January 29, 2021

Benedictine Father Bonaventure Knaebel was former Saint Meinrad archabbot

By Sean Gallagher

Benedictine Father Bonaventure KnaebelBenedictine Father Bonaventure Knaebel, who served as archabbot of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad from 1955-66, died in the monastery’s infirmary on Jan. 22. He was 102.

The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Jan. 27 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln. Burial followed in the Archabbey Cemetery.

Father Bonaventure was a jubilarian of monastic profession of vows and ordination. He lived 82 years as a monk and 77 years as a priest.

Benedictine Archabbot Kurt Stasiak spoke with The Criterion about one of his predecessors who, at the time of his death, was the oldest member of the monastic community.

“It’s amazing to realize that everyone at Saint Meinrad—monks, staff, co-workers—doesn’t know a Saint Meinrad Archabbey without Father Bonaventure,” Archabbot Kurt said. “While he is no longer with us, we have not lost him. We have memories and stories we will continue to share and enjoy. He is an anchor in our history, having been a monk for 82 of the 150 years we’ve been an abbey.”

The stories that filled the 102-year life of Father Bonaventure are wide and varied. Born in New Albany while World War I was still being fought and the Spanish flu pandemic was sweeping the world, he went on to become a monk, priest, math teacher, archabbot, missionary, chaplain and parish priest.

Father Bonaventure’s acceptance of his vocation and the many ministries to which he was called were acts of obedience, which was part of the vows he professed as a monk of Saint Meinrad in 1938.

“When you make the vow of obedience, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Father Bonaventure told The Criterion in 2013 at the time of the 75th anniversary of his profession of vows and the 70th anniversary of his ordination as a priest.

His long life of obedient service touched the lives of many people beyond the monastery. One of them was Deacon John Jacobi, who serves as director of religious education at St. Michael Parish in Bradford. Father Bonaventure ministered as administrator of the New Albany Deanery faith community from 1997‑2003. Deacon Jacobi was director of religious education there at that time, long before he was ordained to the permanent diaconate.

“One of the greatest things Father Bonaventure taught me was when to listen and when to speak,” Deacon Jacobi recalled. “He had the great ability to hear people out and then share his thoughts. Father Bonaventure also taught me how to think with the Church and the importance of that.”

Years later, Deacon Jacobi shared with Father Bonaventure that he had discerned a call to the diaconate.

“He said to me, ‘Now you know what God has been calling you to all along,’ ” Deacon Jacobi said. “It was almost as if he knew of my calling before I did.”

That came from a man who had dedicated himself to following God’s will wherever it took him.

“I am not sure I am able to carry on Father Bonaventure’s legacy or not, but, in some sense, I think we all do when we listen for God’s call,” Deacon Jacobi said. “That is truly what Father Bonaventure’s legacy is. He desired so much to do God’s will.

“He shared so many stories about when he was a young man discerning God’s call, his ministry as archabbot, his work in Peru as a missionary, and his second life as a chaplain and pastor. In all those stories, he was doing what God called him to do as faithfully as he could.”

Merton James Knaebel was born on Sept. 6, 1918, in New Albany and grew up as a member of the former Holy Trinity Parish there. After graduating from the eighth grade of the parish’s school, Father Bonaventure enrolled in the former minor seminary at Saint Meinrad.

He entered the monastery’s novitiate in 1937, professed temporary vows on Aug. 6, 1938, and solemn vows on Aug. 6, 1941. Father Bonaventure was ordained a priest on June 5, 1943.

He later earned a master’s degree in 1946 in mathematics at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Father Bonaventure then returned to Saint Meinrad where, from 1946‑55, he taught in the minor seminary and served as assistant spiritual director in the major seminary (now Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology).

On June 3, 1955, the monastic community elected Father Bonaventure as coadjutor archabbot to succeed Benedictine Archabbot Ignatius Esser. Father Bonaventure was installed and blessed as the fifth abbot and second archabbot of Saint Meinrad on Aug. 31, 1955. He was the first Hoosier native elected to lead the monastery.

Under his leadership, Saint Meinrad constructed its first guest house and St. Bede Hall. It also founded two new monastic communities: Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, Calif., and St. Benedict Priory in Huaraz, Peru.

After stepping down as archabbot in 1966, Father Bonaventure soon began ministry as a missionary at the Peruvian priory. He survived a 1970 earthquake in the region that claimed 70,000 lives, including the monk that was serving as the prior of the monastery there.

In 1974, Father Bonaventure returned to the U.S. to help raise funds for Saint Meinrad’s missionary efforts.

He then served as pastor of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Jeffersonville from 1979-81 and as pastor of St. Michael Parish in Charlestown from 1981-86.

Father Bonaventure’s international ministry resumed in 1986 when he served for two years as administrator of Monasterio Benedictino in Morelia, Mexico.

Returning to the U.S. again, Father Bonaventure served as chaplain at the St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove for six years, as administrator of Corpus Christi Abbey in Sandia, Texas, for two years and as administrator of St. Michael Parish in Bradford for six years, stepping down from leadership of the faith community when he was 85.

Returning to live at Saint Meinrad, Father Bonaventure assisted in the monastery’s development office and provided occasional sacramental assistance in nearby parishes.

Memorial gifts may be sent to Saint Meinrad Archabbey, 200 Hill Drive, St. Meinrad, IN, 47577. †

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