Archabbot Egbert Donovan, O.S.B.

Archabbot, Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania (1967-1979)

Retired Saint Vincent Archabbot Egbert H. Donovan, O.S.B., died Thursday, September 17, 1998, at Saint Vincent Archabbey after a brief illness. He was 85 years old.

Archabbot Egbert was born in Buffalo, New York, on January 15,1913, the son of the late James D. and Loretta (Thompson) Donovan. He attended Saint Mary Catholic School in Massillon, Ohio, and graduated from Saint Vincent Preparatory School in 1931. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Saint Vincent College in 1936, a Master of Arts from Saint Vincent Seminary in 1938, and a Master of Education from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1945.

Archabbot Egbert entered Saint Vincent Archabbey in 1933, professing simple vows on July 2, 1934, and solemn vows on July 11, 1937. He was ordained a priest in Saint Vincent Archabbey Church by the late Hugh C. Boyle, Bishop of Pittsburgh, on June 16, 1940. On November 21, 1967, he was elected and confirmed as the eighth Archabbot of Saint Vincent Archabbey, and was blessed on January 7, 1968, by the late Bishop William G. Connare of Greensburg. He served as Archabbot and Chancellor of Saint Vincent College and Seminary until his retirement on May 13, 1979.

He held several positions at Saint Vincent Preparatory School from 1935-1954, including moderator, assistant headmaster, and headmaster. He also served at Saint Vincent College as assistant treasurer, public relations director, alumni secretary, dean of men, director of Guidance and Placement, associate professor of education, and chair of the Education Department . In 1962 he became co-founder with Fr. Quentin Schaut, O.S.B., of the Penn State University Catholic Center, State College, Pennsylvania, acting as head chaplain until 1967, when he was named headmaster at Benedictine Military School and prior of Benedictine Priory, Savannah, Georgia. At various times Archabbot Egbert also taught at the Benedictine Sisters’ Convents in Pittsburgh; St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania; Bristow, Virginia and at Saint Xavier Academy, Latrobe, operated by the Sisters of Mercy. In 1979 he served as chaplain at Sacred Heart Convent, Yankton, SD. His parish assignments included administrator at Saint Joseph Church, Johnstown, from 1983-1984, and parishes at Hilton Head, SC, and Johnson’s Bayou, LA.

A member of the American Benedictine Academy (Educational and Psychological Associations); he was also a member and past director of the American Benedictine Review; the National Catholic Educational Association; the National Newman Chaplains Association; the Knights of Colombus, where he served as Pennsylvania State Chaplain from 1948-1950; B.P.O.E. #907 (Elks); and the President’s Council of the American Cassinese Benedictine Congregation (1971-1974). He was also a member of the Saint Vincent College Board of Trustees from 1947-1962, and served as a member and Chair from 1967-1979.

He received an honorary doctor of education degree from Saint Francis College in 1968, and an honorary doctor of letters degree from Seton Hill College in 1969. His other awards include the Service to Community, State, and Nation Appreciation Award of the Optimist Club of Central Westmoreland County; the Services Award of the Newman Club of Penn State University; the Distinguished Service Award and the Award of Distinction of the Saint Vincent Alumni Association; and the Benedictine Medal of Excellence of the Benedictine Military School, Savannah. He also received the Presidential Medal of Honor from Saint Vincent College in 1993. He authored two books, Administration in a Benedictine College, and The Newman Apostolate and the High School Graduate.

Archabbot Egbert served as the eighth abbot of Saint Vincent. Beginning with our founder, Abbot Boniface Wimmer, each of the abbots, in the particular circumstances of his time, has made a unique contribution to our community, and each has left a lasting legacy for the life of our community. Each of these abbots had a visible impact on the community, and left the stamp of his personality on the spiritual life of the community which exists to this day.

Archabbot Egbert Donovan — the times, the man and his legacy: He was elected on November 21, 1967. The following twelve years were the worst and the best of times. In 1969 Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, Jr., walked on the moon. It was the time of the Vietnam War. Universities and colleges were disrupted. These were the years of protest, demands and violence. It was marked by the ugly symbol of the clenched fist. Authority was under assault throughout the world. Learning was divorced from morality. In the field of education the results were disastrous. Within a decade more than 150 universities and colleges closed their doors. Standards of civility and learning were eroded. The impact of these years upon the Church may be gauged by a single statistic: thousands of men and women abandoned their lifelong commitment to the priesthood and religious life. The cultural revolution of the sixties was also a crisis of faith and tradition. Religious communities and the Church itself often seemed in disarray.

In 1967 times called for a special kind of man to serve as abbot of this large and complex institution. There was a danger of the loss of nerve and capitulation to strong, often misguided pressures, from within the community and from without. The times called for a man with a strong sense of personal identity, yet open to change; a man with tolerant understanding and elastic patience. In the providence of God, Archabbot Egbert was exactly that kind of man.

To have accepted the responsibility of seeing that part of the Church which is Saint Vincent through so difficult a period, to have resolved conflicts and healed divisions, to have held the community together and infused into it a rebirth of unity and charity is an achievement of high order.

This is the legacy Archabbot Egbert has left us. With a strong sense of identity provided by our Catholic faith and Benedictine monastic tradition, we will be open to creative change, and we can meet the challenge of the most difficult times.

Archabbot Egbert was a big man in every sense of the word. He had a big heart. He did not hold a grudge. He enjoyed life. He liked to travel, even when he should not have been traveling very far from the infirmary. He enjoyed good food, and a good drink with friends. He was devoted to his family and many friends. He loved to read, and loved good conversation. He was a community man.

In the Holy Rule Saint Benedict instructs monks to show to their abbot “unfeigned and humble love.” With Archabbot Egbert, this was not a difficult part of the Rule to follow. Each member of our community could relate many wonderful experiences and conversations with Archabbot Egbert. Each of us could tell his own stories, which would elicit a smile or a hearty laugh. Our beloved Father Abbot was dearly loved and will be greatly missed.