Homily for the Funeral of
Brother Dietrich Reinhart OSB
In the funeral scene early in Tolstoy's short story "The Death of Ivan Ilych,"
one of Ivan's friends looks at him lying in the casket.
He is struck by the expression on the dead man's face.
The expression seems to say that "what was necessary"
has been "accomplished rightly."
Ivan's friend also reads an expression of reproach and warning to the living
and this makes him uncomfortable.
Perhaps he feels that he does not need the warning.
It is for this reason that Saint Benedict in his Rule
cautions monks to keep death daily before their eyes.
This is surely not meant to make death into an obsession
such that we never fully live.
Rather, Benedict intends it as a healthy dose of realism,
like stepping outside when it is twenty below zero.
As believers we trust in God's gracious mercy,
that whether we live or die, we belong to God.
We know that for all intents
our span of days is in God's hands.
It is a profound mystery why some individuals
live easily into their 90s,
while others are called, in the words of Hebrews,
"to their heavenly homeland" so much earlier.
Tom Reinhart was born on May 17, 1949
the oldest child of Donald and Eleanor Reinhart.
Soon joined by sisters Mary and Sue and brother Steve,
the family lived in Minneapolis,
amidst a generation of families growing up after the war.
They were members of Saint Bridget's parish
and Tom attended grade school there
before graduating from DeLaSalle High School in 1967.
He came to SJU that fall
and though he and I lived at opposite ends of the hall
in the stellar quarters of Ground Benet,
we didn't get to know each other very well --
apparently not enough overlap between history and chemistry.
Tom came to the monastery after graduation in 1971,
one of nine who came to have their vocation tested.
He was immediately drawn to practical work on the liturgy
and as novices Jim Linn and he wrote the intercessory prayers
for Sunday Eucharist -- halcyon days indeed for celebrants.
As a junior monk Tom served as assistant liturgy director
to Father Allan Bouley, who was saddled with the task
of re-creating the liturgy from the ground up.
As a young monk Tom was blessed with vocational clarity --
he wanted to be a monk here at Saint John's
and he wanted to study and teach history.
He worked as an intern in the history department
and demonstrated both his love and skill for teaching.
In addition, Jim Linn and Tom were the standout singers in our class
and regularly served as chanters with Father John Howard
at Sunday evening offices created by Fathers Jerome Coller and Bryan Hayes.
From 1983 to 1988 Dietrich served as the Director of Liturgy for the abbey
while teaching in the university.
During his tenure, he coordinated the multiple conversations
and experiments needed to develop the liturgy of hours that we use today.
This required getting a lot of key players in the room,
making compromises and shepherding new developments,
articulating a theological framework that made sense
and paying attention to practical details.
For example, Father Aelred Tegels, a brilliant liturgical scholar,
was responsible for working out the arrangement of psalms
for the four week cycle.
At one point Aelred hit the wall and was blocked for months in finishing.
Dietrich arranged for him to be at the Eagle Lake cabin for a few days of work
and drove up, spending two days with Aelred,
working through one dilemma after another until the work was complete.
In the middle of his first year in temporary vows
Tom asked to change his name to Dietrich,
after the great German Lutheran theologian and Nazi resister.
That name change was huge,
indicative of Dietrich's intensity and commitment.
Dietrich made solemn vows in 1975
and then went to Brown University on a scholarship for his PhD
in 16-17th century English history.
He also had the opportunity to do research in England
for two deeply formative years.
Dietrich was acutely aware of the suppression of monastic life in England
and the dire consequences for the Church.
He hated, with the "perfect hate" of psalm 139
the "golden age" theories that abound in historical scholarship.
Few things would get him more riled than reading
that there were two or three periods of monastic life worth studying,
the rest was "fly-over" territory and didn't need attention.
He would ask rhetorically:
"Did the monks not take their vows seriously? Or pray?
or care about each other? or make a difference in society and the church?
or stop being hospitable?
What is the basis for this judgment?"
That is one of the reasons why Dietrich says again and again,
in his speeches and in his writing,
"our best days are yet to come!"
Dietrich had many gifts --
one of his strongest was a stereoscopic vision
that allowed him to keep big picture in focus
while drilling down into the smallest details of a project.
Sometimes this could feel like micromanagement
and sometimes maybe it was.
But once he understood what was going on
and was satisfied that everything was in order, he could let go.
Dietrich was extremely gifted relationally.
He had a naturally deep affect
and made long-lasting friendships both inside and outside the monastery.
He was truly an outstanding president
because he cared for all of Saint John's.
He was aware of the needs of our undergraduate students.
He was aware of the challenges for the School of Theology,
the Hill Museum and Microfilm Library, the Collegeville Institute,
the Pottery, the Prep School and of course, the abbey.
None of these were stranded during his leadership.
This is not even to mention the fundamental importance
of the relationship between the College of Arts and Sciences
and the College of Saint Benedict.
He was filled with a deep respect for Saint Benedict's Monastery
and the leadership and students of the College of Saint Benedict.
Dietrich was willing to take calculated risks
when an idea was aligned with the mission,
whether this was moving Joe Hall so that it could house the Pottery
or giving resilient leadership to the creation of the Saint John's Bible.
He was a member of many national organizations
including the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
As it turned out his last public appearance
was at their meeting in Omaha in September.
As I prepared this homily a thousand memories washed over me:
Dietrich's self-deprecating complaint
that he never got to drive the tractor during novitiate;
his capacity to be late for any and all occasions
because he was always getting one more thing done;
his absolute commitment to never eat at a fast food restaurant;
on a road trip, you go to Hans and Annie's or Ellen's.
When in restaurant in a foreign country, be adventuresome.
Take long hikes under any conditions: rain, cold, snow, fog, sleet, mud, windů
the countless times I heard the wheels of his luggage on the rough floor of Breuer,
as he was heading to the airport over the past 17 years;
his love of the word "scheme"
(Projectenmacher for Boniface Wimmer) always meant a creative response to a problem;
and I could go on -- I am sure each of you has your own list.
During these past three months,
Dietrich struggled to live in the tension of accepting
the tough prognosis of Stage IV melanoma --
and his deep desire to use his remaining time to jumpstart the Benedictine Institute.
He had a fierce desire to live, to beat the odds.
Sometimes he struggled with his temper, looking for patience.
As president Dietrich was used to having control over many things
but wily, creative melanoma does not yield to typical control strategies.
It was difficult for him to believe that his time might be short,
not because he lacked courage or the passion to live,
but because the disease is so tough.
Ultimately, Dietrich was able to step
into that new future with God that our faith promises.
The monastic community and I are deeply grateful
to all of you for being here to celebrate Brother Dietrich's life,
(especially Archbishop Flynn, Bishop Kinney, presidents and representatives
from the Minnesota Private College Council, Benedictine Presidents and representatives of ABCU)
for your strong and dedicated support for him over these past three months,
for all the cards, letters, phone messages, and postings on Caringbridge,
and the countless other ways that you have helped us
surround him with love in these days.
Mary, Sue, and Steve, you will miss a beloved brother and brother in-law
and nieces and nephews, you will miss an uncle.
Paul and I will surely miss our beloved classmate.
All of us will miss Dietrich's vision, energy, and faith-filled presence.
Truly Brother Dietrich was a faithful servant,
ready for our Lord's call.
We live our lives with faith in Jesus Christ,
knowing ourselves as adopted children of God.
The Word became flesh so that Dietrich and all of our loved ones
might live in God.
Abbot John Klassen, OSB
6 January 2009