Father Melchior Gerald Freund, OSB

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Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Collegeville, Minnesota

Born: April 25, 1930
Professed: July 11, 1954
Ordained: 1957
Died: April 10, 2005

 

Monk, Priest, Astronomer, Teacher and Meteorologist
Gerald Freund, born on April 25, 1930, was the first child of Ivo and Angeline (Ditter) Freund. He and his brother, Richard, were both born in Minneapolis. He gave early expression to his lifelong fascination with aviation by building his first model airplanes in the fifth grade. His lack of proficiency in mathematics ruled out the academic pursuit of aerodynamics, but that did not keep him from spending much time at the airport.

Gerald's interest in Saint John's Preparatory School was spurred by a fellow Boy Scout and encouraged by his pastor, Father Pirmin Wendt OSB. He enrolled at Saint John's in September 1944, and Collegeville became his home for life.

Uninterested in sports, Gerald instead took piano lessons from Father James Kelly OSB, building on a musical talent that had been recognized earlier by the Josephite Sisters at Ascension School. Music was his prime avocation, and he became proficient enough to play two piano pieces for a Saint John's Prep Glee Club concert in his first year of instruction and a concerto with the University Orchestra in his senior year at the prep school. Music superseded for a time his interest in aviation and engineering, and he persevered in music instruction with Father James during college pre-divinity studies. He did, nonetheless, eventually obtain a flying license.

His love of music was fostered by a lasting friendship with Willem Ibes, a concert pianist from the Netherlands employed as a teacher in the University. While a student he accompanied Wim on a trip hitchhiking and bus-riding to New York, Washington and Quebec. From Quebec they both sailed to Rotterdam. After some time with the Ibes family, they traveled on to Paris and Lourdes. While in Amsterdam, Gerald took music lessons from Dr. Heysteck, a teacher at the conservatory. Heysteck invited Gerald to stay and study piano.

Unable to remain in Europe, Wim and Gerald returned to Minnesota — the airplane ride from New York to Minneapolis was for Gerald a special delight. While away from Collegeville, Gerald pondered a vocation to the Benedictine Order at Saint John's Abbey. During the school's annual retreat he determined to seek a closer union with God by entering the monastery. He did so in 1950 and received the name of Melchior. He professed first vows on July 11, 1951. As a young monk he read all of the books written by Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion OSB (1858-1923). They became for him the primary source of spiritual nourishment that strengthened his monastic resolve.

Father Melchior received his bachelor's degree in philosophy from Saint John's University in 1953. He taught part time at Saint John's Preparatory School and at Saint John's University from 1954 to 1956. After being ordained a priest in 1957, Father Melchior taught in the preparatory school and then attended the University of Nebraska from June 1957 to August 1958 where he studied mathematics. He completed a master's degree at the University of Iowa in 1963 with an emphasis in astronomy that he studied with the path-breaking astrophysicist, Dr. James A. Van Allen.

Father Melchior, or Father Mel, as he was called by students and confreres, taught for over fifty years as Assistant Professor in Astronomy and Mathematics. For over forty-five years he was our resident astronomer. He once said, "Astronomy is a science that gains its respect when we are able to think beyond immediately practicality. Just knowing how vast and how alive the universe is and our comparative smallness seems infinitely practical to me." The allure of the stars and heavenly bodies was a constant element of Father Mel's life, one that he shared generously with students and confreres. Father Melchior regularly taught astronomy classes in the university, and he developed and expanded the new Saint John's astronomical observatory constructed near the abbey orchard. In addition, he taught courses in mathematics and later in computer science.

Father Mel was also well known in community as the local meteorologist. A chance reference to cumulus humilis clouds led to his appointment as caretaker of the weather station. He did not forecast, but recorded basic weather phenomena at Saint John's as has been done since Abbot Peter Engel OSB began weather observation on October 12, 1892. He was Saint John's weather recorder from 1951 to 1957 as a seminarian and then from 1968 until 2004. The National Weather Service recognized him for submitting faithful readings for over 30 years.

With the advent of the personal computer revolution, Father Mel upgraded his mainframe computer skills and became a helpful computer guru in the monastery after a course in 1986 at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York.

Injuries impaired his ability to walk, but an electric wheel chair allowed Father Mel to speed through monastic corridors and get to the Science Hall on time each day to meet his classes.

Father Mel died peacefully on Sunday, April 10, 2005, at the Saint Cloud Hospital in the company of his sister-in-law, Mrs. Jane (Day) Freund of Crystal, Minnesota, his closest surviving family member. The Liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Father Melchior at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 15, in Saint John's Abbey Church with interment in the abbey cemetery.

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, Melchior, to your prayers.

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