Passing of Father John Oetgen, OSB
Father John A. Oetgen, O.S.B.Monk and Priest of Belmont Abbey
1924 - 2009
Father John Oetgen, O.S.B., a monk and priest of Belmont Abbey, died peacefully in the early hours of Saturday, October 10. He was in the sixty-fifth year of his monastic profession, and the fifty-eighth year of his priestly ministry. He was born in Savannah, Georgia, on August 6, 1924, the son of H. Glenn Oetgen and Helen McCormick Oetgen, and was given the name Anthony. He grew up in Sacred Heart Parish, and attended Benedictine Military School, both of which were staffed at the time by the monks of Belmont Abbey. From there, it was a natural transition to Belmont Abbey Junior College. In the course of his college studies, he was admitted to the novitiate for Belmont Abbey, receiving the name John. He made his novitiate at Saint Vincent Archabbey and celebrated his first profession of vows on February 14, 1944. He was solemnly professed on August 28, 1947 and ordained to the priesthood in his home parish of Sacred Heart in Savannah on June 1, 1951.
Father John completed his A.A. degree at Belmont Abbey in 1945, and earned his A.B. degree from Saint Benedict’s College, Atchison, Kansas in 1947, after which he entered the Belmont Abbey Seminary. Abbot Vincent, recognizing his talent and ability, sent him for further studies to Rome, where he earned the J.C.L. from the Pontifical Lateran University. He later continued studies in Saint Benet’s Hall at Oxford University and at the University of North Carolina. In recognition of his academic and scholarly interests, he was named a Lifetime Fellow of the American Benedictine Academy in 1998.
Father John was tall both in stature and importance at Belmont Abbey. He was esteemed and admired by his confreres, colleagues and students alike for his lively sense of humor, keen intellect and broad range of interests. He served as a trusted and beloved mentor to generations of Abbey students. In the monastic community he was consistently elected to the Senior Council, and represented the community as delegate to numerous sessions of the General Chapter. In the college, he is perhaps most affectionately remembered for initiating countless students into the richness of Shakespeare and the unique world of Southern Literature, and for serving as director, performer and patron to the Abbey Players. In addition to teaching English and Speech, Father John was Chaplain at Saint Leo’s School from 1951-52 and Assistant Dean of Students 1955-56. He completed several terms on the Board of Trustees, and led the College as its President from 1960 to 1964. In recognition of his significant achievements, Belmont Abbey College awarded Father John the degree Doctor of Humane Letters in 2006.
One of Father John’s most important gifts to Belmont Abbey was a love of beauty. Focused in the first place in the beauty of Benedictine monastic life and in the beauty of literature, this love overflowed in his painting, gardening and friendships. Countless trees and the colorful flowers of his garden will keep him in mind for years to come.
Father John is survived by the monks of Belmont Abbey, by his sister, Sister Pauline Oetgen, C.S.J. and by his niece and three nephews. His body will be welcomed home to the abbey basilica on Monday evening, October 12. The Mass of Resurrection will be celebrated Tuesday at 10:00 a.m., with interment following in the abbey cemetery.
Addressing Belmont Abbey College’s Class of ’06 at their commencement exercises, Father John challenged them not only to seek excellence and satisfaction in their lives and careers, but also to want to be holy, to be saints. He told them, “Our wanting must be serious enough to understand that drawing close to Christ means drawing close, embracing the individual cross of our life.” Always the consummate teacher, Father John, in the final months of his illness, fulfilled by example the words of his instruction. We trust that, having shared by patience in the sufferings of Christ, Father John now shares also in his glory, and we commend our dear confrere to you for the customary suffrages for the deceased monks of our Congregation.