An American Abbot (1997)

This volume, published by Catholic University of America Press, is a newly revised and expanded version of An American Abbot, the biography of Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., published in 1976 ago by the Archabbey Press.

In preparing the new edition, Jerome Oetgen has thoroughly reexamined the primary sources, added material from additional sources, and taken into account the results of scholarly research on American Catholic and Benedictine history published since 1976.

The achievement of Boniface Wimmer, the father of the Benedictine presence in the United States, has been generally underestimated in the history of American Catholicism. Modern historians of the Catholic Church in the United States have tended to neglect the story of Catholicism on the American rural frontier where between 1830 and 1860 the majority of the 1.5 million German immigrants settled. It was chiefly to serve these farm-bound immigrants that Wimmer came to America in 1846, and for the next forty years, as his evangelization efforts expanded to include Irish, African Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants from eastern Europe, he consistently exhibited the traditional Benedictine preference to establish monasteries and religious centers in farming regions and to work among the people of the countryside rather than those of the cities.

In his own lifetime Wimmer was widely esteemed both by the American hierarchy for his distinguished pastoral work and by European ecclesiastical and monastic leaders for the crucial role he played in the nineteenth-century revival and development of Benedictine monasticism. Though his work may not have brought him to center stage in the American Catholic Church, he was nonetheless one of the key supporting actors.

This biography assesses his part and lasting importance. Jerome Oetgen is a U.S. foreign service officer currently on assignment as director of the Fulbright Exchange Program for Latin America and the Caribbean at the United States Information Agency in Washington, D.C. He has published numerous articles on the history of the American Benedictines.

“This work of nonfiction contains several of the key ingredients of a classic adventure story…The serious student of American religion cannot afford to ignore this biography.”—The Heythrop Journal.

“Oetgen has rewritten our understanding of the founder of American monasticism, creating in the process a work of enduring value…”—Dom Paschal Baumstein, O.S.B., Belmont Abbey College.

“No one who is interested in the history of religion in America or in the fortunes of this venerable Benedictine order will want to overlook this fine work.”—Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B., Saint Vincent Archabbey.

“This revised edition is filled with new information…Wimmer, dedicated, single minded, stubborn, made history. Oetgen has done a commendable job of writing it.”—Prof. David J. O’Brien, College of the Holy Cross.

“Oetgen has written a revised and expanded version of the unique historical record of Boniface Wimmer. In doing so, he gives the reader an even deeper appreciation of Wimmer’s role as monastic pioneer in the context of nineteenth-century American Catholicism.”—F. Joel Rippinger, O.S.B., Marmion Abbey.

The book includes a Foreword by Demetrius Dumm, O.S.B. and Preface to the Revised Edition Preface to the 1976 Edition Introduction by Colman J. Barry, O.S.B. This book is presently out of print; however, some copies are offered for sale by various used book sellers.