Brother George Michael Primus, OSB
Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Born: 12 September 1923
Professed: 15 August 1948
Died: 24 June 2013
George Michael Primus was born on September 12, 1923, to Anthony and Clothilda (Wander) Primus in Melrose, Minnesota. George was the fifth of nine children. George's father was a stonecutter for a granite monument company in Melrose, and his mother was a homemaker. His youngest sister, Darlene, entered Saint Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, and received the religious name Colette.
George attended St. Boniface Catholic School in Melrose and then Melrose Public High School, where he graduated in June, 1942. During World War II, from 1942-45, George worked in the shipyards in Richmond, California, building cargo ships. At the end of the war, he and a co-worker decided to move to Springfield, Missouri, and manage a restaurant. In a 1998 interview, George remarked about that experience: "Neither of us had any real knowledge of the restaurant business, and, after a year, we both were tired of long hours. We sold the business; he got married, and I went back to Melrose."
Over the years, George had thought about pursuing the religious life, and upon his return to Minnesota, a priest made arrangements for him to talk with Abbot Alcuin Deutsch, OSB, at Saint John's Abbey. George entered the novitiate on January 13, 1947. After completing his novitiate, Brother George professed first vows as a Benedictine monk on August 15, 1948, and began working in the bookbindery, which he enjoyed very much. In 1949, he worked in the shipping department of The Liturgical Press and helped out in the college bookstore. From 1950-55, Brother George was stationed at Saint Maur Priory in South Union, Kentucky, the first interracial monastery in the United States. While at Saint Maur Priory, he worked on the farm overseeing the dairy herd that supported the community and seminary school. Because the community needed a tailor, he also learned how to sew and mend clothes.
Upon his return to Saint John's, Brother George was asked to go to St. Bernard's Abbey in Cullman, Alabama, to receive further training as a tailor. After six months of apprenticeship at St. Bernard's he came home to begin working in the Abbey tailor shop as the assistant to Brother John Anderl, OSB (1916-2003). Brother George became the friendly face when any monk came to the tailor shop with clothes in need of sewing, button or zipper repair, or his religious habit in need of pressing. Along with servicing the clothing needs of the monastic community, Brother George purchased and distributed basic necessities such as pillows, bedding, clothing, and provided an array of toiletries in the tailor shop store. Reflecting on his years in the tailor shop, Brother George observed, "When people ask me what I do, I give them as a first answer that I have been 'cutting up' for over 50 years and getting paid for it! Naturally, I try to 'keep the monks in stitches' which, as it turns out, isn't easy."
During the growing season, George worked in the abbey apple orchard and garden on a part-time basis until he retired in 2003. Over the years, he planted many tree saplings and watched them become healthy adult trees. When asked about his connection with the outdoors, Brother George responded: "I enjoy the peaceful surroundings; it's relaxing. But most of all I love watching things grow. It's miraculous." George also loved long walks in the woods with confreres or just being in the sun in the back yard with his pipe in hand.
Brother George enjoyed crafts such as braiding rag rugs, making Christmas wreaths out of pine cones, and fashioning willow canes. In his last years he spent many hours cutting and sorting used postage stamps which were sent to the missions or to distributors of used stamps.
Abbot John Klassen, OSB, on the occasion of George's 60th anniversary of monastic profession acknowledged that Brother George was a model of monastic peace, humility, and quiet faithful service.
Brother George died on Monday, June 24, 2013, in the retirement center at Saint John's Abbey. He is survived by two sisters, Mary Ann (Howard) Hinnerichs and Sr. Colette Primus, OSB, along with sister-in-laws Bernice and Lois Primus, and many nieces, nephews, cousins, close friends and the community at Saint John's Abbey. The monks, family, and friends will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for Brother George on June 28, 2013, in Saint John's Abbey Church. Interment in Saint John's Cemetery follows 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, George, to your prayers.
Abbot John Klassen OSB
and the monks of Saint John's Abbey