Father Neal Henry Lawrence OSB, 96
22 January 1908 - 3 November 2004
Sailor, Diplomat, Monk, Scholar and Poet
William Henry Lawrence, Jr., was born in Clarksville, Tennessee, to William Henry and Sallie (Neblett) Lawrence. He was the oldest of four children. He attended public elementary schools in Louisville, Kentucky, and graduated from Louisville Male High School in 1922.
Neal Lawrence was accepted by Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he began study in Pre-Medicine, but graduated in 1929 with an A.B. in English. After college Neal worked for 15 years as an executive at Lever Brothers, then in Cambridge. Until 1943, he spent a good deal of time working with scientists and advertising agencies in New York. Lever Brothers valued his contribution so greatly that the company arranged two exemptions from the draft.
With a third deferment pending, Neal refused the exemption and volunteered for the United States Navy. The Navy commissioned him a Lt. Commander in 1943. He was named Officer-in-Charge of the Supply Depot at Norfork, Virginia. From 1943 to 1944 he oversaw all contracts for supplies at advance bases and ships.
Responding to a request from Washington for volunteers in "Military Government," Neal attended the United States Military Government School at Columbia University in New York City. The yearlong program, however, was cut short after four months, and Neal was sent to participate in the siege of Okinawa, landing on Orange Beach with the United States Marines on 2 April 1945. Later he became Director of the Department of Economic Affairs for the Military Governmental Headquarters of the Ryukyu Islands from 1946 to 1947.
Having witnessed the carnage and destruction on the islands, the former Navy man decided to dedicate his life working for peace among all people. To do so Neal earned a masters degree in Public Law and Government at Columbia University in 1947 that led to a career in the US Foreign Service.
Neal was assigned to the diplomatic section of General MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. There he reported to the State Department on postwar political and economic affairs. He was commended with the rating of "excellent" at the time the peace treaty was being formulated. Neal was the first American diplomat to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki officially. After two years he was made director of the United States Information Service in Singapore and Malaya. He established offices in both Singapore and Malaya. Two years later he was temporarily in Taiwan, after which he retired from government service in 1952.
He found a job in Washington, DC, using his knowledge of tin and Malaya. Raised a Methodist, Neal renewed his interest in Catholicism through study with a priest assigned to Saint Matthew's Cathedral. In 1953 Neal was received into the Catholic Church.
Through his friend, Dom Aldo Cadena OSB, Neal learned about Saint John's Abbey. He contacted Abbot Baldwin Dworschak OSB who invited him to visit and study. In 1954 Brother Neal was accepted into the novitiate. He professed vows as a Benedictine monk the following year, 1955. During priesthood studies, Brother Neal taught in the Political Science Department of Saint John's University.
Father Neal was ordained on June 4, 1960, and Abbot Baldwin sent him to Saint Anselm's Priory and Parish, Tokyo, where he had left his heart when he worked there in diplomatic service. Father Neal served as associate pastor and pastor of St. Anselm's Parish for 33 years from 1966 to 1999. When that community moved to a new location, Trinity Monastery, Fujimi, Father Neal went with them.
Scholar and Poet
In his early years in Japan, Father Neal taught a variety of courses at Tokyo University until mandatory retirement at 60. He continued to teach, however, at Keio and Seikei Universities and Shirayuri Women's College until he was 75. He also taught at Sophia University where the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University have had a student exchange program for decades.
In 1973 he founded the Saint Anselm's International Friendship Association (STAIFA), an ecumenical society devoted to increasing understanding among all peoples and to helping unfortunate refugees and street children. The Association sponsored annually ten prominent speakers and three concerts on parish premises.
Among other positions, he was president of the Association of Foreign Teachers from 1964 to 1971. He was member of the Board of Directors of the Harvard Club in Japan, a member of the Council of the America-Japan Society and, since 1973, of the Educational Exchange Committee. Father Neal served as Vice President of the Asiatic Society of Japan, founded in 1872, and, in later years, as an advisor and speaker.
In 1975 Father Neal began to write tanka poetry in English and soon was regarded as a pioneer in this oldest form of Japanese poetry. He published four books of tanka plus many poems in magazines. He belonged to the Poetry Reading Circle of Tokyo established in 1973. Crown Princess Michiko, herself a poet, participated in the early sessions of the society, and as Empress since 1989 she attends when her schedule permits.
The World Academy of Arts and Culture granted Father Neal an honorary doctorate in 1990. In 1993 the Emperor and the Government of Japan honored Father Neal for meritorious service to the nation in higher education with the "Order of the Rising Sun, Golden Rays with Rosette." In the same year President Dietrich Reinhart OSB of Saint John's University issued a Presidential Citation for his 85 years of service to humankind and his numerous achievements and exceptional leadership.
In 1998 the "Father Neal Lawrence Scholarship" was established to provide financial assistance to undergraduate students of the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University who wish to study in Japan. His most recent award was the Patron's Award for Distinguished Scholarship and Service from the Asiatic Society of Japan in May 2002.
As he approached his centenary birthday in 2008, Father Neal's boundless energy and creativity gradually waned. He died peacefully in his beloved Japan on November 3, 2004. He is survived by the communities at Holy Trinity in Fujimi and at Saint John's Abbey.
Japanese custom suggests that cremation occur within two days of death. The monks of Trinity Monastery will, therefore, receive Father Neals body at a 6 p.m. Vigil Service on Thursday, 4 November. After the Liturgy of Christian Burial on Friday at noon, his body will be cremated. The remains will be interred in the columbarium at Saint Anselm Meguro Parish Church, Tokyo, where he had served as pastor. A memorial mass will be celebrated at Meguro Catholic Church in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, November 17.
The Memorial Eucharistic Service at Saint John's Abbey begins at 5 p.m. on Friday, November 5.
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, Neal, to your prayers.
Abbot John Klassen OSB and the monks of Saint John's Abbey.
Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, MN 56321 | Tel. 320-363-2011; Fax 320-363-3039
18-Nov-2004 | www.saintjohnsabbey.org