Abbot, Saint Bede’s Abbey, Peru, Illinois (1910-1941)
The first abbot of St. Bede Abbey was born on May 10, 1855, in Carrolltown, Pennsylvania, the first place where Boniface Wimmer thought of establishing the first Benedictine monastery in America. After taking his classical studies at Saint Vincent, he entered the monastic community there and professed his first vows on July 11, 1875. Five years later he was ordained by Bishop Tuigg of the Pittsburgh Diocese on July 15, 1880. Because of his exemplary conduct as a religious and his application to his studies, Father Vincent was sent to Rome that fall to continue his studies in dogmatic theology at the Gregorian University.
Upon receiving his licentiate maxima cum laude, in 1883, he was recalled to Saint Vincent, where he began teaching in the seminary. In the following years he held such positions as rector of the college, prefect of the seminary, and prior of the monastery. In 1897 he was appointed prior at Saint Bede and rector of the Saint Bede College, where he taught courses in religion. In 1903, because of ill health, he spent a year at the Benedictine monastery in Colorado. Returning to Saint Bede in 1904, he once again served as prior of the monastery and rector of the college. In 1908 he was recalled to Saint Vincent where he served as the rector of the seminary there. In 1910, when Saint Bede was granted its independence, Father Vincent was unanimously elected the first abbot and was blessed by Bishop Edmund Dunne of Peoria on June 29, 1910.
During his sixteen year tenure as abbot considerable building projects were inaugurated and completed. With some careful financial management, he was able to retire the community’s debt of $22,000. With the financial flexibility, the monastic community approved the construction of the north addition of the academy building which began on April 14, 1904. By Christmas of the same year the new wing was ready for use.
Abbot Vincent was in great demand as a speaker. He edified a Congress of Abbots meeting by giving a talk in perfect Ciceronian Latin. Interested in vocations and the religious life, he gave conferences to those students who giving consideration to entering the monastic life. He also worked on the Tyrocinium Religiosum translating the document which was used for many years in various novitiates throughout the country.
When Abbot Vincent looked over the labors of all of his men, he saw them farming about 200 acres of land, running a small print shop, conducting the school and assisting or staffing local parishes. The traditional Benedictine values were being given expression in the monks’ praying of the Psalms and offering Mass together, in their family life of shared work and recreation, and in their desire to help their neighbors by educational and pastoral assistance.
On his way to Rome to attend the Congress of Abbots in 1925, Abbot Vincent suffered a stroke while visiting the Abbey of Beuron. He was accompanied back to Saint Bede by Father Bernard Zimmer, but by the following year he realized that his condition was permanent; he resigned the office of abbot and spent the next fifteen years in a wheelchair.