Brother Dietrich Reinhart, OSB


Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Collegeville, Minnesota 

Born: May 17, 1949

Professed: July 11, 1971
Died: December 29, 2008


Thomas Edward Reinhart was born on May 17, 1949, to Donald and Eleanor (Noonan) Reinhart as the eldest child of four in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He attended St. Bridget's Elementary School from 1955 to 1963, and DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, from 1963 until graduation in 1967. During the summers Thomas worked as a printer's assistant, office worker, and inventory clerk in a warehouse. Thomas first visited Saint John's in 1967 and remembers being struck by the architectural power of the new Breuer building when "you could still smell the wood mellowing" in the new library and abbey church.

Thomas entered Saint John's University in 1967 and graduated magna cum laude in History in 1971. During his studies, Thomas worked as a typist and bibliographer for his history professor, Father Vincent Tegeder OSB. He entered the novitiate of Saint John's Abbey in July, 1971. He asked for the name of Dietrich in honor of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German Lutheran theologian who was a participant in the resistance movement against Nazism.

Brother Dietrich was deeply and actively involved in his monastic community at Saint John's. As a junior monk, he served as assistant liturgy director. In 1974 he wrote a history of Saint John's Abbey Woodworking. He volunteered as an in-house barber for the monks, and as a member of the Saint John's Fire Department.

Brother Dietrich attended the Saint John's School of Theology from 1972 to 1974, but history endured as his major interest. In 1975, he was accepted at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, to pursue a doctorate in history. Dietrich was pleased to receive a fellowship at this small, Ivy League school that would give him the opportunity to teach besides doing research. He received a master's degree in 1976 and the doctorate in 1984. His dissertation was entitled "The Parliamentary Visitation of Oxford University, 1646-1652."

Brother Dietrich conducted research for his dissertation at Oxford University from 1978 to 1980 where he matriculated in the university as a member of Saint Benet's Hall and as a recognized student in the faculty of modern history that included his sometime mentor, Hugh Trevor-Roper.

Brother Dietrich returned to Saint John's University and became an adjunct instructor of history in 1981 and then an assistant professor of history in 1984. He also served as a faculty resident (1984-1991).

Abbot Jerome Theisen OSB, recognizing Dietrich's natural skills at organization, asked him to be director of liturgy for the abbey in 1983, but Brother Dietrich felt he had to finish his dissertation first. Dietrich finished his rough draft in six weeks so he could accept the new position. As liturgy director, he led the committee on the revision of the Liturgy of the Hours at Saint John's Abbey (the multi-volume set which the community still uses at public prayer services). He also co-authored with Father Michael Kwatera OSB a book of prayers for grace at meals.

In 1988, Brother Dietrich was named dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Saint John's University. Father Hilary Thimmesh OSB pointed out in announcing this new role for Dietrich that, "he is deeply committed to dealing with students as individuals and cultivating their best talents of mind and character. He understands the challenging responsibility of encouraging and supporting the faculty in their crucial role as teachers and scholars. He is thoroughly dedicated to Saint John's as a community founded on Benedictine ideals." During his tenure, Dietrich directed the implementation of the Core Curriculum, oversaw the development of the new majors in Peace Studies, and Communication, and led the building program for the Rogers Art Center.

In 1991 the Board of Regents elected him to become the eleventh president of Saint John's University. Dietrich said at the time, "I am heartened by the vitality of our faculty, the dedication of our staff; the unfailing originality and spirit of our students, the deep commitment of our alumni, benefactors and friends; the creativity of our long-term partnership with the College of Saint Benedict and the enduring resolve of Saint John's Abbey to be of service to the Church and the broader human community."

Brother Dietrich was the first non-ordained monk to be president of the university, and he hoped to be part of the process of defining what it means to be a Catholic college at the end of the second millennium. He set for himself four goals: deepening Saint John's service to students and community; placing the relationship with the College of Saint Benedict on a new footing; finishing the $28 million capital campaign, and starting a process for long-range strategic planning.

Many campus building projects were completed during his presidency: Metten Court Apartments (student housing); Sexton Commons (student center); Vincent Court Apartments (student housing); McNeely Spectrum, McKendrick Hall, Clemens Stadium (sports facilities); Science Center (building addition); Saints Maur and Placid (student housing). It was during his tenure that calligrapher Donald Jackson was commissioned to undertake writing The Saint John's Bible. Brother Dietrich was also instrumental in having Saint John's recognized as an arboretum.

In 1997, Brother Dietrich was re-elected for a second term as president, and in 2003 he began a third term.

Brother Dietrich garnered many awards and honors over the years. In 1992 DeLaSalle High School, his alma mater, awarded him the LaSallian Award. In 2000 he was given The Saint Gregory Award for his support in founding The St. John's Boys' Choir. Brother Dietrich's investiture as a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre took place at Omaha, Nebraska, in September 2001. In October 2008, the Board of Regents announced the establishment of The Benedictine Institute at Saint John's University in his honor.

During Brother Dietrich's presidency enrollment grew by nine percent and the academic profile of entering students rose dramatically. The endowment for the university was increased to over $145 million and its sesquicentennial capital campaign for $150 million exceeded its goal. Brother Dietrich chaired the board of the Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities (ABCU), and served on the boards of the Bremer Bank, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), Minnesota Private College Council (MPCC), the Central Minnesota Community Foundation, and the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC).

Dietrich took pride in continuing the close collaboration with the College of Saint Benedict and co-led the creation of the first joint strategic plan. The goals of the coordinate relationship strengthened a common academic program of liberal arts and supported the Catholic intellectual tradition informed by Benedictine values.

In September 2008, Brother Dietrich was diagnosed with malignant metastatic melanoma. In an interview in November, he observed: "I came to Saint John's 42 years ago, never intending to be a monk. What I discovered is that Saint John's is a community where people stand by each other -- they care about each other -- and that there is always room in this community."

Brother Dietrich died on Monday, December 29, 2008, in the retirement center at Saint John's Abbey. He is survived by a brother, Steve; and two sisters, Susan; and Mary Blocker; all of Minneapolis.

The community will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for Brother Dietrich, Tuesday, January 6, 2009, at 3 p.m. in Saint John's Abbey Church with interment in Saint John's Cemetery following the service.

We ask each community member to offer two Masses according to the manner of his participation in the priesthood of Christ. We commend our brother, Dietrich, to your prayers.

Abbot John Klassen, OSB,
and the monks of Saint John's Abbey.