Abbot Gregory Elected Abbot Primate
Abbot Gregory Polan, O.S.B. Elected Abbot Primate of Benedictine Confederation
On September 10, 2016, Abbot Gregory Polan, O.S.B., of Conception Abbey, Conception, Mo., was elected Abbot Primate of the 1500-year-old Benedictine Order at the Congress of Abbots meeting in Rome, Italy held every four years.
As head of the Benedictine Confederation, Abbot Gregory will be the unifying head of the worlds 7,000 Benedictine monks and become the abbot of the monastery Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, where he will reside. The office of Abbot Primate was created by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 to serve the Benedictine community as its liaison to the Vatican and civil authorities, to promote unity among the various autonomous Benedictine monasteries and congregations, and to represent the order at religious gatherings around the globe. As Primate, Abbot Gregory will also serve as the head of the Benedictine University located in Rome. He is the tenth Abbot Primate, the fourth American to be elected, and the second abbot from Conception Abbey following Abbot Marcel Rooney’s election to Abbot Primate in 1996. Upon assuming this role, Abbot Gregory will resign as abbot of Conception Abbey.
This election is an honor for both Abbot Gregory and Conception Abbey. Abbot Gregory has led Conception Abbey for twenty years as its abbot and served as President-Rector of Conception Seminary College for ten years prior. A scholar in Scripture and Theology, Abbot Gregory has been prominent in the field of Biblical translation. His recent work has included translations for the New American Bible and a complete translation of the Psalms resulting in the Revised Grail Psalter, which will be used in the liturgy.
“Abbot Gregory brings many years of leadership experience and spiritual wisdom to the role of Abbot Primate. We are happy that his gifts, which he has given so freely at Conception Abbey for many years, will now be shared with the entire order and Church,” commented Fr. Daniel Petsche, O.S.B., Prior of Conception Abbey upon Abbot Gregory’s election. “I believe his gifts will reach fulfillment in this new role.”
Born on January 2, 1950 in Berwyn, Illinois to the late Martha and Edward Polan, Abbot Gregory came to Conception in 1970 to enter the novitiate. He professed vows as a monk of Conception Abbey on August 28, 1971, and was elected the ninth abbot of Conception Abbey on November 6, 1996. This November would have marked the beginning of his twentieth year as Abbot of Conception Abbey.
(An article from the Fall-Winter 2014 issue of Tower Topics.)
When inquiring about my vocational journey to Conception Abbey, people often ask, “With four Benedictine monasteries within a hundred miles of your home, why did you choose a monastery 450 miles away?” Two considerations were foremost: the monks of Conception themselves, and my love of liturgy. As Benedictines, we make a vow of stability which binds us to the community where we profess vows. Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits move around, with many assignments in different locations. As Benedictines, the monastery is our home; our life is centered on its particular rhythm of prayer and work. My first experience of the liturgy at Conception sparked a sense of faith that has never left me. It gave expression to inner joy, reverence, and peace that still echoes in my soul.
Growing up in Riverside, Illinois, I attended St. Mary’s Grade School, before continuing on to minor seminary at Quigley South in the Archdiocese of Chicago. During my four years there I was deeply involved in studies, sports, and extracurricular activities—all focused on building community. Entering college seminary, I found considerably less emphasis on community. I began to feel drawn towards a common life, where the liturgy would be central and where some of my musical talents might be put to good use. Two classmates had been sent to Conception Seminary College; in letters to them I wrote of my discernment. They responded, “You should visit Conception Abbey.” So I did, and it was, as they say “love at first sight”; I knew I would spend the rest of my life here.
Conception’s monastic life was a perfect fit: the rhythm of liturgical prayer, the practice of lectio divina, and many varied tasks, all contributing to the shared life of the community. After professing solemn vows I was sent off to St. John’s Abbey for priesthood studies. Abbot Kevin, seeing my good grades in Greek and Hebrew, asked if I might consider further studies in Sacred Scripture, and eventually teaching in our seminary. Though it surprised me, it was an invitation to obedience that has had a profound impact on my life, and has been a source of abundant blessings.
Returning to Conception Abbey in the summer of 1984, I began teaching courses in Old Testament and music. But within a year I was moved into administration in the seminary college. After eleven years of administrative service, a wonderful opportunity was presented to Abbot Marcel Rooney by then Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen: Would he consider allowing me to teach at Sant’ Anselmo, the Benedictine University in Rome? In November of 1996, in the midst of making arrangements to take up this new assignment in Rome, the Holy Spirit intervened to reorder my life: the monks of Conception elected me their abbot, a position I still hold today.
“it was, as they say ‘love at first sight’;
I knew I would spend the rest of my life here.”
My brother monks have placed a great challenge before me: to lead our community in the spirit of The Rule of St. Benedict and the Gospel. I will soon begin my nineteenth year as abbot. Today I see clearly how God’s grace has been the source of the power enabling me to conform myself to the divine will, wherever it has beckoned me. I remain utterly grateful for this call, for God’s grace, and for the goodness of my brothers in community who continue to call me to serve as their spiritual father in Christ. Whatever your vocation, whatever you may be discerning, “listen with the ear of your heart,” for you will hear the quiet and gentle voice of God calling you to experience the blessings of his peace and goodness.
—Abbot Gregory Polan, O.S.B.