Meet the Monks of St. John’s Abbey

Categories: Around the Diocese,consecrated life

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor


The Benedictine monks assemble under the bell banner of the Abbey Church following profession and jubilee celebrations. Those honored or who have made vows embrace each monk as they make their way around the circle. Photo courtesy of St. John’s Abbey

Rule of St. Benedict

The Rule of St. Benedict is a sixth-century guide for the monastic way of life written by St. Benedict of Nursia. A balance of prayer, work and sacred reading were the key elements of this For Benedict, a balanced life would better discern the hand of God.

Part of the genius of Benedict lay in his awareness of human differences. He sought to challenge the robust and to nurse along the weaker brethren. All were individuals, each needing distinctive support.

Particularly important was his teaching on work. Monks should work, but Benedict did not specify the sort of work they should do. All talents were useful. And so, ever since, monks and nuns the Benedictine tradition have labored not only as contemplatives, but also as missionaries and
pastors, scholars and teachers, tillers of the soil and guestmasters. In everything, they work toward common goal: the experience of God in the school of the Lord’s service.

— Excerpted from St. John’s Abbey website

The monks of St. John’s Abbey have a long tradition as faith-filled men of prayer with a lively imagination for the future and a willingness to try big things.

“When we live our monastic vocation well, it is a powerful, coherent, prophetic response to the deepest hungers of our world for meaning and purpose, for silence, for prayer, for stability and durability of relationships,” said Abbot John Klassen.

“Our culture is so frantic, always trying to get to the next best big thing, moving without a fixed center, having, using Bob Dylan’s words, ‘no direction home,’ ” he said. “A vibrant monastery provides that intuition, that prompt for direction.”

A Dylan fan to the core, Abbot Klassen grew up on a dairy farm in Elrosa with seven siblings. He attended a Catholic grade school staffed by sisters from St. Benedict’s Monastery.

“It was a strong, faith-filled community that supported vocations to religious life and priesthood,” he said. “Father Joe Korf was a year older than me. We grew up together. Benedictine Sister Mary Zenzen grew up a mile down the road. Franciscan Sister Bernice Rieland grew up on the farm next to us. If it takes a whole village to grow a vocation, Elrosa was that kind of community.”

Abbot Klassen’s father attended St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville, so young John knew about the monks at an early age and attended the school himself.

“The prep school gave me a lot of gifts — a really good education, amazing friendships and good theological skills, just a basic understanding of the wonder of Catholic faith. It was an exciting, exhilarating time, coming in the wake of Vatican II. The concrete in the abbey and university church (finished in 1961) was barely dry.”

Abbot Klassen continued on to St. John’s University and majored in chemistry. After graduating, he felt he couldn’t leave without discerning a monastic vocation so he applied to the monastery and entered the novitiate in July of 1971.

He taught general science and chemistry at the prep school while studying theology and working toward ordination. After studying chemistry in graduate school, he served as a chemistry faculty member in the CSB-SJU department from 1983-2000, when he was elected abbot.

“My primary role is spiritual leadership for the community and the monks,” he said. “It’s one thing to know the names of each monk, but another thing to know who they really are. I enjoy just being with my brothers in Christ, solving problems, dealing with dilemmas, talking to them about their hopes and dreams for the future.”

And he loves to see the monks use their imagination and energy.

“There are a lot of opportunities for work and leadership at St. John’s. However, it is important that the young have space to test themselves, to grow into the life, to develop new skills and embrace monastic life as the core that holds everything else together. Otherwise, it is easy to be overwhelmed. It takes time to become comfortable with oneself, to become confident and grateful for the gifts one has, to really grow into them.”

Living the present with passion

Benedictine Brother Lucian Lopez has been attracted to religious life for as long as he can remember. As an elementary school student, he loved reading about the lives of the saints.


Benedictine Brother Lucian Lopez teaches theology and Spanish at St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville. Photos courtesy of St. John’s Abbey

“The idea of living in a monastery, in community, under an abbot, all were things that appealed to me from an early age,” he said.

Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, there were no monks nearby.

“There were Carmelites, Dominicans, Franciscans in my neighborhood,” he said. “But I wanted to be a monk.”

He began writing to a monastery in France.

“This was before the Internet,” he said. “I had no clue there were monks in the United States. Of course, those monks would not let me enter at 14 years old.”

After high school, Brother Lucian entered the Carmelites and was with them for four years.

“At 21, I left the monastery to finish college, get a job, date and find myself,” he shared. “After another 10 years or so, I finally came around to my original dream of being a monk and found St. John’s Abbey. When something is meant to be, it keeps coming back to you and won’t let you go.”

Brother Lucian became a novice in 2011 and will make final profession on July 11, the feast of St. Benedict. His ministry is teaching theology and Spanish at St. John’s Prep.

“The students give me faith in the future of humanity,” he said. “When I began teaching two years ago I couldn’t remember what it was like to have a teenage mind, but they are showing me and reminding me, and it is refreshing, energizing and inspiring. Really all young people these days need to grow and blossom into what God has made them and and have someone to respect them, have faith in their insights and remind them that they are normal.”

Brother Lucian said his life has taken many turns, but he is grateful that after 10 years God has continued to “stoke his desire for religious life.” One of his favorite quotes is from Lamentations 3:23, “God renews his mercy with every morning so great is his faithfulness.”

“But the reason God does this is so that we can be right with God in this moment,” he explained. “The only moment we truly have to live passionately is the present. Monastic life is a commitment, like marriage or any other huge commitment. It is a commitment to the future. But I believe that the power of commitment is the extent to which it helps you live the present more fully — more passionately, as the pope says.” Brother Lucian says the best part of being a Benedictine monk today is peace, deliberateness and consistency.

“Life is never consistent,” he said, “but the reassurance that comes from commitment and the tranquility that comes with prayer are more motivating to me than anything else.

Life in the Spirit is an adventure, and you don’t know where it will take you.”

Grateful remembering

Benedictine Father Gordon Tavis says his Benedictine roots go all the way back to 1925, when he was born at St. Alexius
Hospital in Bismarck, N.D. — the hospital named after Abbot Alexius Edelbrock, second abbot of St. John’s Abbey.


Benedictine Father Gordon Tavis talks to St. John’s Prep students in the Great Hall. He served as headmaster of the school for eight years. Photos courtesy of St. John’s Abbey

His grade-school teachers were also Benedictines from the abbey as well as sisters from St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph. Two of his father’s sisters became Benedictines. “These Benedictine connections touched my life, and like many a child, during my grade school years, I thought of becoming a priest,” he said. “But when I entered high school, it slipped into the background.”

When he was 17, World War II had started and he enlisted in Naval Aviation to become a pilot. While waiting to be called, he attended North Dakota State University in Fargo. He was moved around a lot in the Navy, but he and a close friend, Jim Gill, attended daily Mass together whenever they could. Later, Gill decided to enter the Jesuits’ California Province.

Eventually, Father Tavis was led to St. John’s where he switched his major to philosophy and started a long struggle to learn Latin. During his second year, he knew he wanted to be a Benedictine and applied to the Abbey.

After completing his undergraduate studies, Father Tavis held many positions, including coordinating the St. John’s Lay Retreat Program, assisting in the Institute for Mental Health and later becoming director, theology instructor and prefect in Greg Hall. At one point he was in charge of the physical plant and auxiliary enterprises.

“The current Abbey Church had just been built,” he recalled, “and the very first thing I was assigned was to ‘figure out what to do with the
old church and do it.’ With Benedictine Father Cloud Meinberg’s assistance, the Great Hall came into existence.”

In 1967, data processing had come to the campus. Father Tavis was asked to work on a computer program for the accounting system.

Later, he attended Harvard University and reconnected with Jesuit Father Gill, a psychiatrist on the Harvard staff.

“He supplied much support and assistance during that year,” Father Tavis said.

He also met a student from Ghana, Kofi Annan, who became the Under Secretary for Peace Keeping and later the Secretary General of the United Nations. While under secretary, he and his wife, Nane, visited Father Tavis at St. John’s. “We continue to be good friends,” he said.

When he returned to St. John’s with an MBA in management, he held the position of vice president for administrative services and was then appointed prior of the abbey. He also spent eight years as the headmaster at St. John’s Prep.

“Since entering the monastery, my gratitude has greatly multiplied,” he said. “My memories of extended family and friends fill my life. Each and every one of the things I did in my life, I would have been happy to continue as a lifetime endeavor. With gratitude I enjoyed them all, and used elements of their impact on my life to continue in new directions.

Even as I approach 90 years of age, I am engaged in building a future filled with hope. I am a born optimist and will stay that way.”

Many ministries
Monks of St. John’s Abbey serve in diverse roles, such as:

  • Chaplains in hospitals and nursing care centers
  • Teachers at high school, college and graduate school levels
  • Ministers at St. Cloud correctional facility
  • Writers and editors through Liturgical Press
  • Pastors in local parishes as well as covering weekend priest assignments as needed for the Diocese of St. Cloud
  • Chaplains for the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University

2015 Jubilarians

75th Anniversary of Monastic Profession (1940-2015)
Father Fintan Bromenshenkel
Father Magnus Wenninger

60th Anniversary of Monastic Profession (1955-2015)
Father Jerome Coller
Father Roger Kasprick
Father Jonathan Fischer

50th Anniversary of Monastic Profession (1965-2015)
Father Daniel Ward
Father Dominic Ruiz
Brother Damian Rogers

25th Anniversary of Monastic Profession (1990-2015)
Father Luigi Bertocchi
Father William Schipper