Abbot Innocent Wolf, O.S.B.

Abbot, Saint Benedict’s Abbey, Atchison, Kansas (1876-1921)Abbot President of the American-Cassinensian Benedictine Congregation (1896-1902)

Innocent Wolf, baptized name Thomas Friedrich Wilhelm , was born on April 13, 1843 in Schmidtheim as the ninth and youngest child of the teacher Johann Peter Wolf († 1856) and his wife Anna Gertrud Molitor. He came to America with his family in 1851, where his older brother Johann, who had been sent ahead, had bought a farm in Brighton in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, on the west shore of Lake Michigan.

Like his brothers Peter and Ferdinand, he came to the Abbey of Saint Vincent in Pennsylvania, founded by Bonifaz Wimmer, in 1854 at the age of eleven. He entered the novitiate in 1860, made his profession in 1861 and then studied philosophy and theology for five years before being ordained a priest in May 1866. He celebrated his first communion at Saint Joseph’s Church in Chicago, where his mother was living. On October 4, 1866, he received American citizenship.

Abbot Wimmer sent the talented new priest in October—together with Oswald Moosmüller , Adalbert Müller, and Hilarius Pfrängle—to found a study center and to continue his studies (in addition to theology, mathematics and physics) at the University of Sapienza in Rome, and he received his doctorate in theology.

Returning to Saint Vincent in the summer of 1870, Wolf taught for six years at Saint Vincent College, teaching moral theology, biblical studies, and liturgy at the seminary. He was also master of novices and was appointed prior and procurator in 1874. Elected in absentia in 1876 as first abbot of the subsidiary foundation of Saint Benedict’s in Atchinson (Kansas) and on Saint Benedict’s Day 1877 by Bishop Ludwig Fink, his predecessor in Atchison, was ceremonially installed in the abbey church, despite the striking lack of money he expanded Saint Benedict’s in the following decades just as purposefully and with zeal as the associated college. He didn’t shy away from helping out with the woodwork, gardening and repair work himself.

In addition to his duties as superior, he was procurator (temporarily) and director of the college, and continued to teach Moral theology. According to Beckman, Abbot Wolf was—in line with the paternalistic management style of the time—overconscious (“hyperconscious ”) of his responsibility and had difficulties in delegating tasks. In 1880 he traveled with Abbot Wimmer and Alexius Edelbrock to the anniversary celebrations in Montecassino, also to raise money there for the construction of a new abbey church. To this end he also visited the Austrian Benedictine abbeys and cities of Salzburg, Lambach, Kremsmünster, Linz, Melk, Göttweig, Vienna and Raigern, but had little success. Emperor Franz Josef of Austria gave fifty dollars.

After Wimmer’s death († December 8, 1887) on February 8, 1888, Wolf received the majority of votes in several ballots, but rejected the appointment as Archabbot of Saint Vincent. In 1896 he was elected Abbot President of the American-Cassinensian Benedictine Congregation as successor to Leo Haid and remained in this office until he handed it over in 1902 to Peter Engel, who also came from the Eifel. During this time he worked his way into canon law so deeply that the Benedictine monk Alexius Hoffman (1863–1940) of Collegeville Abbey stated that Abbot Wolf was the only one of the American Benedictine abbots before 1900 who had a sound knowledge of canon law.

In recognition of his services, Pope Benedict XV. (1914–1922) granted Abbot Wolf the right to wear the cappa magna on the occasion of his golden jubilee as a priest in 1916, but Wolf rejected it as ostentatious. In 1921, Abbot Wolf resigned after 45 years in office. He died on 14 April 1916 October 1922 after a long illness.