Fr. Henry Nurre, OSB, enters eternal rest

At 12:50 AM on Wednesday, 23 March 2022, two days after our celebration of the Transitus of our Holy Father Benedict, our beloved confrere, Fr. Henry Nurre, OSB heeded the call of his Savior and made his own transitus into the realms of eternal glory. Fr. Henry had come to Conception Abbey from St. Benedict’s Abbey, Benet Lake WI, in 2016, when the latter community was reunited to Conception Abbey. Fr. Henry had resided in St. Stephen’s Infirmary here at Conception since his arrival from Benet Lake. In his 70 years of monastic profession, Fr. Henry created a legacy in ministry to which he added a final coda by his service of prayer for the Church and the world during his twilight years. 

He who would eventually be known as Fr. Henry was born on 11 March 1926 in Bancroft IA to Joseph and Anna (née Lenz) Nurre, the twelfth of their thirteen children. The Nurres were parishioners at St. John the Baptist Church in Bancroft, where their infant was baptized as Vincent Wilford. Ten years later the young Vincent was confirmed in the same parish. He attended the parochial school, and after graduating in 1943 he enlisted in the V-12 Navy College Training Program. Earning a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Cal Tech, he was commissioned in the U.S. Navy in 1946. 

Discharged from the Navy, Vincent took employment with the Kimberly-Clark Paper Company in Neenah WI, working first in Memphis and then at their mill in Niagara Falls. At Sacred Heart Parish in Niagara Falls, the young veteran quickly involved himself in parish activities: he attended daily Mass, sang in the choir, joined the youth club, and for a time paid court to a young woman of the parish. He liked to relate the fact that shortly after his own entrance into the monastery, the lady herself entered a convent. It was here at Sacred Heart Parish, Fr. Henry affirmed, that he “met the human Jesus.”

In regard to his vocation, Fr. Henry always affirmed that his first cousin, Msgr. Leo Lenz of the Diocese of Sioux City, was instrumental in the recognition and cultivation of his young cousin’s religious inclination. The monsignor arranged with the bishop for Henry to attend Latin school at Benet Lake, with the expectation of pursuing diocesan priesthood. Enchanted by the singing of the Divine Office, however, the young Vincent ended up staying at Benet Lake, having decided to become a Benedictine monk. In his later years he was wont to quip that he couldn’t, in fact, sing a note himself, but always enjoyed hearing his confreres chant the Divine Office. 

Professed on 8 September 1953 and ordained on 2 July 1956, the young Fr. Henry was sent to earn a B.A. in philosophy from the River Forest (IL) Dominicans. He took up teaching in Benet Lake’s seminary and was gratified to inform people that two of his early students later became abbots: David Geraets, first abbot of our Lady of Guadalupe in Pecos NM, and Edmund Boyce, last abbot of Benet Lake. Eventually Fr. Henry was sent to Rome, where he earned a licentiate in philosophy at the Angelicum in 1960. He returned to teach in Benet Lake’s Latin school and seminary.

During those early years, Fr. Henry was also assistant editor at Our Faith Press, and over the years “ghosted” at least a hundred “Why” pamphlets—short explanations of matters of the faith for which Benet Lake became well known—that appeared under the byline of Abbot Richard Felix, Benet Lake’s founder and first abbot. 

In 1964, Fr. Henry volunteered to go to Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in Pecos, where the monastic outreach was centered on retreat work. In the late 1960s, a group of monks from Benet Lake came to Pecos, interested in developing a Charismatic Benedictine monastery. One of them was the aforementioned Fr. David Geraets, a leader in the Charismatic Renewal. Fr. Henry attended his first charismatic prayer meeting around Christmas 1966 while on retreat at Benet Lake. He would continue his involvement in Charismatic groups throughout his active ministry. While at Pecos, he worked extensively with the Cursillo movement as well. 

Fr. Henry was called back to Benet Lake in 1972 to serve as prior under Abbot Andrew Garber. The Abbey Church had just been completed and the west wing of the monastery converted into guest rooms. A full retreat program was initiated by Fr. Henry. He began working with Marriage Encounter, extending that ministry from Pecos to Chicago and Milwaukee. In 1989, he went to Glastonbury Abbey for a few years of rest and reprieve, where he worked with the novices, did some Charismatic ministry, and tended a garden. His last major assignment was as prior under Abbot Edmund in 2001. 

On March 11 of this year, Fr. Henry suffered a painful fall in his room in the Infirmary and was taken to the hospital. Though no bones were broken, the accident appeared to have been the first sign of what became a fairly rapid decline of his general condition. He returned to the monastery and was placed on hospice care on 16 March 2022. In the early morning of Wednesday 23 March, the traditional tolling of the tower bells informed the monks of Fr. Henry’s having quietly sprung forth from this world, “when peaceful stillness encompassed everything, and the night in its swift course was half spent” (Wisdom 18:14–15).

Fr. Henry often repeated how he had been struck by a two-word phrase echoed by Pope Francis on the Golden Jubilee of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal: reconciled diversity. The words originated from evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino, who was describing how the Holy Spirit draws all differences into harmony. It was Fr. Henry’s constant desire to bring people together without denying their individuality that animated his many years of ministry.

Fr. Henry was predeceased by his parents and by all his siblings.  He is survived by numerous nieces and nephews and their children, and by his monastic confreres at Conception and Benet Lake.

Reception of the body took place at 4:30 p.m. on Friday 25 March 2022, and Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, 26 March 2022. Fr. Henry’s body was then transferred to Benet Lake, where Visitation was from 9:30 to 11 a.m., followed by a second Funeral Mass at 11 a.m. on Monday 28 March 2022.  We commend our beloved confrere to your prayerful remembrance. May he rest in eternal peace!

Abbot Benedict and Community

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