Father Gregory Harry Sebastian, OSB


Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Collegeville, Minnesota

Born: September 22, 1920
Professed: July 11, 1982
Ordained: 1983 
Died: July 3, 2006

Monk, Priest, Teacher and Chaplain
Born in Chicago, Illinois, on September 22, 1920, Harry Francis was the only child of Harry and Catherine (Nelles) Sebastian. His family was proud of its Belgian and German heritage. Growing up in the Cragin section of Chicago, Harry attended St. Genevieve's Parish School with his cousin Delphine who became like a sister to him. Delphine's entrance into the Sisters of Christian Charity — Father Gregory came to believe — planted the seeds of a religious vocation in his heart as well.

His involvement with the Boy Scouts led to a job as a volunteer worker and messenger boy at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. In high school Harry loved reading and tending his tropical fish. He became involved in the highly progressive Chicago Inter-Student Catholic Action (CISCA). At CISCA gatherings he met Catholic youth from all over the city learning the Church's teachings on social justice and labor.

In 1937 Harry attended the Summer School of Catholic Action, aimed at the development of lay leaders. It was then, however, that the first ideas of becoming a priest took root. Harry was elected to the National Honor Society and also vice-president and later president of the Student Council. Upon graduation from Steinmetz High School in 1938, he was rated tenth in his class. Harry remained connected to the church through CISCA.

Disillusioned by a stint as a Fuller Brush salesman near the end of the Depression, Harry returned to the classroom by enrolling briefly at Wright City College.

After another Summer School of Social Action, Harry decided to begin the study of Latin in earnest with the Benedictines at Saint John's University. Harry was much impressed by the monks and their recitation of the Divine Office. After completing an accelerated Latin course the next year, Harry was permitted to enter the novitiate in the summer of 1941 when he accepted the name of Claude. Harry, however, left the novitiate before vows and entered the US Army for a three-year term of service.

After the war, Harry found a job teaching English, but medieval and renaissance manuscripts captured his imagination. He completed bachelor's (1943) and master's (1951) degrees in English at Loyola University in Chicago. Columbia University awarded Harry a doctorate in 1970. Harry taught at Loyola University for four years and at St. Louis University in Missouri for four years. He also taught English at Newark College of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers, New Jersey, for seven years.

Harry began work as a cataloger for the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in 1973. Reading about the shortage of priests, he felt he might be able to help. In 1977 he began studies for the priesthood in the School of Theology ˜ Seminary of Saint John's University.

At 57, Harry re-entered the monastery as a novice in 1978. Gregory became his new religious name. He made first monastic vows on July 11, 1979. A Master of Divinity completed his priesthood studies, and in 1983 he was ordained. From 1983 to 1988 he traveled in all weather to celebrate Mass with the Benedictine Sisters of St. Raphael's Convent, St. Cloud. Father Gregory also served as Cataloger of Western Manuscripts at HMML until he retired in 1999.

Father Gregory was devoted to his loved ones — he looked after his mother in retirement in Saint Cloud. He was devoted to the common observance; he was devoted to prayer. His seriousness was not without a sense of humor. Alzheimer's disease led Father Gregory into his own world, but he was always friendly and pleasant to those who cared for him. He died on Monday morning, July 3, 2006, in St. Raphael's Hall, our retirement center in Collegeville.

He is survived by his monastic community and several cousins, including Sister Delphine Wedmore, SCC, Sacred Heart Convent, Wilmette, Illinois. The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Father Gregory at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, July 7, 2006, 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, Gregory, to your prayers.

Abbot John Klassen, OSB, and the monastic community.