Abbot Peter Engel, O.S.B.

Abbot of Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota (1895-1901)

Peter Engel was the son of German immigrants from Bausendorf in the Eifel. He was born in Saint Nicholas in Wisconsin. A few years later the family moved to Saint Michael, Minnesota. In September 1869, at the age of 13, Engel entered the college at Saint John’s Benedictine Abbey. In 1874 he graduated with honors and entered the monastery in July of the same year. He completed his novitiate year at the Archabbey of Saint Vincent in Pennsylvania, where he also studied physics and chemistry. Returning to Saint John’s, he studied theology there and was ordained in 1878. A year later he became Subprior and taught at Saint John’s College. In 1894 he was elected abbot.

As did his predecessors Alexius Edelbrock and Bernard LocnikarPeter Engel held the title of college president, but left the administrative work to a vice president. Despite this, he attached great importance, even more than his predecessors, to the further development and equipment of educational institutions, especially in the natural sciences. Among other things, he expanded the physics laboratory, built an observatory (torn down in 1961), a wireless telegraph station and numerous new university buildings, which were electrified in 1898. With Anselm Ortmann, who studied physics at Johns Hopkins University, he sent the first of the monks of Collegeville to study at a university. The number of students in high school, college, and seminary doubled during his tenure. In July 1920 the abbey had over 100 priests,

In addition to his duties in the abbey, Peter Engel was also president of the American-Cassinensian Benedictine congregation from 1902 to 1914. The founding of Saint Martin Abbey in the state of Washington also goes back to his initiative.

Fifteen months after his 25th anniversary as Abbot, Abbot Peter fell seriously ill and died in Rochester Hospital on the eve of the anniversary of his abbot election, in the presence of his Prior and successor Alcuin Deutsch. He was buried in the monastery cemetery.

Although born and raised in America, Peter Engel spoke German fluently and without an accent. He had also learned the Eifel dialect in his parents’ house. He remained connected to the homeland of his ancestors throughout his life and repeatedly visited his German relatives on the return journey from the Montecassino monastery, which he visited every four years.