Aloysius Reinhart Michels, OSB 1913—2002
At the funeral of Father Aloysius, Prior Raymond Pedrizetti, OSB, reminded the community of the variety of the deceased’s assignments during his over sixty years as a priest.
Aloysius served as associate pastor and then pastor of parishes in Richmond, Minneapolis, Cold Spring, St. Joseph, Avon and St. Cloud. He was an army chaplain, an English teacher at Saint John’s and a prefect of college priesthood students. He played a significant role in the establishment and growth of the abbey’s mission in Japan. He served as chaplain of a Benedictine community of women monastics. He was the abbey’s director of novices and vicar for pastors and chaplains. He recorded and assigned Mass intentions at the abbey.
The assignment that was closest to his heart and made him most memorable was the almost thirty years he spent in Japan, first as pastor and prior of Saint Anselm’s Church and Priory in Tokyo and later as pastor of a petite parish in Fujimi.
Aloysius’ first contact with Japan was as a chaplain of the First Cavalry of the United States Army stationed in post-war Japan. During a visit to Tokyo he became acquainted with two European Benedictines who had established a Catholic parish there before the war.
In a letter to Abbot Alcuin Deutsch written shortly before his return to the States in early 1947, Aloysius expressed the optimism he felt for the Christian evangelization of Japan:
“I believe that Japan can become for Asia what England once was for Europe, a land of Apostles. Because of their bitter defeat the Japanese are trying to find a new philosophy of life, something to replace their old religion of patriotism. Anything American they devour. They are crowding the doorsteps of the missionaries; if there were enough of the latter here now I believe that all Japan could be converted overnight. And Japan would convert the Orient.”
Putting his optimism into practice, Aloysius volunteered to return to Japan.
Like a sturdy oak in a delicately designed Japanese garden, he began his pastoral ministry among the people he loved and who loved him. He cherished Japanese ways. One summer he took a weeklong hike and returned proud of the fact that no one he met on the way ever thought him to be other than a Japanese.
When the Tokyo community decided to establish a more con- templative setting for its worship and work, Aloysius was instru- mental in selecting the city of Fujimi, located in sight of Japan’s famous Mount Fuji. For two years he was the pastor of St. Joseph’s Church there. He called it “the smallest parish in Christendom” with an average of ten people in the congregation on Sundays. When the new Holy Trinity Monastery at Fujimi was completed in 1999, Aloysius served as the community’s porter.
Cancer of the liver necessitated his return to Saint John’s where he died February 2, the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. He truly deserved to pray with the righteous and just Simeon of that day’s Gospel, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:29-32).
The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated for Father Aloysius on February 5. Considering the International Date Line, it was February 6 in Japan and the feast of St. Paul Miki and Companions, the sixteenth-century Japanese Jesuits, Franciscans and lay people who were martyred in Nagasaki. Aloysius had rejoined those whom he had so fervently and faithfully loved and served.
May he rest in peace.