Father Paul Benno Marx, OSB

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Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Collegeville, Minnesota

Born: 8 May 1920
Professed: 11 July 1942
Ordained: 15 June 1947
Died: 20 March 2010

 

Benno William was born as the fifteenth child of George and Elizabeth (Rauw) in St. Michael, Minnesota, on May 8, 1920. There were thirteen girls and four boys (three children died in infancy) in the family. Benno grew up on the dairy farm that was in the Marx family for five generations, but he did not have any interest in farming. Benno attended St. Michael Parochial School, often walking the three and a half miles to school in all kinds of weather.

The Marx family was very religious and strict in discipline. His mother Elizabeth would rouse the children at 6:30 a.m. so that they could be on their way by 7:00 and arrive in time for daily Mass at 8:00. Benno became interested in the priesthood; his parish priest thought he was too nervous to undergo the ordeal of study, and his father thought he was too much of a scoundrel to become a priest. But at the age of fifteen, in the fall of 1935, Benno went to Saint John's Preparatory School. Benno's older brother, Father Michael Marx, OSB (1913-1993), entered the novitiate the same year. Benno found school to be tough and demanding. Even playing football did not diminish his discouragements. But by the end of the year Benno enjoyed school and did very well.

In his second year, Benno was awarded the sophomore scholarship medal, and as a junior, he received the gold medal for elocution. By his senior year, Benno was captain of the football and track team, president of the student council and dramatic club, wrote for the school newspaper Prep World, and was salutatorian of the senior class.

Benno matriculated at Saint John's University in 1939, and after two years he entered the novitiate at Saint John's Abbey, receiving the name Paul. He professed vows as a Benedictine monk on July 11, 1942, continued his seminary studies, and was ordained to the priesthood on June 15, 1947. Even before his ordination Father Paul was a prefect, teacher, and coach at the prep school where he taught history, religion, and English from 1942 to 1952.

He attended The Catholic University of America in 1952 and received a master's degree in sociology in 1954 and a PhD in 1957. Father Paul's doctoral thesis was on The Life and Work of Virgil Michel, OSB, the Saint John's monk who was a founder of the liturgical movement in the United States. As a teacher of sociology he emphasized the family and became passionately interested in responsible family planning. Father Paul founded the Sociology Department at Saint John's University in 1957 and was department chair until 1970. He developed and founded the Human Life Center at Saint John's from 1972 to 1980, and was the founder and senior editor of Review of Natural Family Planning. In 1981 Father Paul founded the Human Life International in Washington, D.C., and served as its leader until 1999. He became the "Apostle for Life" as he was known in the pro-life movement. He also founded the Population Research Institute (1989). In a papal audience in 1979, Pope John Paul II told Paul Marx: "You are doing the most important work on earth." Planned Parenthood labeled him as "Public Enemy #1."

Soft-spoken with his trademark white hair, Father Paul was driven in his belief that life begins at the moment of conception, that life is a sacred gift from God, and that the family is the most important unit of society. His fight was vigorous against abortion, contraception, sterilization, euthanasia, and child abuse.

Father Paul authored numerous books, pamphlets, and articles. Book titles included: The Death Peddlers: War on the Unborn (1971); Confessions of a Pro-Life Missionary (1988); Fighting for Life (1989); The Flying Monk: Still Fighting for Life (1990); Apostle of Life (1991); The Warehouse Priest (1993); and an autobiography, Faithful for Life (1997). Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, awarded Father Paul with a Founder's Award and said: "What Shakespeare is to poetry, what Mozart is to music, what Babe Ruth is to baseball, Father Paul Marx is to the pro-life movement."

His passionate zeal and single-minded commitment sometimes strained the relationship between him, his abbots, and others. Nothing would stand in his way in protecting life from conception to natural death. His full-throttle energy gradually took its toll on his health, and he returned to the abbey in June 1999. Among the recognitions for his pro-life work were being named "Catholic of the Year" by the Catholic Twin Circle, receiving the Cardinal John J. O'Connor Pro-Life Award from Legatus (2003), and meriting the Family Life International-"Faithful for Life Award" (2004) and Human Life International's Cardinal Von Galen Award " . . . in defense of innocent human life" (2007). In 2001 Father Paul was recognized at the World Family Conference for his thirty-year commitment to the pro-life cause. Judie Brown of the American Life League said of Father Paul's uncompromising work in the defense of pre-born children: "The pro-life movement is alive and well today because we are standing on the shoulders of a giant-Father Paul Marx."

Father Paul died March 20, 2010, in the Saint Cloud Hospital. He is survived by his sister, Sister Virgene Marx, OSB, of Saint Benedict's Monastery, Saint Joseph, Minnesota, many nieces and nephews, and the community at Saint John's Abbey. The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Father Paul on Friday, March 26, 2010, 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, Paul, to your prayers.

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