Abbot Justus Wirth, O.S.B.

Abbot, Saint Bede’s Abbey, Peru, Illinois (1926-1942)

Saint Bede Abbey was a foundation of Saint Vincent in Illinois that resulted from Saint Vincent’s efforts to serve in parishes in Chicago in the early 1870s. The foundation of what was to become the abbey did not occur until 1891, a year following incorporation of Saint Bede College.

The second abbot of Saint Bede Abbey was born in Bavaria, Germany, at Allersburg, on April 4, 1871. Educated at the Abbey of Igolstadt, he came to America at the age of fifteen with the intention of studying for the diocesan priesthood, but due to some confusion he arrived at Saint Vincent, where he completed his classical course, entered the novitiate, and then professed first vows July 11, 1890.  Three years later he was assigned to Saint Bede, where he taught Latin and Greek and had to continue his theology courses largely by himself.

Father Justus was ordained to the priesthood in the student’s chapel at Saint Bede by Bishop John Lancaster Spalding of Peoria on June 24, 1895.  The archabbot at Saint Vincent renewed Justus’ assignment to Saint Bede, and in 1909 he was appointed the prior of the monastic community and rector of the College.

Assigned in 1910 by Abbot Vincent as pastor of Saint Joseph’s in Peru, Illinois, he built the parish hall and remained there in the assignment until he was appointed as pastor of Saint Joseph’s in Chicago in 1915.  He was still pastor in Chicago when, on June 10, 1926, he was elected as the second abbot of the abbey.  He was blessed two months later on August 10, 1926.

The parochial commitment of Saint Bede grew under Abbot Justus’ direction.  In addition to staffing Saint Joseph’s in Peru, Illinois, Saint Benedict’s in Ladd, Illinois, Saint Francis in Ottawa, Illinois, and Saint Joseph’s in Chicago, the abbot took on the responsibility for supplying pastors for Saint Joseph’s in Rockdale, Illinois, in 1927, Saint Mary’s in Naplate, Illinois, in 1928, and Saint Thomas More in Dalzell, Illinois, in 1935.

Abbot Justus suffered a heart attack and died on March 26, 1942, while sitting at his type writer composing letters concerning the furnishings of the new monastery building.  He was in the 70th year of age, the 51st year of his profession, the 47th year of his priesthood, and had served the community for 16 years as its abbot.