Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen, OSB, STD
Eighth Abbot of Saint John's Abbey
Born: December 30, 1930
Died: September 11, 1995
Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen, OSB, eighth Abbot of Saint John's Abbey and seventh Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation, died of a heart attack in Rome at 8 p.m. on September 11. He had received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick from his secretary, Father Jacques Coté OSB.
Abbot Jerome was born December 30, 1930, to William and Mae (Reif) Theisen of Loyal, Wisconsin. He was the second youngest of this couple's five sons and five daughters.
The young Jerome came to Saint John's University in 1949 to take an accelerated course in Latin in preparation for his entrance into a seminary. Years later he wrote, "I came to study Latin and I discovered a special place. I was particularly attracted to the sense of community which I found on campus; the monks, the students, the support staff, all seemed to form one large family... The place fit and its routine made sense."
Jerome, then and always eminently sensible, entered the novitiate of Saint John's Abbey in 1951. After completing his undergraduate degree in philosophy he went to Rome for doctoral studies in theology at the Pontifical Institute of Saint Anselm. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1957, completed his course work, and defended his dissertation on "Mass Liturgy and the Council of Trent" for the S.T.D. in 1966.
In the meantime, Father Jerome had commenced his productive years as a scholar and teacher of theology. He taught undergraduate and graduate courses at Saint John's University; the College of Saint Benedict, St. Joseph, MN; Saint Mary's College, Moraga, CA; Saint Olaf College, Northfield, MN; and Luther College , Decorah, IA. He published three books on theological topics, wrote more than three dozen scholarly articles and numerous book reviews, and gave lectures, workshops and conferences on such topics as "Death and Dying," "The Rule of Benedict and Laughter," and "Priestly Ministry Yesterday and Today."
Father Jerome served as chaplain of the College and Convent of Saint Benedict, St. Joseph, MN; as associate director of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research; as an official Vatican visitator of seminaries; as a member of the Formation Committee of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men; and as Novice Master of Saint John's Abbey for a three-year term.
Using the criteria of Saint Benedict's Rule for choosing an abbot, namely, "goodness of life and wisdom in teaching" (RB 64), the Saint John's monastic community elected Father Jerome its eighth abbot on August 22, 1979. For the next thirteen years, Abbot Jerome took up the difficult and demanding burden of directing souls and serving a variety of temperaments, coaxing and encouraging more than reproving (RB 2). With a low-key calmness that flowed from his faith in the Good Shepherd whose place he held, Abbot Jerome led his large flock to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the monastic manner of life. He sought and achieved the Benedictine balance in his daily routine of prayer, work, reading and recreation. He frequently combined service and exercise by donning work clothes and combing the beach of Lake Sagatagan for litter. Even though his desire to build an abbey guest house has not yet been realized, the open door of his office was the sign that he was practicing the hospitality that he so often preached.
Recognizing his leadership ability, his wisdom and his dedication to the principles and practices of Benedictine life, the Abbots of the Benedictine Confederation elected Abbot Jerome the Abbot Primate at their quadrennial meeting in September 1992. His initial tasks in this office involved efforts to beg, borrow or steal monastic officials and faculty members to insure the smooth operation of the Pontifical Institute of Saint Anselm.
A highlight of Abbot Primate Jerome's all too brief tenure was an international symposium for the leaders of the congregations of Benedictine women, the first of its kind, held in September 1993. His visits to monastic communities large and small, old and new, especially those in the Third World, convinced him that "Benedictines have not retreated from the world."
Abbot Primate Jerome's own passing from this world has left a void in the hearts of his Collegeville confreres and of Benedictines throughout the world. We take consolation from these words of Saint Paul:
"None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14: 7-8).
A Memorial Mass was celebrated at the College of Saint Anselm in Rome on September 15 with Augustine Cardinal Mayer OSB presiding. The body of Abbot Primate Jerome was returned to Saint John's Abbey where the Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on September 18 with burial in the abbey cemetery.