Obituary for Father Bryan Beaumont Hays, OSB
Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Born: December 10, 1920
Professed: July 11, 1958
Ordained: June 2, 1962
Died: March 2, 2017
Henry Bryan Hays was born on a farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, the son of Henry Bryan and Lucy Ellis (Beaumont) Hays, on December 10, 1920. His father deserted his mother before Henry was born. His mother later married W.F. Dority when Henry was five years old and he gained a half-brother and two half-sisters in his family. When Bryan (as he preferred to be called) was growing up he received a rudimentary Protestant religious education through the Methodist Church. He attended a one room schoolhouse for his elementary education and then moved on to Clarksville High School, graduating in 1939. His major interests were music and poetry. Bryan was passionately fond of music and taught himself to play the piano.
After High School, Bryan went to the Chicago Musical College to study musical composition under Max Wald. In 1943 he was drafted into the U.S. Army for three years including two years spent in the Pacific Ocean theatre. After his discharge in 1946, Bryan returned to college and earned a B.A. degree in 1948 as well as an M.A. in music composition in 1949.
In 1949, Bryan won the George Gershwin Award for a short orchestral composition, Pastorale and Allegro, which was performed at Carnegie Hall during the annual Gershwin Memorial Concert.
With the Gershwin money, Bryan went to France for a year where he immersed himself in the music scene, especially in Paris, and wrote an opera. Returning to New York City, Bryan accepted a composition scholarship as a student of Aaron Copland; and in the fall of 1950, he was one of two composers featured in a concert at McMillan Hall, Columbia University, New York. In 1951, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Musical Composition and traveled to Italy for two years. In Rome, Bryan met the mystic priest Padre Pio. It was a very moving experience for Bryan when Padre Pio blessed him and he kissed the priest’s bandaged hands which bore the stigmata of the crucified Lord. Bryan began reading the writings of Thomas Merton, and upon returning to the United States, he made a retreat at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, Merton’s monastery.
Bryan was fascinated by the life of the monks. It was during this visit that he was overwhelmed with the desire to become a Catholic and a monk. From 1955-56 Bryan was a student at St. Bernard’s College in Alabama for his first year of philosophy. He then transferred to Saint John’s University in 1956 because of the reputation of the music department and its connection, through the Abbey, with the Liturgical Movement in the United States.
Bryan entered the novitiate of Saint John’s Abbey in 1957, receiving the religious name Hippolytus (he resumed his baptismal name Bryan after the Second Vatican Council), and professed vows as a Benedictine monk on July 11, 1958. After his novitiate, Bryan continued his studies for the priesthood and was ordained on June 2, 1962.
Though his love was music, Bryan was asked to teach French. He acquired an M.A. in French from Laval University in Quebec, and then taught French at Saint John’s University (1965-72), and provided part-time instruction in music (1974-79). Later he served as an instructor for first-year colloquium courses (1979-90). Reflecting on his more than twenty-year teaching career, Bryan observed, “Teaching is just a thing I do; it’s not my real bag. My work is most authentic when I compose music. It’s the most important thing in my life. It gives me a reason for living.”
Bryan’s musical compositions include numerous vocal solos, duets and trios; choral music; five operas (including The Little Match Girl 1978); oratorios (including Stations of the Cross 1981, 1993), instrumental ensembles (including the Grandma Moses Suites 1992-97), orchestrations, a CD Uncommon Daisies 1999, and a collection of over 200 hymns. In 1998 Bryan won a contest sponsored by the National Association of Teachers of Singing for his composition, Six English Epitaphs, inspired during a three-month trip to England.
For years Bryan interacted with students in the university dining room, becoming friends with a large number of college students. “I was an introverted youngster who related better to adults. Now I’m getting to know the younger generation and enjoying it immensely. I guess this is my chance to bridge the generation gap.”
Energetic and involved with life, Bryan considered himself a late bloomer. Despite a successful fight with cancer, he moved to the Abbey’s Saint Raphael Retirement Center in 2003, where he continued working on his musical compositions and visiting friends of the past and present.
He is survived by a half-brother and half-sister, nieces and nephew and the monastic community of Saint John’s Abbey. Surrounded by confreres Father Bryan died peacefully on 2 March 2017 in the retirement center at Saint John’s Abbey. The monks, family, and friends will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for Father Bryan on 7 March 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, Bryan, to your prayers.
Abbot John Klassen OSB
and the monks of Saint John’s Abbey