Fr. Anthony Shidler, OSB, enters eternal rest
On Friday, 10 December 2021, our beloved confrere, Father Anthony Shidler, OSB, passed unburdened into the joys of heaven, bringing to fulfillment a long life in the service of God. Father Anthony’s monastic journey had been traversed in unusual circumstances. After seventeen years at St. Meinrad Archabbey under the simple perpetual vows of a lay brother, he had discerned that God was in fact calling him to priestly ministry. At that time it was rare for monks living as lay brothers to pursue ordination, and they were generally not permitted to do so in the house at which their simple vows had been professed. So with the permission of Archabbot Bonaventure Knaebel, Brother Anthony transferred to Conception Abbey. After a second novitiate, followed by three years in the clericate of Conception Abbey, he formalized his transfer of stability in 1961, and was ordained a priest in 1964. He then took up life on “the other side of the choir,” so to speak, living nearly six decades as a monk-priest. At the time of his death at 100 years, he was senior in age in the Swiss American Congregation; he had been a monk for 81 years and a priest for 57 years.
Joseph Earl Shidler was born on 21 August 1921 in Elkhart, Indiana, to Earl and Ursula (neé Gettlefinger) Shidler, the fourth of their seven children. He was baptized on 25 August 1921 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Elkhart. His childhood was immersed in the agrarian Catholicism of the midwestern United States of the early 20th century; from his devout family, three brothers and a sister entered religious life.
Following elder brother Edmond (who become Brother Lawrence)—and himself followed by younger brother Arthur (who became Brother Stephen)—Joseph attended St. Placid Hall, the high school for lay brother candidates at St. Meinrad, and entered the monastic novitiate in 1939. He professed simple perpetual vows as a lay brother in 1940, and was assigned to the bakery. He was then asked to take on the responsibility of stabilizing and managing a farm the archabbey had acquired. In July 1950, in response to a request from Abbot Primate Bernard Kaelin, Brother Anthony was sent with three other lay brothers from St. Meinrad to Sant’ Anselmo in Rome to provide staff support for the monastic and academic endeavors of the community there. While at Sant’ Anselmo Brother Anthony served both as carpenter and house chauffeur. Learning to navigate the infamous traffic of Rome came to be one of his most cherished and fondly-remembered achievements. Though he was kept busy, he soon found the Eternal City to be conducive to deeper forms of prayer and devotion; it was in Rome that he began to discern another level in his monastic calling, concluding that his vocation included a call to priestly ministry. He presented the matter to his superior, who received it encouragingly and was soon in consultation with Abbot Stephen Schappler of Conception Abbey. Arrangements for Brother Anthony’s transfer were made, and in his early forties he took the life-changing step of commencing theological studies as a new member of a second monastic community.
Upon completion of theological studies and ordination to priesthood, Father Anthony embarked on a life of varied pastoral and work assignments. He was named abbey Archivist in 1965, a position he held until 1991. He served as an instructor at the Mount Alverno Academy in Maryville MO from 1965–66, where as a teacher he discovered a fruitful outlet for his interest in history. He was thus sent to St. Louis University (1966–67), where he earned a Master’s degree in that subject. In 1967 he was made an instructor in the History Department at Conception Seminary, serving in this capacity until 1991. During these years he also served as Confessor for the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at Clyde MO (1970–77). In a move that underscored the remarkable trajectory of his monastic life, he was named prior of the Conception community in 1973, serving in that capacity for four years. These were in many ways turbulent years for Conception, but Father Anthony is remembered as a calm and encouraging presence for the community as both house administrator and spiritual father.
Upon completion of his term as prior, Father Anthony was named Assistant Business Manager and Associate Infirmarian (1977–79). He then took up duties as Associate Pastor of St. Columba Church in Conception Junction MO, where he was stationed from 1979 to 1981. He acted as Custodian of the House, Vestry, & Workshop from 1981 to 1983, and then served a second term as Associate Infirmarian (1983–84). In 1984 he was named Chaplain at St. Francis Hospital in Maryville, MO, in which capacity he served until 1990.
Beginning at last to feel the effects of long years of active ministry and service, Father Anthony recognized that it might be time to slow down a little. That did not mean retirement, of course; he accepted a position as Priest in Residence at St. Joseph Parish in Springfield MO, where he lived from 1990 to 1993, providing pastoral assistance to the parish. He was then named Chaplain to St. John’s Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO, where he served from 1993 to 2002. He returned to Conception Abbey in 2002, ready to enjoy the relative calm of semi-retirement that life as a senior monk in the community offered. He served as porter of Conception Abbey from 2002–2010, the first contact for guests arriving at the abbey in search of spiritual refreshment and Benedictine hospitality.
The time finally came when Father Anthony had to acknowledge the physical limitations imposed by his advancing years. In 2010 Father Anthony became a resident of our St. Stephen’s Infirmary, commencing an Apostolate of Prayer on behalf of the Church and the world. He continued to be an example of simplicity and humility to everyone who met him. Last August, Father Anthony achieved a singular milestone with the completion of his 100th year, the first monk of Conception to attain that distinction. Perhaps turning 100 was a signal to this faithful monk. After enduring the plaudits of his brother monks on the occasion, he quietly returned to his unassuming life of prayer and waiting. The end came quite peacefully at around 6:15 in the morning, as the community was engaged in the office of Vigils. In the quiet peace of an Advent morning, Father Anthony simply set aside his earthly responsibilities and set out to anticipate his Savior’s coming by going forth to meet him.
Father Anthony is survived by his sister, Sister Elnora Shidler, OSB, of Ferdinand IN; by his niece Helen Shidler of Chicago; by numerous other nieces and nephews; by a cousin, the Most Rev. Gerald Gettelfinger, Bishop Emeritus of Evansville IN; and by his brother monks.
Vespers of the Faithful Departed will be prayed at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday, 14 December 2021, and Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 December 2021. We entreat you to offer the traditional prayers for the repose of the soul of our beloved confrere. May he rest in the peace of Christ!
Abbot Benedict and Community