Brother Nicholas Claude Thelen, OSB
Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Born: 8 December 1929
Professed: 21 March 1959
Died: 27 June 2015
Claude Nicholas Thelen was born in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, on December 8, 1929, the sixth of seven children of Nicholas and Gertrude (Mohs) Thelen. He attended elementary school at Holy Angels parish school in Saint Cloud from 1936–44.
Claude graduated from Cathedral High School in Saint Cloud in 1948. He enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1951 and was stationed on Okinawa during the Korean War from 1952–54. Upon returning to civilian life after the war, he was employed as a granite draftsman and pursued courses in photography and commercial art and design.
Claude entered the novitiate at Saint John’s Abbey in 1957. His first profession as a Benedictine monk was made in 1959, when he took his monastic name, Nicholas (after St. Nicholas of Tolentine). He had various work assignments at Saint John’s in these early years, from 1958 through 1962, including woodworking and plumbing. He engaged his creativity both in photography and in woodcarving such artifacts as crucifixes, shrines, and plaques. He gained recognition among his confreres for his skill at cutting hair as one of the regular abbey barbers. He also served as an attendant in the abbey porter’s office. From 1962 through 1965 Br. Nicholas was stationed at St. Maur’s (later, St. Mark’s) Priory in South Union, Kentucky, where he worked in food service.
After returning to Saint John’s in 1965, he served as an attendant at the Saint John’s Abbey and University Information Center as well as in the SJU Audiovisual Department. Several years later, in 1970, Br. Nicholas traveled to Tokyo, Japan, where he was maintenance supervisor at St. Anselm’s Priory. Besides concentrating on major projects there including the repair of the roof of the church and the installation of two large glass windows in the west wall of the balcony, he also managed audiovisual projects and took over some of the kitchen duties, where he was appreciated for the delicious meals he prepared. With some local help, Br. Nicholas also took on the task of assembling chairs and benches sent from Saint John’s, pieces of furniture crafted from wood from the Abbey forest. His skilled, deliberate competence and workmanship were evident in every task he undertook.
In addition to all the manual labor, Br. Nicholas offered Bible-study classes and private English lessons to the local Japanese residents in Tokyo and was an adviser to STAIFA, St. Anselm’s International Friendship Association. One of his hobbies was calligraphy. He was affectionately dubbed “night prior” by some of his confreres at St. Anselm’s Priory, since he was responsible for closing everything up at night.
When the Saint John’s Benedictines left St. Anselm’s in Tokyo in 1999, he took his skills to the newly established Holy Trinity Benedictine Monastery in Fujimi.
Earlier in his monastic life, one of Br. Nicholas’s confreres glowingly commented: “I deeply admire the way in which he has given himself so thoroughly to his religious vocation. His faithfulness in striving for a spirit of quiet and recollection coupled with his faithfully conforming to the monastic schedule of prayer and reading and work is a most edifying influence to the other brothers.”
As a tribute to his 38 years of work in Japan, then-Prior Roman Paur, OSB, in 2008 wrote regarding Br. Nicholas: “We are profoundly grateful for this humble confrere who has demonstrated to the people of Japan the hospitality and ministry of our Benedictine community.”
In 2008 Br. Nicholas returned from Japan to Saint John’s Abbey because of declining health and serious medical problems.
Brother Nicholas died on Saturday, June 27th, in the retirement center at Saint John’s Abbey. He is survived by his sister, Lilian Dickinson, sisters-in-law Ann and Mary Thelen, brother-in-law, Harold Dinndorf, many relatives and the community of Saint John’s Abbey. The monks, family, and friends will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for Brother Nicholas on Thursday, July 2, 2015 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 Nicholas to your prayers.
Abbot John Klassen OSB
and the monks of Saint John’s Abbey