Father Mark Lee Thamert, OSB
Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Born: February 6, 1951
Professed: July 11, 1975
Ordained: June 22, 1979
Died: April 29, 2017
Mark Lee Thamert, and his twin sister, Mary, were born in Owatonna, Minnesota, on February 6, 1951, to Melvin and Marie (Deml) Thamert. Mark and Mary, along with his other siblings, Virginia, Richard and Robert, grew up on the family farm.
Mark attended Saint Mary’s Central Elementary School in Owatonna, and then enrolled at Saint John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville, Minnesota, graduating in 1969. He next enrolled at the University of Minnesota, planning to study architecture. However, after taking a German language application test, he spent his sophomore year studying in Cologne, Berlin, and Hamburg. Following the year abroad, he returned to Minnesota and transferred to Saint John’s University, where he earned a BA in German, graduating magna cum laude in 1973. During his junior and senior years, Mark began teaching German at Saint John’s Preparatory School.
Mark had planned to enter medical school, but accepted a position as director of the Saint John’s Preparatory Study Abroad Program at Melk Abbey in Austria. During this year abroad, he experienced an attraction to life as a Benedictine monk and decided to pursue it. He entered the novitiate at Saint John’s Abbey and professed his first vows on July 11, 1975. He then began studies for the priesthood at Saint John’s Seminary and was ordained in 1979.
Father Mark continued teaching German at Saint John’s Preparatory School from 1974-1979. In 1979 he enrolled at Princeton University, in New Jersey, pursuing a doctorate in Germanic Languages and Literatures. During his course work at Princeton, Father Mark was a teaching assistant and instructor. He received his PhD in 1986, with a dissertation titled, The Medieval Novelistic Märe: Telling and Teaching in Works of the Stricker.
Returning to Saint John’s, Father Mark began a long career of teaching and writing as a professor of Modern and Classical Languages, from 1984-2016. Among his many academic recognitions are: APGA graduate student award “Teacher of the Year Award,” Princeton University (1981); Faculty Advising Award, Saint John’s University (1989); and the Robert L. Spaeth Teacher of Distinction Award (2008). Commenting on Father Mark’s teaching a student wrote: “He has a love and dedication for teaching, and this comes through in the time and effort he puts into researching and preparing curricula, which look to reach out to both the best and the most casual of students...Father Mark has brought me to challenge, tear apart, and reassemble my way of thinking about humanity and the world.”
Father Mark also served as director of the honors program for the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, taught the “Great Books and Ideas” seminar, was instrumental in obtaining major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and developed the senior honors research program. He had a strong interest in study abroad programs and directed student overseas programs in Austria, Germany, Mexico, Italy, India and Tibet.
In 1994, Father Mark was appointed headmaster of Saint John’s Preparatory School. During his four years at the school, he inaugurated the Middle School program and oversaw the building of the Weber Center. In 1999 he received the “Declaration of Honor in Silver for Service to the Republic of Austria,” in recognition of his contributions to the Austrian people over 30 years.
Father Mark enjoyed cooking and arranging small gatherings with confreres. For a number of years, he made his “grilled” Thanksgiving turkey for the community festive lunch and cooked meat on an open barbeque pit for July 4 celebrations. He loved poetry and poetic interpretation, particularly the works of Rainer Maria Rilke. Father Mark also enjoyed singing with the Abbey Schola, and was a founding member of the Collegeville Consort Renaissance Vocal Group over the years.
In an interview in the student newspaper The Record in 2000, Father Mark, commented on his teaching career: “Our work as Benedictines centers on support for one another and care for the students who are part of our lives. In my life as a monk and teacher, I hope to hand on to this generation of students what I believe is at the heart of the Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s experience.”
Father Mark’s last appointment was Director of the Benedictine Institute at Saint John’s starting in January 2013 that was cut short in the spring of 2014 when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He underwent extensive medical procedures for the duration of his illness but in the end declined further treatment.
Father Mark was very happy to see the Cistercian publication by Liturgical Press in 2016 of his translation from the German of The Rule of Benedict: An Invitation to the Christian Life by Georg Holzherr OSB.
Father Mark died peacefully on April 29, 2017 in the retirement center at Saint John’s Abbey. He is survived by two sisters, Virginia Wanous and Mary Striefland, and two brothers, Robert and Richard Thamert, and the monastic community of Saint John’s Abbey. The monks, family, and friends will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for Father Mark on May 6, 2017 at 10:00 AM in Saint John’s Abbey and University 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 Mark to your prayers.
Abbot John Klassen OSB
and the monks of Saint John’s Abbey