Father Philip Kaufman, OSB

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Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Collegeville, Minnesota 

Born: September 9, 1911
Professed: July 11, 1941
Ordained: May 26, 1945
Died: January 8, 2008


Philip Sartorius Kaufman was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to a Reform Jewish family that lived in a "small town that was still fighting the Civil War." He was the first born of four children to Mozart and Ruby (Feld) Kaufman. He attended elementary, junior high and senior high school in Vicksburg.

Philip tried his hand at chemical engineering first at the University of Cincinnati for a year and then for another year at Louisiana State. In his junior year, he changed his major to government and received his bachelor's degree from Louisiana State University in 1933 and a master's degree in government in 1934. His family moved to New York City, and Philip began work, part-time in the downtown department store, B. Altman and Company, and part-time at New York University.

It was at B. Altman that Philip met Dan Sullivan, a Catholic who would change his life forever. Dan talked to Philip not about religion but about art, music and culture. Making plans to attend a performance of Bach's "B Minor Mass" at Carnegie Hall, Sullivan suggested that the performance would make better sense if Philip first experienced a Catholic Mass. Philip admitted the Mass he attended was a beautiful experience, but warned Dan he would never become a Catholic. Philip could not imagine that any intelligent person could believe all the things Catholics have to believe.

Philip, however, was intrigued. In September 1937 when Dan suggested he should become a Benedictine priest, it was as if a bomb had exploded within him. On January 6, Philip was baptized at the Benedictine Parish of St. Anselm in the Bronx, New York. His conversion was a heavy burden for his mother so he stayed with her for more than a year as she adjusted to his new faith. In 1939 he came to Saint John's University to teach government and to prepare for theological study for the priesthood. In July 1940 Philip was admitted to the novitiate. He made vows on July 11, 1941, and was ordained a priest on May 26, 1945.

Father Philip continued teaching that year before leaving for his assignment to the Benedictine school and monastery of St. Augustine in The Bahamas. He managed the business affairs and taught history, scripture, and other subjects for 18 years. He returned to Saint John's in 1964 and took several courses in the graduate school of theology. While studying theology, Philip taught at St. Benedict's High School and College, St. Joseph, Minnesota, from 1964 to 1965. From 1966 to 1969 he served as associate director for the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research.

 

From 1969 to 1975 he acted as theological consultant at Saint Benedict's Retreat and Conference Center in Madison, Wisconsin. Then Philip came back to Saint John's to teach adult religious education in the school's Life-long Learning Program. He agreed to manage the Saint John's Twin Cities House of Studies that offered adult education programs to urban residents. He found warm welcome at Christ the King Parish, Minneapolis, from 1976 to 1982. He loved pastoral work. Speaking to older Catholics lit a fire within him. Father Kaufman did not wear clerical clothing for the adult religious education classes. He adopted a bow tie as his uniform to make it easier, he believed, for others to approach and listen to him. Those who did discovered a bearded Benedictine monk excited about contemporary problems of faith in the Catholic Church. He was dedicated to creating wider understanding.

Father Philip continued work in adult education at the Saint Bede Center in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, from 1982 to 1986. He then returned to Saint John's Abbey, giving an occasional retreat and writing seriously. He published articles in both Catholic and ecumenical journals. In an effort to engage disaffected Catholics, he wrote Why You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic(1989). This he followed with speaking engagements in which he explained the book and voiced his convictions. His book visits sometimes annoyed local bishops -- one forbade him to speak on church property. Esteemed theologians and moralists, on the other hand, praised his work for the lively contribution it was making to the Catholic dialogue. The book went to seven printings. A revision with additions was published by Crossroads in 1995.

Father Philip wrote a second book, The Beloved Disciple: Witness against Anti-Semitism, that was published by Liturgical Press in 1991.

Writing about the Gospel of Saint John became for Father Philip a project that consumed his interest. Unlike Father Raymond E. Brown SS, Father Philip believed that the chronology and witness of the Fourth Gospel are more reliable historically than has previously been acknowledged. This controversial work remains in manuscript.

Father Philip was invited to write his biography, but he left it unfinished. Philip delighted in his reputation for being a maverick, not only for wearing a bow tie, but also for expressing progressive theological opinions. His greatest disappointment was that a Vatican congregation had never investigated or banned his 1989 book.

Philip remained alert and sharp. Faithfully a New Yorker, Philip read the New York Times daily. The latest issue of Commonweal was found at his bedside.

Father Philip died peacefully on Tuesday morning, January 8, 2008. He is survived by nephews and his monastic community.

The Liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Father Philip in Saint John's Abbey Church, Saturday, January 12, 2008, 10 a.m. Interment in the abbey cemetery follows.

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, Philip, to your prayers.

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