Father Angelo Gerhard Zankl, OSB

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Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Collegeville, Minnesota

Born: April 19, 1901
Professed: July 11, 1921
Ordained: May 29, 1926
Died: Thursday, July 12

 

Born April 19, 1901, Gerhard was the fourth of five children for Conrad and Theresa (Kreitinger) Zankl of Almena, Wisconsin. Both his parents came from Bavaria, Germany. The young Gerhard attended elementary school in Norwood, Minnesota, and came to Saint John's Preparatory School in 1913. After graduating from the Preparatory School in 1918, he went on to earn a bachelor's degree at Saint John's University in 1923. As a student he worked in the St. John's Photography Studio and learned about wireless telegraphy from one of the monks.

Gerhard entered the monastery as a novice in July 1920. Abbot Peter Engel OSB (1856-1921), gave him the name Angelo honoring a friend of the abbot's at Monte Cassino Abbey. Brother Angelo professed monastic vows on July 11, 1921. He studied graphic arts at St. Anselm's College, Manchester, New Hampshire, and at Notre Dame University, South Bend, Indiana, during the summers of 1924 and 1925. Abbot Alcuin Deutsch (1877-1951) sent him to St. Vincent Pontifical Seminary at Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he received both a masters in languages and a doctorate in Sacred Theology. He was ordained a priest on May 29, 1926.

When he returned to Saint John's in 1928 a serious ulcer problem prevented him from finishing his first year of teaching. He spent two months in the St. Cloud Hospital recuperating from surgery. In the summer of 1929, he began his first pastoral assignment at St. Mary's Hospital in Duluth. On the recommendation of his doctor, Father Angelo took up duties for a year as pastor of the small rural parish of Crosby, Minnesota, where plenty of fresh milk was available to him.

Father Angelo was a pioneer in multi-tasking. He designed the monks' bathhouse on the hill overlooking Lake Sagatagan; designed the seal of Saint John's University; and was influential in having Saint John's recognized by the State of Minnesota as a game refuge that protects indigenous wildlife.

Father Angelo served as associate pastor in Mandan, North Dakota, from 1930 to 1932 when he returned to Saint John's first as a teacher, then as Dean of Men for six years (1932-1938). The next year he began a long and successful career in pastoral ministry: associate pastor briefly at Detroit Lakes and then at St. Bernard's Parish in St. Paul from 1939 to 1940. In 1940 he became chaplain for the Benedictine Sisters at St. Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph. While there he also taught and assisted in the nearby parish church. Serving as chaplain for Benedictine Sisters in three different monasteries over 22 years became a major element of his long life.

After service as a hospital chaplain from 1945 to 1946 at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Father Angelo was called back to teach at Saint John's University between 1946 and 1950 when the College of Arts and Sciences rapidly expanded due to the nationwide influx of former GI's into institutions of higher education. He resumed pastoral work, first in Mahnomen/Bejou, and then in Duluth where he was pastor of St. Clement's Church for 16 years until 1967. In 1967 he returned to teaching and service as chaplain to the Benedictine Sisters at Mount Saint Benedict in Crookston. He found the time and energy also to teach at Corbett Junior College until 1972. For two years he was chaplain of Assumption Nursing Home in Cold Spring and then began his final ministry of thirteen years with the Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth. Father Angelo returned to the abbey on June 1, 1987.

Father Angelo, always in the company of the pipe that he smoked since he was 14, spent almost 60 years of productive and happy years in priestly service and ministry. When a confrere suggested that his pastoral assignment at St. Clement's must have been his happiest years, he declared that "all my priestly years were happy." Wherever he served, he was ardently loved.

In the 1930's Father Angelo was probably the only monastic game warden in the nation. He loved to hunt and fish -- all within season of course -- with his close friends, Coach Joe Benda and Fathers Walter Reger OSB and Mark Braun OSB.

One of the conundrums of his life was how to stop nimble and crafty squirrels from raiding the bird feeders he tended. How was it that he, a rational human being, could not find a way to stop these mindless animals from taking feed from his beloved birds? One method he tried was to hang the bird feeder from a very thin steel wire, but the squirrels simply hung upside down and climbed out along the wire to the feeder. He felt he finally achieved victory when he connected a flattened tin can to an electric current. The gentle birds could rest without harm on it before hopping out to the food. The heavier squirrels, however, triggered the voltage that sent them rapidly into the air and down to the ground. At last he had achieved superiority over the irrational but clever squirrels!

All his life Father Angelo was an avid reader and story-teller. He loved to tinker with all kinds of gadgets. While in Duluth at St. Scholastica Monastery, he was happy to repair any damaged article that the sisters brought to him. His mind remained sharp until his death. He and the community proudly recognized that he was the first and only monk of our monastery to achieve the century mark. Father Angelo was a generalist, interested in everything, especially electronics, art, photography, theology, and languages. He was the living link with our earliest past since he had known and cared for Father Cornelius Wittmann OSB, the longest surviving member of the original five founding monks who came to Collegeville from Pennsylvania in 1856. A great part of our sesquicentennial history ends with him.

Father Angelo died peacefully at Collegeville on Thursday, July 12. Although not the oldest monk in North America by age, Father Angelo had been a professed Benedictine monk for 86 years, longer than any other. He is survived by his monastic community, faithful friends, a devoted cousin, loving nieces, and nephews who visited him frequently, especially to celebrate his birthday.

The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Father Angelo at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 17, 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, Angelo, to your prayers.

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