by Dennis Dalman
St. John’s Abbey now has a new abbot – Abbot Douglas Mullin, who was elected to that position on Jan. 9.
Mullin is the 11th abbot elected in the abbey’s 160-year history. Two days before Mullin’s election, former Abbot John Klassen, Order of St. Benedict, retired on Jan. 7 just as he was about to turn 75. He had served as abbot for 23 years.
Upon receiving the required number of votes, Mullin immediately assumed the office of Abbot of St. John’s Abbey. The election was overseen by Abbot Augustine J. Curley, OSB, of Newark Abbey in New Jersey.
A public Mass of Blessing and Thanksgiving will be offered at St. John’s Abbey at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28 in the Abbey/University church on the St. John’s University campus.
Mullin took vows as a monk on July 11, 1979, and was ordained to the priesthood on Aug. 4, 2007. He has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s degree in religious education and school administration, a master’s degree in divinity and a doctorate in educational leadership.
Mullin has served the church and its parishioners in many ways. He was dean of students at St. John’s Preparatory School. He also taught and served as department chair in the Education Department of the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. In addition, he has been vice president of student development at SJU and was a sub-prior for the abbey.
He was certified for hospital ministry and has served as chaplain at the St. Cloud Veteran Administration’s medical center until his election as abbot this week.
As the new abbot, Abbot Douglas, as he is now known, will head the monastic community, which is the sponsor of SJU, St. John’s Prep School and the Liturgical Press. He will also serve in a variety of parishes and chaplaincies in central Minnesota.
At the Jan. 28 Mass of Blessing and Thanksgiving, Bishop Patrick Neary, who heads the Catholic Diocese of St. Cloud, will preside. He will confer on the new abbot the Abbatical Blessing, thus affirming the support of the Catholic Church.
Newly retired Abbot John Klassen was elected as abbot in 2000. Born and raised on a dairy farm in Elrosa in Stearns County, Klassen was the first abbot in the abbey’s history to have been born in the immediate area.
Klassen was a chemistry teacher at both St. John’s Prep School and at SJU. He also served as the director of the university’s senior seminar program and its Peace Studies program, as well as being involved with many other innovative SJU programs and projects.
Klassen earned widespread commendations for his forthright handling of sexual-abuse charges against some monks that had been alleged throughout the years, stemming back for decades.
Klassen became a Benedictine monk and joined St. John’s Abbey in 1972 and was ordained into the priesthood in 1977.
In 1856, five monks from St. Vincent Abbey in Pennsylvania were asked to come to central Minnesota to minister to an ever-growing population of German Catholic immigrants. They stayed and worked for about eight years in the south St. Cloud area. Later, on land a few miles west of St. Joseph, those priests and others built a house to use as a priory in 1864. Then they secured a charter to develop an education program. When the fledgling college was up and running, five local boys were enrolled in St. John’s College, as it was then known.
The first abbot of the abbey was a man named Rupert Seidenbusch, a monk who had come from St. Vincent Abbey, Penn. In his first nine years, he oversaw rapid construction and growth of the seminary and college.
In 1875, Father Alexius Edelbrock became the second abbot, and a flurry of building and new services began: church, academic buildings, dining rooms, dorms and private rooms for seminarians.
The monks believed strongly in self-sustainability and farmed, baked bread and raised animals for their food supply.
In its earlier years, the university enrollment numbers were, by today’s standards, quite low, with just 60-80 students per year.
In 1921, the fifth abbot, Alcuin Deutsch, refigured the academic program into a prep school, a college and a seminary, each with its own dean.
Over time, monastic works and connections in the “Order of St. Benedict” tradition, continued to branch out to cities and areas throughout the state and as far away as the Bahamas.
By the 1950s, the monastic community at Collegeville had increased to 450 monks.
The current St. John’s Abbey church was designed by world-renowned architect Marcel Breuer. Its modernist design and stunning bell tower were widely admired. The church’s north wall of stained glass is the largest wall of stained glass in the world and has 430 hexagons of radiant color in its abstract design. After several years, the abbey’s construction was finally completed, and it was consecrated to great acclaim in 1961.
Building construction, expansions and more projects and services continued year after year, as did the number of monks and increasing enrollments of university students and prep-school students. The university also began to establish close connections with the College of Benedict to the east, in St. Joseph.