Brother Urban Pieper, OSB

Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Collegeville, Minnesota

Born: 22 March 1929
Professed: 6 January 1952
Died: 1 November, 2012


Urban Anton Pieper was born on March 22, 1929, to John and Regina (Budde) Pieper in Marystown, Scott County, Minnesota. He was the eldest of nine children with six sisters and two brothers. Urban attended the local Marystown Parish School from 1935 to 1943, and then began working full time on his father's farm.

In 1950, Urban's pastor, Father Henry Minea, of St. Mary of the Purification Parish, wrote to Abbot Alcuin Deutsch, OSB, telling him of Urban's interest in becoming a Benedictine Lay Brother. Abbot Alcuin invited Urban to enter the Brother's candidacy program along with several other candidates, and he came to Saint John's Abbey on June 30, 1950. In January, 1951, he entered the novitiate, professing vows as a Benedictine monk on January 6, 1952, in the presence of Abbot Baldwin Dworschak, OSB, and the community.

As a young monk Brother Urban had many different jobs: working on the Saint John's farm, beekeeping, woodworking, making candles, and gardening. In 1961 Brother Urban was sent to our foundation of Saint Augustine's Monastery in Nassau, Bahamas. There he took care of the lawns, gardens, landscaping, bees and citrus groves. Mark Holiday, formerly Brother Matthew, remarked that he was "amazed with Urban's ability to grow things. Growing [plants] in Nassau was a greater challenge than working the fertile soil of Minnesota." Mark also remembered that Brother Urban had a special love of popcorn and that a movie theatre in Nassau provided him with an endless supply of it. In 1970 Urban returned to the United States and served for two years at Benilde High School in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, taking care of the lawns and sports fields, as well as managing the repair shop.

Brother Urban returned to the Bahamas in 1972 where he once again cared for the grounds and did extensive landscaping as well as tending a herd of 30 sheep. Brother Urban was also caretaker and handyman for Saint Augustine's College, as the school campus expanded and grew to near 1000 students. In addition, as a hobby, bred and cared for parakeets and other exotic birds in cages he had constructed.

In 1977 Brother Urban returned to Saint John's to become the official gardener and to manage the abbey apple orchard, continuing in these positions until his retirement in 2006. Over the years, he provided a prodigious amount of tomatoes and fresh vegetables for the monastery table. The University Biology Department also made use of Urban's special skills by making him their greenhouse specialist.

When Father Dan Durkin interviewed Brother Urban for an article on his retirement to appear in the monastery publication, The Abbey Banner, (Spring, 2006), he was quick to counsel Fr. Dan: "Don't overdo it!" Susanna Hynes, his co-worker in the Biology greenhouse, had already penned a very appreciative tribute expressing the department's gratitude for his twenty-eight years of service, excerpts from which appeared in the Banner article. One such excerpt captures the scope of Urban's contribution to the greenhouse: "[He] has an affinity for green growing things, whether that be tomatoes or tropical plants. He is especially fond of cacti and succulents, but he is hard put to meet a plant he doesn't like." Urban put it more succinctly: his contribution was simply "Growing plants."

Besides the colorful birds he raised to brighten the greenhouse, Brother Urban cherished a unique bird, the Birmingham Roller Pigeon. This pigeon is noted for its exclusive ability to turn over backwards and rotate downwards like a spinning ball. In his retirement, Brother Urban worked with John Elton, Saint John's master gardener, who cares for the pigeons now.

Brother Urban was a resourceful man of quiet determination. In February 2010 Brother Urban fell and broke his hip. His recovery after surgery was complicated by age and ongoing memory loss. In October 2012, he suffered a stroke.

Brother Urban Pieper died on Thursday, November 1, 2012, in the retirement center at Saint John's Abbey. He is survived by brothers Jerome (spouse Joan) and James, sisters Rose Marie (spouse Edgar), Rita, Agnes, Dolores and Olivia with many nieces and nephews and the community at Saint John's Abbey. The monks, family, and friends will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for Brother Urban on Wednesday, November 7, 2012, 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, Urban, to your prayers.

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