Father Martin Peter Rath, OSB
Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Born: June 9, 1922
Professed: March 20, 1950
Ordained: June 5, 1983
Died: August 22, 2016
Peter Francis Rath was born on June 9, 1922, to Charles and Mary (Schneider) Rath in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Peter was the eighth of ten children whose father worked as a car repairman for the Chicago-Northwestern Railroad. Peter attended Saint Joseph Catholic School from 1929 to 1937. Then he moved on to Robbinsdale High School in 1938 where he did work in art classes. Later he transferred to North High School in Minneapolis where he excelled in German and Mechanical Drawing and graduated in 1941. During World War II Peter worked as a draftsman at Diamond Iron Works and, later, at Northern Pump Company and as a milkman for Purity Dairy before engaging in the family-owned Rath’s Café in Medicine Lake, Minnesota. For some time he was also an auto and life insurance agent on a part-time basis.
In 1948 Peter came to Saint John’s Abbey on a personal retreat. He soon felt called to enter the monastery and on November 8, 1948, Peter applied as a brother candidate and entered the novitiate on March 20, 1949, receiving the religious name Martin after the Bishop, Saint Martin of Tours. Following his novitiate Brother Martin professed his first vows as a Benedictine monk on March 21, 1950. Martin’s years in the monastery were also marked by the multi-tasking that so characterized his earlier life. He worked in the Abbey Print Shop (1948-1949); worked with Brother Leo Bettendorf, OSB, in the garden (1950-1951); worked in the monastic refectory (1952) and in the University Bookstore with Father Fabian Wegleitner, OSB, from 1953 to 1967. Brother Martin also did part-time jobs: serving as night watchman and assisting in the Saint John’s farm operations in the butcher shop, chicken coop, garden and maple syrup production. He also did some seasonal work at the White Earth Indian Mission and also at Red Lake Indian Mission. In 1967 Brother Martin was appointed sacristan while he also worked part-time in the United States Post Office in Collegeville. In April 1968 Brother Martin became the officer in charge of Collegeville Post Office, and in 1971 he was appointed Postmaster, succeeding Brother James Hughes, OSB, a position Martin held until 1979 when he resigned to pursue his dream of becoming a priest.
Brother Martin began philosophical and theological studies at Saint John’s Seminary in 1978 and then enrolled at the Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, in 1980. During the summer of 1982 Brother Martin completed a Clinical Pastoral Education program at Willmar State Hospital followed by his diaconate internship at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Richmond, Minnesota. He successfully completed his theology studies and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop George Speltz on June 5, 1983. Following ordination Father Martin became associate pastor at Saint Bernard’s Parish in St. Paul (1983-1986); chaplain at St. Therese Home in New Hope, Minnesota (1986-1989); pastor of the Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Ogema, Minnesota and St. Ann’s Parish in Waubun (1989-1994); pastor at Sacred Heart parish in Freeport, Minnesota (1994-1996); and chaplain at St. Mary’s Care Center in Winsted, Minnesota (1996-2007).
Father Martin was always interested in learning about and promoting small Christian communities. In 1987 he founded “Nazareth House” in Saint Paul which provided a home for the broken-hearted, hospitality for the neglected, and a house of prayer for the weary. In a three-month sabbatical in 1989, Father Martin visited small ecumenical and Christian communities such as Taize’ in France and other places in Sweden, Germany, Israel and Canada. His work at Nazareth House continued until 2001 when it closed. However Martin never grew tired of promoting small Christian communities in Carver and Wright counties from 2001 to 2007. He returned to Saint John’s Abbey in April 2007. He continued some of his outreach service to people he had nurtured in his past ministries.
At his 50th anniversary of profession of vows in 2000, Father Martin observed “I entered the abbey at age 26, served as a brother for 33 years, then as a priest – striving always to do it all for the honor and glory of God.”
Over the years Father Martin wrote poetry for various Catholic publications: in 1972 a Christmas poem for The Catholic Messenger of Davenport, Iowa; in 1974 “The Christmas Canticle” for the magazine Eucharist; and for pro-life causes. Recently Father Martin published a CD of Saint John’s Bells and reflections and meditations set to music.
Father Martin died on August 22, 2016, in the retirement center at Saint John’s Abbey. He is survived by the community at Saint John’s Abbey. The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Father Martin, August 26, 2016, at 3:00 pm 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 the the manner of his participation in the priesthood of Christ. We commend our brother, Martin, to your prayers.
Abbot John Klassen, OSB
and the monks of Saint John’s Abbey