Archabbot, Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania (1949-1963)
A native of Hastings, Pennsylvania, fifty-three-year-old Denis Omer Strittmatter had come to Saint Vincent as a boy of fourteen and studied in the prep school and college before entering the novitiate in 1916. He completed his philosophical and theological studies at Saint Vincent Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1923. Afterward he served for six years in Saint Vincent’s parishes in Youngstown, Ligonier, Wilpen, Pittsburgh, and Jeannette, Pennsylvania, before being appointed assistant director of Saint Emma’s Industrial and Agricultural Institute in Virginia in 1929, a post he held for fifteen years. In 1944 he became director of Saint Emma’s, and when the institution was turned over to the Holy Ghost Fathers of Pittsburgh, he returned to Saint Vincent in September 1947 to assume the position of director of maintenance. Strittmatter was blessed as the sixth archabbot of Saint Vincent on November 25, 1949, by Bishop John F. Dearden of Pittsburgh.
Under Archabbot Denis Saint Vincent moved forward on several fronts. Increased numbers of young men presented themselves as candidates for the Benedictine life, and a postwar spirit of optimism about the future of the monastic community pervaded the house. By 1956 there were 272 members of the community, the highest number in Saint Vincent’s history up to that time and a 12 percent increase since the election of Archabbot Denis. Enrollment in the seminary more than doubled in the period following the election of Archabbot Denis, and by 1956 there were 225 seminarians at Saint Vincent; they came from fourteen American dioceses in the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Kentucky, Arizona, Washington, and the District of Columbia. The college grew not only in enrollment but in prestige as a better-educated Benedictine and lay faculty assumed teaching duties and a younger and more administratively adept leadership took charge of the college administration. By 1956 there were almost 800 students registered at Saint Vincent College, an increase of 20 percent over the enrollment of 1949. Only the prep school declined in enrollment during these years, going from 279 in 1949 to 262 in 1956, a decrease of 6 percent.
During his time as archabbot, he had contributed significantly to the postwar development of the community, overseeing dramatic increases in monastic vocations as well as notable growth in the college and seminary. He had led Saint Vincent into the second half of the twentieth century with a single-minded commitment of continuing the traditions of his predecessors. He had made key improvements in the old buildings and had built an array of new ones, including a new seminary, a new library, and a spacious activities building for sports and cultural events. Under his leadership the monastery, seminary, college, and prep school had made impressive progress in the post-war period.