Abbot Timothy Kelly Elected, Blessed

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At the end of the mass Abbot Timothy noted that the shepherd’s staff he had received pointed to the teaching of Saint Benedict that the abbot is “believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery.” He is taking Christ the Good Shepherd as his model. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for others, but only time would tell how he would be able to fulfill the task placed on him.

Abbot Timothy Kelly Elected, Blessed
Abbey Banner
Winter, 2003

With the third ballot election of our ninth Abbot, Timothy Kelly, on 26 November 1992, abbey confreres rejoiced also in the only days–those two election days–of actual sunshine in the entire month. Following are segments of my notes on election events along with Father Philip Kaufman’s story on the blessing of Abbot Timothy.– [Abbey Banner] Editor

Thanksgiving Day 1992: chosen for the abbatial election process because it’s vacation time in the three schools. A quiet, free time; cold outside, but sunlight appeared for the first time in what is already being called the second darkest November on record!

“… Following morning prayer and breakfast, a sizeable 9 AM group gathered in the west aisle of the church for the re-installation of the 12th century Mabon Madonna. That evocative object for devotion looks well after months of necessary conservation work. It’s fitting that former Abbot Baldwin Dworschak led the liturgy celebrating the madonna’s return to Saint John’s…

“The 11 AM Eucharist seemed paricularly redolent of November 25 Thanksgiving nationally AND locally. With almost every community member from across the world here now, we’re headed for the monastic refectory and the usual, generous Thanksgiving Day Dinner…

“3 PM: In the science building auditorium. There are airs of excitement, anticipation, a special solemnity. Abbot President Melvin Valvano calls us to order for the opening prayers, roll call of eligible electors, his suggested guidelines and announcements of protocol. He calls for nominations by ballot–each elector should nominate two confrere candidates…

“A huge list! We all seem gratified by the wealth of viable candidates nominated, while only a few more than a handful have gained the agreed-upon 15 votes necessary to go forward to Scrutinium (public, in-house evaluation of nominees). It’s somewhat surprising, then gratifying to realize the notably diverse ages and personal backgrounds of these nominees–we seem assured that any future elections will not want for able candidates, no matter how this election develops…, After prayer tonight, the Serutinium begins at 7:45 p.m…

Friday, 26 November

“This morning is to be given over to continuing evaluation of candidates. Again today, there’s the warm reality of 200+ monks deep into self-forgetful, purposeful work of selecting our nearest ‘ideal’ to the hyperion leader Benedict describes; a humbling, and wilting, process–yet somehow energizing….

“Scrutinium continues … is completed just before 11 AM community Eucharist …

“2:30 PM: Following another roll call of electors present, the first balloting begins … While waiting the return by the ad hoc tellers of ballots from electors confined to the health center, we break for pastries, coffee et al outside the voting room. Decorous, yet lively talk fills the corridors. Then the first count … No two-thirds majority; the slate seems to be shifting a bit…. The second ballot, no two-thirds majority again, but decided shifting. . . .

“Abbot President Melvin notes that there’s time for a third ballot (previously scheduled for the evening session) this afternoon before the 5:30 PM prayer … As the third ballot is audibly counted, exhilaration increases as one of the leading candidates steadily approaches the majority number required … Noticeable sounds and some premature applause break out after the hushed moment when the majority number is reached–and greatly exceeded. The Ninth Abbot of Saint John’s, former Father Timothy Kelly, makes his way to the podium through a throng of standing-clapping-vocal confreres. Once there, he receives the abbatial cross and takes the oath of office …

A junior monk, announcing our next move, shouted excitedly: “Because of the cold wind, we won’t process by solemn statio (rank by date of monastic entrance). We’ll gather in 10 minutes in the baptistry, take off our clothes–er, ah, COATS AND CAPS–and then process into the choir stalls.”

So it was. 6 PM bells sounding joyously, the candelabrum’s ninth candle lighted, thanksgiving liturgy of prayers, Scripture and song preceded Abbot Timothy’s public citing of Prior Jonathan’s yoeman service during the “abbotless months”–to sustained applause. Then, saying this liturgy would replace that evening’s prayer service, he gave the kiss of peace to every confrere. Ad multos annos, Abbot Timothy!

The Blessing

On the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in a liturgy resplendent with symbolism Abbot TImothy Kelly was blessed as the ninth abbot of Saint
John’s Abbey.

It was a family affair with invitations to students, faculty, the many other laity who share our work, members of our parishes, friends and personal contacts. Even the conferral of the abbatial blessing by our local diocesan bishop, an action that signified the relationship of Saint John’s to the universal Church, was performed by a member of the extended Benedictine family, St. Cloud’s Bishop Jerome Hanus, OSB, former abbot of Conception Abbey in Missouri.

In his homily Bishop Hanus called attention to the way in which the feast of the Baptism and the abbatial blessing were “strangely similar and connected to one another”: the baptism in which “Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit and commissioned by God for his ministry among people and … the blessing of Abbot Timothy” whose ministry as abbot could “very well take as its model the way that Jesus related to the people following his baptism.” Because the presider was a fellow Benedictine, Bishop Hanus was able to bring to the occasion very special Benedictine insights.

At the end of the mass Abbot Timothy noted that the shepherd’s staff he had received pointed to the teaching of Saint Benedict that the abbot is “believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery.” He is taking Christ the Good Shepherd as his model. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for others, but only time would tell how he would be able to fulfill the task placed on him.

In the meantime a member of Saint John’s extended family, Luke Schaaf, a freshman in the university from Crystal, had shown what it means to risk one’s life for another. One week before, Luke had endangered his own life to rescue a mother and small boy who had broken through the ice of Twin Lake. To make sure that Luke would be present at the blessing, he had been appointed a Communion minister at the Mass. Abbot Timothy asked Luke to stand and receive our thanks.

The theme of family was continued at the well-organized finger-food supper that followed in the Old Gym. To allow as many of the kitchen and other support staff as possible to share the supper with the rest of the family and guests, monks volunteered to serve. It must be admitted that a very efficient skeleton kitchen crew behind the screens made the supper go well.

Abbot Timothy Kelly Elected, Blessed
Abbey Banner
Winter, 2003

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Topics: Baldwin Dworschak, Jerome Hanus, Jonathan Licari, Melvin Valvano, Timothy Kelly

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