. These personal arms are then impaled with the arms used by the Order of St. Benedict, “Azure, issuing from a trimount a patriarchal cross, overall the word “PAX” all Or“. Note that sometimes the trimount is depicted as Vert (green) rather than Or (gold).

The shield is ensigned with the usual ornaments of an abbot: black galero with twelve black tassels and a veiled crozier. The previous Abbot Primate, Notker Wolf, commissioned an artist who depicted his arms with twenty black tassels. The thinking was that, as the head of the Order the Abbot Primate should have an ornament that indicated a higher rank like an archbishop’s hat having twenty tassels instead of the twelve used by other bishops. The problem with that line of reasoning is that the Abbot Primate is not the Abbot General of the Order of St. Benedict. He is merely a figurehead; a nominal “head” but really just a visible figure to promote communication within the Order and to act as a liaison between the Order as a whole and the Holy See. Leo XIII didn’t like the decentralized nature of the Benedictines. In reality each house under its own abbot is autonomous. What binds Benedictines together is that they follow the Holy Rule of St. Benedict. Eventually, houses began to band together into federations, now called Congregations, and each of those Congregations, some of which are international but many of which are structured along national lines, adopts Constitutions and a customary observed by all the houses within the Congregation. In addition, they elect a Praeses, or Abbot President, who acts as their canonical superior with jurisdiction. The Abbot Primate, however, does not have jurisdiction over the whole Order the way a Superior General does in other Religious Orders. So, he is merely a figurehead elected by the Abbots gathered in Congress.

Not possessing a higher rank, or greater authority, or jurisdiction over all Benedictines it makes no sense for the Abbot Primate’s galero to suggest so. The Abbot Primate remains an abbot like any other, indeed during his tenure (which is a four year term renewable by re-election) he is the abbot of the Abbey of Sant’Anselmo on the Aventine Hill housing the Anselmianum where students study about the sacred liturgy. Outside of heraldry the Abbot Primate is accorded certain honors to mark his position as the Primate, namely, he is permitted to wear the purple zucchetto instead of a black one and he is addressed as “Most Reverend” instead of the usual “Right Reverend” used by other abbots.

Bruno Heim mentions in his book, Heraldry In The Catholic Church that the Church never made provisions for Archabbots, Abbots General or Abbots Primate to use a galero different from other abbots. However, some authors argue that it is Archabbots (a title of honor that confers no greater jurisdiction or powers) should use a galero with twenty tassels like archbishops. The point is open to debate. I have always believed archabbots should use the galero with twenty tassels but I know of no instances where one actually does so. Therefore, despite the compliment paid to him by the artist who depicted Abbot Primate Notker’s coat of arms Abbot Primate Gregory’s arms use the traditional galero of an abbot with twelve tassels.

Both the design and the very nice artwork were done by Dom Pachomius Meade, OSB of Conception Abbey in Missouri.

Abbot of Conception, Missouri

On January 15 the Most Rev. James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri bestowed the abbatial blessing on the Rt. Rev. Benedict Neenan, OSB, the tenth abbot of Conception Abbey who was elected by the members of his community in November, 2016 to succeed Abbot Gregory Polan who had been elected as the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation.

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Abbot Benedict’s coat of arms, assumed upon election, are blazoned and explained as:

“Blazon: A field azure, a Canadian pale argent dovetailed, in chief ten goutte de sang (gules) (palewise two, three, three, two), in base a fountain (a roundle barry wavy argent and azure).”

The main charges of the shield (escutcheon) have particular significance for Abbot Benedict and his ministry to the monastic community. The circle with blue and white waves is called a fountain, and symbolizes the abbot’s hometown, Kansas City, the City of Fountains. The 10 blood droplets (goutte de sang) above it represent the self-sacrificial office of the abbot for the community. Ten droplets signify that he is the tenth abbot of Conception Abbey, which was founded in 1873. Abbot Benedict holds a doctorate in Church history and the two main charges —the fountain and the blood droplets — taken together evoke the Paschal Mystery that birthed the Church and which is the center of all human history, for “This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood.” (1 John 5:6) Again, both the fountain and blood drops suggest baptism; the monastic life is often called a “second baptism” due to its deepening of the commitment to baptismal vows.

The white (argent or silver) division of the shield vertically is bordered in a dovetail pattern, calling to mind furniture joints. This alludes to the abbot’s training as a woodworker in Bavaria. The blue (azure) on either side of the central white composition represents the Blessed Virgin Mary. A traditional devotional image of the Virgin is the Madonna of Mercy, in which she spreads her mantle as protection over a group of the faithful. This symbolizes the patroness of the abbey’s protection over its monks.

-from the website of “The Catholic Key“.

Abbot Elias Lorenzo, OSB

The delegates to the general chapter of the American-Cassinese Congregation, from June 19-24, 2016 elected Father Elias Lorenzo OSB, monk of St. Mary’s Abbey, Morristown, NJ as their new Abbot-President (Abbot-Praeses). For seven years Abbot President Elias had been Prior at Collegio Sant’Anselmo, Rome. Thursday, June 23, 2016, the Rt. Rev. Douglas R. Nowicki OSB, Archabbot of St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, PA, motherhouse of the congregation, conferred the abbatial blessing during the chapter. Abbot Elias returned to Sant’Anselmo for the Congress of Abbots, September 2016 and thereafter he will reside in Morristown.

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Shortly after his election, Abbot Elias contacted me to ask that I assist him in designing his coat of arms. The explanation I also provided for him is:

The shield is divided by a line shaped like a chevron. This creates the general shape alluding to a mountain, in this case Mount Carmel, the mountain associated with the prophet Elijah from whom the name Elias is derived. The large tongue of fire in the center of the lower portion of the shield (referred to as “in base”) combined with the mountain allude to St. Elias.

In addition, the blue and silver (white) checked pattern also has a multi-layered meaning. The American-Cassinese Congregation was founded by Benedictines from St. Michael’s Abbey in Bavaria. The motherhouse of the Congregation, St. Vincent Archabbey in Pennsylvania, makes use of the blue and silver fusils (a kind of elongated diamond pattern) from the coat of arms of Bavaria in its own coat of arms. Several other monasteries in the Congregation which are daughter houses or grand-daughter houses of St. Vincent also make use of this pattern. One such abbey is St. Mary’s in Morristown, New Jersey. At this monastery Abbot Elias entered monastic life, made his profession of vows and was ordained. In his coat of arms the blue and silver (white) fusils have been turned sideways forming a grid of blue and white squares or checks. The grid pattern suggests the gridiron on which St. Lawrence was roasted alive as the means of his martyrdom. This is an allusion to the Abbot’s surname, “Lorenzo” which in Italian means “Lawrence”. The grid of blue and white squares combined with the fire represents St. Lawrence while at the same time the blue and white squares are a slightly differenced reference to the coat of arms of St. Mary’s Abbey as well as Bavaria in general as the homeland of the Congregation’s founders.

At the center of the flame there is a red rounded cross. This cross is taken from the coat of arms of Sant’Anselmo in Rome where, for seven years before his election as Abbot-President, the armiger was serving as Prior of the monastic community.

Above the chevron in the upper portion of the shield (referred to as “in chief”) there are two blue crescents. The crescent has long been associated with Our Lady in particular under her title of the Immaculate Conception. That title is also the one by which Mary is the Patroness of the United States of America. While the Congregation is made up of American monasteries as well as some communities outside the U.S. it was, nevertheless, founded in the U.S. so the reference to the patroness of that country is fitting. In addition, crescents appear in the coat of arms of St. Mary’s Abbey and the coat of arms of the Delbarton School, the Abbey’s principal apostolate, both of with which Abbot Elias is closely associated.

The motto below the shield is taken from Luke 1:37 and is translated as, “Nothing is impossible with God”.

The shield is also ensigned with those external ornaments that indicate the bearer is an abbot. The gold (yellow) crozier is placed vertically behind and extending above and below the shield. Attached to the crozier is a veil or sudarium. Widely used in the Middle Ages it is rarely seen in actual use today. It dates from a time when abbots were already making use of the crozier as a sign of their authority but had not been granted the privilege of full pontificals which would have included liturgical gloves. The purpose of the sudarium was originally practical; it shielded the metal of the crozier from dirt and perspiration from the hands. Later, it became merely symbolic and has been retained in heraldry as distinguishing the crozier of an abbot. The use of pontificals by an abbot is regulated in the Motu Proprio, “Pontificalia Insignia” of June 21, 1968 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 60 (1968) 374-377 Not 4 (1968) 224-226). Because abbots make use of the crozier they may use it as an external ornament in their coats of arms. The prohibition against the use of croziers in heraldry found in the Instruction of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, “Ut Sive” of 31 March, 1969 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 61 (1969) 334-40) does not apply to abbatial heraldry. Above the shield is the ecclesiastical hat, called a galero which, in heraldry, replaces the martial helmet, mantling and crest. The galero is black with black cords pendant from it and twelve black tassels arranged in a pyramid shape on either side of the shield. “The hat with six pendant tassels (green, purple or black) on each side is universally considered in heraldry as the sign of prelacy. It, therefore, pertains to all who are actually prelates…Prelates who are regulars do not, as a rule, wear purple. (Abbots’) ceremonial garb is normally black and, in consequence, their heraldic hats are also black.” (Heim, Bruno B., Heraldry in the Catholic Church, 1978, page 114).

St. Benedict’s Abbey, Still River

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The monastic community of St. Benedict in Still River, Massachusetts decided recently to modify their existing coat of arms which was originally designed by the late, great, Dom Wilfrid Bayne, OSB of St. Anselm’s Abbey in Rhode Island. The coat of arms was designed some sixty plus years ago for the St. Benedict Center on Bow and Arrow streets in Cambridge, MA which was the origin of the community that eventually grew into St. Benedict’s Abbey today. There was originally no external ornament in the achievement. The community simply bore a shield with the coat of arms.

The decision was undertaken recently to add an abbatial crozier as an external ornament to bring the achievement into conformity with what is usual for a monastery with the rank of Abbey. While it is the usual custom to depict a sudarium, or veil, pendant from the crozier in the coat of arms of an abbot usually when depicting the arms of an abbey, a corporate body, the sudarium is omitted.

Mother M. Angelica, RIP

On Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016, Mother M. Angelica Rizzo, PCPA passed away. She was the Abbess of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Alabama and the Foundress and first CEO of EWTN, the global Catholic television and radio network.

Several years ago she adopted a coat of arms. (below in black and white and in color) It is significant in that despite Poor Clare abbesses not making use of a crozier they are, nevertheless, entitled to use one as a heraldic emblem with the veil attached correctly. In addition, the chaplet surrounding the shield indicates the arms of a Professed Religious and the crown of thorns surrounding the shield is also common in the heraldic achievements of female religious.

May she rest in peace.

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Abbess of Regina Laudis

The coat of arms used by the Third Abbess of the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut, Rev. Mother Lucia Kuppens, OSB. She was elected February 1 of 2015 and received the abbatial blessing on the following May 10th from the Archbishop of Hartford.

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The Abbess describes the design (executed by Mother Alma Egger, OSB) as follows:

The book symbolizes my maternal ancestry, one hundred percent Irish, from Galway in the west of Ireland. A strong Celtic influence permeated my home. From these roots I received my love of the word, of poetry, of learning, education, culture, and music. The book could be interpreted to represent Scripture, or The Rule, literature itself or the works of Shakespeare, the particular focus of my doctoral dissertation. On a practical level, the book refers to much of my work in the Abbey, which includes supporting others in their studies, hosting student groups, directing the Monastic Internship Program, and when called for, writing about the Abbey. My Clothing and Profession ceremonies were both on the Advent feast of “O Sapientia” in celebration of Wisdom. The book is open, conveying the imagination and intellect open to the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

The roof truss at the top of the shield symbolizes my paternal ancestry. The dominant national identity in my father’s family was Alsatian, from northeastern France, just a stone’s throw from the German border. They were a people who suffered and survived much in war, as their borders continually changed. From my father’s family comes a rootedness in the earth, an appreciation of manual work, a respect for practical solutions and love for what is essential in life. From him comes my attraction to the other main area of my monastic service, the Cellarer’s Office. Until fairly recently my father worked all over the Abbey helping repair and build things. Through my involvement with a Lay Oblate Community (The Closed Community) prior to entering the Abbey, I had many experiences of participating in building on the Abbey land, notably the Chapter House on the Hill. Since 2009 I have been working with others to renovate the original monastic buildings and envision this being a major work for the whole community for the next ten years.

Continuity with Lady Abbess and Abbess David is represented by the wavy line in the center that marks the pine hill, which was on both of their shields as well. The hill is the central feature of our land. It is where our church was built and it represents the spiritual center and heart of the monastery. The three stars, which also appeared on Abbess David’s shield represent the continued commitment to build the triadic nature of our authority structure composed of Abbess, Prioress, and Subprioress.

The consecration lamp is an ancient and rich symbol of consecrated virginity and therefore seemed an apt symbol for representing the light of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr. Each nun receives such a lamp, made by our potter, at the time of her Consecration, when the church bestows its blessing and affirmation on the fruitfulness of her vows. The burning oil lamp symbolizes the gift of self, consumed in the fire of love. Two flames rise from this lamp symbolizing for me that the gift of one’s love to Christ is never solitary, but is given in relationship to others. The consecration lamp unifies the whole shield, mediating between the speculative and practical polarities of my genealogy and bringing our attention to the meaning of the motto, which is taken from the Office of St. Scholastica, sister of St. Benedict and a consecrated virgin. As told in the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, one night she prevailed on her brother to disobey his Rule and instead of returning to his monastery, stay with her talking and praying. Though she did not tell him why, she knew her death was near. He refused her, but her tears of supplication to God caused a sudden storm that prevented St. Benedict from leaving. Thus in that moment, she prevailed over him and St. Gregory says of her, ‘Plus potuit quia plus amavit,’ which is translated: ‘She was able to do more because she loved more.’ The banner of the motto embraces the whole shield and all the symbols on it, signifying that all we do is possible only through love and the grace of God.

Why the decision to use a simple oval shield alone without the external ornament of the veiled crozier pale wise behind the shield is a mystery. It is the only heraldic ornament that would mark this as the coat of arms of an abbess. Without it, these are simply the arms of a woman and a motto. Similarly, the previous abbess’ coat of arms used no crozier but employed supporters! It causes one to wonder if there is a lack of proper heraldic knowledge amongst the nuns. It is a shame they have not been advised better.

The abbey itself has a fine coat of arms designed and emblazoned by the late great practitioner of the science and art of heraldry, Dom Wilfrid Bayne, OSB, a monk of Portsmouth Abbey in R.I.

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