Frowin Conrad

The following article was written by Father Joel Rippinger, O.S.B., a member of Marmion Abbey in Aurora, Illinois. He is the formation director and archivist for his community and serves as an instructor and theology department chair at Marmion Academy. This article is based on a presentation he gave to the monastic community of Conception Abbey in November 1993. It first appeared in the December 1996 issue of the American Benedictine Review. It is reprinted here with permission.

AbbotFrowinTable of Contents:
From Switzerland to America
Conrad as Monk and Missionary
Conrad as Spiritual Guide
The Monastic Ideal of Beuron
European Influences on Conrad's Monastic Ideal
American Monastic Influences on Conrad
Other Monasteries and Influences
Personal Witness
The Challenge and Change of Monastic Life in America
Conrad's Work with the Sisters and Native Americans
Opposition Within and Responsibilities Without

Frowin Conrad, founder and first superior of Conception Abbey, is not someone who is usually placed in the first rank of Benedictine founders in Europe and America.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, a period that overflowed with the charismatic likes of Prosper Gueranger in France, the Wolter brothers in Germany, and Boniface Wimmer in America, the quiet and unassuming personality of Frowin Conrad is easily lost in the woodwork. But Conrad was no less a founder than the above-mentioned Benedictine luminaries, whom he knew and respected.

From the time of his arrival at Conception, Missouri, in 1873, until his death in 1923, he left a lasting mark, not only on his own abbey of Conception, but on a larger circle of American Benedictines. That mark can be understood in large part by the unique written legacy left by Conrad: a personal journal kept for almost fifty years and a voluminous correspondence. This record sketches a self-portrait of a man whose monastic character is by turns a model of holiness and a medley of contradictory impulses.

Indeed the challenge of any historian attempting to interpret Conrad's life is the need to come to terms with the currents and countercurrents of his monastic vision. It is a vision that is at once part of a nineteenth-century world that saw many of its leading religious figures foster a cult of personality that exaggerated individual prominence every bit as much as it distorted historical truth. But it is also part of a monastic world where egos – even mid-sized ones-were never to be placed on display, where the measure of personal virtue was manifest through one's capacity to be silent and subservient.

So when one surveys the landscape of Frowin Conrad’s fifty years as leader of Conception and seventy years of monastic life, there is a great deal of sifting to do. It includes a mix of written documents and oral tradition, clear evidence and elusive clues. Taken together, they cannot entirely satisfy, but they do leave the interpreter with new insights and a renewed appreciation of an individual life that deserves fuller scrutiny. This article will attempt to delineate the impact that life and monastic vision had on the larger monastic world in which it was lived out.

From Switzerland to America

Placid Conrad was born in Auw, Canton Aargau, Switzerland, on November 2, 1833, (when Frowin would later acknowledge his birthday in journal entries, he often identified with the Poor Souls whose remembrance would correspond with that date).

He was the eldest of twelve children, eleven boys and one girl. Such a large family was not at all unusual for that era, but the fact that five of the boys became priests, and four Benedictine monks, is remarkable. Remarkable too is the parallel course that Placid Conrad had with his contemporary, Alois Marty, the eldest of eleven children, born in the nearby Canton of Schwyz. Both Marty and Conrad were educated by Jesuits and then entered the abbey school of Einsiedeln as classmates to study theology.

Like Marty, Conrad decided to enter monastic life, but at nearby Engelberg. There he made his profession in 1853 and was ordained priest in 1856. His star at the Abbey rose rapidly with jobs as prefect and professor in the school, the same appointments that came to his friend Father Martin Marty at Einsiedeln.

Although Marty left for the United States to become superior of St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana, he did not forget his former classmate. When Bishop John Hogan of St. Joseph, Missouri, wrote a letter to Marty in 1872, requesting Benedictines to come to his new diocese, Marty referred the bishop to Engelberg and himself sent a letter to Conrad, urging him to have his community act on the proposal.

At that precise time, the Swiss abbey was seriously considering an American foundation as a refuge from the political situation that was threatening closure of monasteries in Switzerland. So it was that Abbot Anselm Villiger had the chapter consider the proposal and they decided favorably. In early 1873, two men were selected for the journey. It seems that Frowin Conrad's choice to be one of the two was no surprise. In his diary, Villiger had previously hinted that Conrad would be selected to head the foundations.

But Conrad was not consulted on the second choice, Adelhelm Odermatt. Odermatt, a former novice of Conrad's, was professed at Engelberg in 1866. After ordination, he worked in the school. In many respects, he was the opposite of Conrad in personality, monastic ideals and administrative qualities. Nonetheless, the two left Engelberg in April, 1873, spent some months at St. Meinrad, Indiana, for consultation with Marty, then went to Missouri in September of that same year to start the foundation of Conception. In following years, Benedictine Sisters from the convent of Maria Rickenbach in Switzerland joined the monks in Missouri. Conrad served as superior of the monastic community and pastor of the parish of Conception. Odermatt was pastor of the parish at nearby Maryville.

The year 1881 marked a decisive stage in Conception's growth. In April of that year, Conception was elevated to the status of an abbey. In June, Conrad was named first abbot, a position he was to keep for over forty years. That same year, the Swiss-American Congregation was created, with St. Meinrad and Conception as its two independent houses. Also in that year, Adelhelm Odermatt received the permission of Abbot Anselm Villiger and the chapter of Engelberg to make a foundation in the American West. This last event was one of great sadness for Conrad. He had not been informed of Odermatt's plan and thought the whole venture a misguided and impetuous one.

For the next several decades, Conrad presided over the building of a new monastery and church at Conception, guided the fortunes of the monastery's school, and was intent upon nurturing the liturgical life and monastic observance of the community. He was intimately involved with drawing up the Constitution and Statutes of the Swiss-American Congregation and was elected its president in 1898, a post he kept until 1922. During this long tenure as abbot, Conrad was called to perform a variety of services for his community, his congregation, the Benedictine Order and the Church. The remainder of this article will attempt to look at what some of these services were and how they provide a complex image of one of the important founding figures of American Benedictines.

Conrad as Monk and Missionary

One should not overlook the full and broad experience of monastic life that Conrad enjoyed at Engelberg. In addition to his role in the school, he was novice master, librarian, pastor of the parish church in Engelberg, and chaplain to the Sisters at Maria Rickenbach. In this multiple capacity, one can understand that, from the start, his Benedictine identity was never limited to a strictly contemplative experience of 'pure' monasticism. Moreover, whatever task he was given, he did it with purpose and thoroughness. As Conrad's rotating monastic responsibilities in the years 1858-72 attest, he was far from living a sheltered existence during his time at Engelberg.

In all of this, one can see a number of qualities emerging in Conrad by the time he came to America in 1873, qualities that stamp the subsequent years of his tenure as founder and superior at Conception.

He was at once an eminently practical and humble man. The former trait can be seen in the meticulous financial ledgers that fill Conrad's early journal and letters, as well as in the air of practical realism by which he approached planning and projects. The latter monastic virtue was an authentic part of his monastic persona. Though he entertained deeply ingrained opinions about everything from Benedictine spirituality to church art and liturgical chant, he was reluctant to impose his personal preference on others. This is particularly noteworthy when one considers the typical manner of eccelesial leadership a century ago: episcopus vel abbas locutus est, causa finite. It is indeed remarkable that in Conrad's string of positions as superior over forty some years – prior, abbot, abbot president – he maintained a genuinely modest and self-critical sense of his own power and personal viewpoint.

Another unmistakable part of Frowin Conrad the monk was the pastor of souls. If he was frugal, even parsimonious, in his expenditure of material things, he was tireless and generous in his pastoral service to others. Whether it is answering sick calls in the middle of the night and traveling several hours to administer Extreme Unction, laboring hours over sermons in both English and German for the parish at Conception, or giving parish missions throughout the St. Joseph Diocese, there is a very evident zeal for souls that shines through an ascetic exterior.

Conrad felt an evident responsibility for the spiritual salvation of his fellow Swiss at Engelberg and Catholic immigrants in America, every bit as much as he did for his monks. Here the practical mixed with the pastoral, as when he accepted an appointment by Bishop Hogan to be president of the Diocesan Council of Clergy, or when we see Conrad the pastor detail with pride the numbers of baptized or those in attendance for Mass, Forty Hours, and devotions at the parish. In fact, one of the few things that seemed guaranteed to produce a rare burst of enthusiasm in his journal was a full church of faithful.

Candid as he was about his ongoing fear over the parishes becoming the graveyards of discipline for his monks and his personal experience of the tension between monastic life and parish life, Conrad never pretended that the pastoral component could be ignored. Some of the elements of that tension will be treated at length when addressing the way in which he tried to put his monastic vision into practice, but here one can at least acknowledge that the cura animarum and its attendant concerns were never far from the founding reality of Conception.

It is debatable whether one can consider the role of missionary as in any way distinct from pastor, but the spread of the Gospel was very much a central and ongoing concern for Frowin Conrad. It was the lure that Martin Marty used to persuade him to first come to America. It was spelled out in the Conception founder's first musings about the work of his monastery when he arrived in America. Writing to Placid Wolter about his initial response to the American scene, Conrad commented:

“The longer I am in America the more I see the necessity of spreading the Benedictine Order throughout this country and how it will bring with it untold blessing. Now there are still few priests here and they are not up to the task. We Benedictines must again become here what our first confreres were, missionaries as well as monks.”

This missionary emphasis was also manifested in such distinct activities as Conrad's regular attendance at the summer Indian Congresses in the Dakotas, the Katholikentag days for German Catholics, or something as special as the Catholic Missionary Congress in Chicago in 1907. Sister Dolores Dowling probably has it right when she says that “Frowin Conrad was primarily a monk and only secondarily a missionary," but that does not discount the fact that Conrad was mindful of a monastic tradition of missionary work. And if the missionary legacy of such Conception monks as Bernard Strassmeier, Francis Gerschwyler, or Bede Marty is traced back, the abbot who first sent these monks to the Indian missions has to be seen as instigator, if not promoter. No less impressive was Conrad's indefatigable willingness to travel. As much as he might lament the times he takes leave of Conception, one picks up a profound sense of the pilgrim monk-missionary in the regular round of travel that he accepted as a regimen. Whether it was stagecoach or ocean-steamer, paddlewheel boat or iron horse, Conrad could identify first hand with the itinerant life of the missionary.

Conrad as Spiritual Guide

Another adjunct to Conrad the monk, was the spiritual guide and director. This was a role which he seemed to assume naturally. Already in Engelberg he was looked upon as a confidant by the boys of the school and the apprentice monks of the monastery.

For the American Benedictine sisters alone, Conrad devoted generous amounts of time as confessor, counselor and advocate. He was constantly in demand as a retreat master by groups of male and female religious, and the number of invitations he received for return visits to communities attests to his appeal. It was said of one Swiss-American superior who was a contemporary of Conrad in the United States that he showed more energy than prudence. In the case of Frowin Conrad, the two qualities were fused in a tireless acceptance of requests for spiritual guidance. He was most certainly blessed with Benedictine discretio, and was an able judge of character. Especially revealing in this regard are visitation reports of Conception that inevitably make mention of the high esteem given by the monks to the spiritual wisdom of their abbot.

This was seconded by communities of Benedictine sisters for whom Conrad was a regular visitor, retreat master, confessor and confidant. The sheer amount of time and attention he extended to the needs of sisters is hard to fathom. Whether it was the early and ongoing struggle of the different Benedictine communities at Maryville and Clyde, Missouri, the new foundations at Yankton in the Dakotas and Pocahontas, Arkansas, or even the Swiss communities such as Sarnen and Maria Rickenbach for whom he preached retreats on his European visits, it was a work that never elicited complaint from Conrad. It could be a delicate intervention on a matter of a superior, German and English conferences for a bilingual house, or the constant request to give spiritual counsel or directives to deal with a serious pastoral situation. In all of these occurrences, the sisters saw in the personal demeanor and the response coming from the abbot of Conception a paternal solicitude that stood in contrast to the patriarchal possessiveness that was a more typical experience of male hierarchs of that era.

Beyond question, people saw in Conrad the spiritual guide a distinct gift and one that seemed to be increasingly recognized and appreciated in the span of his years as superior.

Closely linked to Conrad's role as spiritual father and director was a deep and transparent personal piety. It was a holiness that was reflected in his personal prayer life, his private writings and his public bearing. It was a piety that also personified the era and the atmosphere in which Conrad lived.

There was a vigorous strain of Marian devotion that was unmistakably nineteenth-century and Benedictine, but also very much an authentic expression of his spirituality. It is perhaps best expressed in the impressive apse mosaic of the Blessed Virgin, designed to dominate the interior of Conception's abbey church.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart was another hallmark of life at Conception during Conrad's era as superior, manifested in the yearly consecration of the monastic community to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (renewed each January 1 at Vespers) and abundant references to recourse to the Sacred Heart in his journal. Conrad did his best to instill this devotion in his monks and students by establishing a Sacred Heart League and having first profession for the monks at the Sacred Heart altar in the church. A personal and intense reverence for the Blessed Sacrament was revealed in the regular times of exposition from after conventual Mass to Vespers.

Above all, Conrad looked to the Scriptures and gave natural expression to phrases from the psalms and Gospels, using them in his journal and correspondence by turns to offer consolation, instruction and exhortation as the occasion required. One also sees a constant personal discipline. Every Lent, Conrad would make a private ten-day retreat, in addition to the June retreat he would make with his community and the countless retreats he would give to other houses of religious. Whether as priest, monk, or spiritual father, the vision of the Christian life conveyed by Conrad was one of prayer, amplified by the devotional life of the Church and grounded in the practice of asceticism.

If Conrad was abba, he was also magister, a teacher equally at home in the classroom or at the pulpit. Though not a schoolman in the traditional Benedictine sense, he recognized the value of Benedictine education and was at pains from his earliest days at Conception to promote a college for the monks and a school for the sisters that would meet the needs of the Catholic immigrants who had little else to count on for catechetics or a formal Catholic education. He taught in Conception's college, much as he had taught in the school at Engelberg.

He was particularly conscientious about being present for the examinations at the end of the term – both in Conception's college and the sisters' school at Clyde – and taking a direct role in testing the students. If a monk was ill or unable to conduct class, Conrad would often fill in as substitute. One is led to wonder how much of that decision was based upon the motivation of duty and how much on personal inclination. But it can be said with some certainty that Conrad took very seriously the mandate of teaching and admonished his monks who might give indication that they were taking lightly their teaching or administrative assignments. For all of that, the monks of Conception never entertained any doubts about where the school ranked on the roster of priorities.

The monastery was the primary institution for Conrad and Conception's school would never be allowed to acquire the proportions that it achieved in other American Benedictine houses. In fact, toward the end of his life, when some Conception monks feared that the monastery might degenerate into a professor's college, Conrad announced a cap on the number of students at one hundred.

Of more consequence and labor was Conrad's position as spiritual teacher. In this task he was in earnest, giving on a regular basis for almost the whole of his tenure as superior conferences to both fathers and brothers (weekly), special Lenten and Ember Day allocutions, sermons on the major feasts, and instructions for younger monks.

To act as spiritual pedagogue for the first generation of Conception monks was challenge enough, but Conrad was constantly being tapped by other religious houses and by the Swiss-American Congregation to serve as retreat master or preacher.

The content of Conrad's sermons and conferences is typical of what one would hear a century ago. The handwritten ones that are preserved show a careful and traditional style, with great stress of doctrinal orthodoxy, complemented with a vein of affective piety and abundant scriptural allusions. He was also quick to communicate to the Conception community all directives from Rome or Engelberg. The dispatch with which he delivered the bitter instruction of Anselm Villiger in 1876 (what historian Edward Malone calls the 'bomb" leveled against Beuronese observance at Conception) was illustrative of Conrad's deeply felt responsibility to inform and instruct his confreres on all matters of import, especially when they came from those in authority.

In this respect, one can say that Conrad believed deeply in the enterprise of monastic community life. And when any attempt is made to tap the core of his character, it is here that one finds the most ingrained sense of individual identity. For all of his many hats as missionary, administrator, teacher and superior, Conrad never disguised the fact that he was a monk and that the sum of his entire effort in coming to America was to found and bring to maturity a true Benedictine monastery. What certainly deserves underlining in this monastic persona is the breadth and depth that it carried – especially when compared to other Benedictine contemporaries of Conrad in America for whom the establishment of a full monastic round of observance was seen as a practical impossibility.

His deep love of liturgy and broad familiarity with monastic observance and usages in Europe were invaluable in promoting Conception's coming of age as a Benedictine community. It would be hard to rival Conrad's absorption of so much of the fruits of the nineteenth-century monastic renewal in Europe. Whether it was chant or the renewed sense of a return to the sources, these aspects of monastic life were both lived and promoted by Conception's superior at a time when the activist strain in American Benedictinism left room for little else but parish assistance and physical growth. Of course, this was also Conrad's continuing cross to carry. At times, the "monastic man," bent on nurturing contemplative life and the best of Benedictine practices, must have seemed like a majority of one at best and an inaudible voice at worst. The loneliness experienced by Conrad as he would assess the gap between his personal monastic spirit and example and the too often contrary reality of Conception's monks is palpable. To his credit, Conrad never expected a monastic utopia to come to Nodaway County. He knew that Benedict's Rule was written for fallible men and he would always give voice to his own inadequacy as monk and superior with a modesty that became him.

Nonetheless, Conrad was resistant to ideas that did not have their locus in European monasticism. The pragmatic and informal character of American Benedictine life confirmed him in his reliance on a European model, one that would hold fast against innovation and adaptation, safeguarding his young community from the snares of Modernism. Liturgical books, architecture, even the core of new vocations, all were to come from monasteries of the Old World, a world which seemed to interest Conrad much more than what he considered the unrefined monastic milieu of the United States.

One would expect that after several decades in the United States a superior like Conrad would have reason to adapt his monastic identity to something more authentically American, but this does not seem to have been the case for Conception's first superior. It also constitutes a valid criticism of his leadership abilities. Such an instinctive wariness of all things American slowed down the process of inculturation at Conception and closed the door to needed adaptation, especially in the last years of his tenure.

The study of Conrad's many sides naturally leads into the question of the monastic ideal that he promoted and the means he used to try and root that ideal in the soil of North America. It is one that merits a return to the historical sources we have available to us today that speak both to this ideal and the much harsher reality that it faced in a region and at a time when there were long odds against any truly monastic lifestyle finding acceptance by American Catholics and American culture.

The Monastic Ideal of Beuron

The sweep of monastic history teases one unrelentingly with the dialectic of desired ideal and lived reality. Benedictine reform and renewal through the centuries have been generated by a magnetic gravitation to pristine forms of monastic observance, faithful to a Rule and way of life that avoid any compromise with the currents of a larger world of Church and culture. It is a skewed perception to think that such ideals ever found perfect embodiment. Cluniacs, Carthusians and Cistercians all passed through the tension of the hoped for and the not yet achieved, the pull of the perfect and the tug of the pragmatic.

Frowin Conrad was very much a party to this tension, particularly as he found himself in a position of superior, confidently espousing a clearly defined Benedictine ideal, yet all the while resigning himself to a type of ecclesial Realpolitik in which every aspect of his monastic model was being eroded by the rude reality of time and circumstance.

The purpose of this section is to examine the monastic ideal that Frowin Conrad truly wanted to have put in place at Conception. What were the models he had in mind and how effective was he in at least partially implementing those models? This will lay the groundwork for the concluding section, which will examine the historical reality of Conrad's own community at Conception and how it did or did not measure up to his ideal.

Though the model of the German reformed Abbey of Beuron is the one typically connected to Conrad, one should note that the nineteenth-century reform of Prosper Gueranger at Solesmes was also instrumental in shaping his monastic ideal. When one looks at the sources for Conrad’s instruction for the novices at Conception and the content of his retreats at monastic communities, Gueranger's words are often cited." However, the manner of Gueranger's ideas being transmitted to Conrad came through the other major monastic reform of nineteenth-century Europe, Beuron.

One can hardly overestimate the influence of Beuronese monasticism on Frowin Conrad. In short, one could hold that Beuron (and the reform and monastic usages which it stood for) became the operative model for Conrad from the time he first set foot in America and remained the model for the rest of his life, admonitions and reprimands from Engelberg notwithstanding. Conrad was a traditionalist in the best sense of the word and as he came to maturity as a monk at Engelberg, Beuron epitomized the appeal of nineteenth-century Benedictine reform and restoration in Europe. This attraction was cemented by degrees: on his first visits to Beuron, before he left for America, he was fascinated by the liturgy and chant. He also met Abbot Maurus Wolter during a visit to Engelberg and soon became kindred spirits with him and his brother Placid. Conrad's correspondence with Placid Wolter over several decades points to the measure of influence the latter had in shaping Conrad's monastic ideal. Both brothers served as consulters and mentors for Conrad during his first decades of founding a new monastery in America. As to the ideal that Conrad carried over with him to Missouri, he gives it eloquent expression in a letter written to Maurus Wolter, some years after his coming to Conception:

“At Beuron I believed I had discovered for the first time the true meaning of Benedictinism; and when I was sent by my abbot to make a foundation in the New World, Beuron became my ideal ... Beuron can be said justly to be the boast and hope of our holy Order.”

The earliest evidence of ceremony and custom adopted at Conception supports the claim that Beuronese usages were the model. There was no attempt by Conrad to hide this. As he wrote to Abbot Anselm Villiger at Engelberg a little over a year after Conception's founding:

“We observe the Beuronese Ceremoniale as far as we can and we also have studied their Statutes with regard to monastic observance. No other monastery has made such a good impression an me as Beuron, and nowhere could I find a monastic order based so solidly on the tradition of our Order. I am for Beuron with all my heart and just as the Divine Office is there the center and soul of all, so would I like to have it here.”

Only a few months after Conrad would write that letter, Beuron was suppressed as part of Bismarck's Kulturkampf. It is revealing that news of the suppression came to Conrad through one of Placid Wolter's regular letters from Maredsous. By mid-1875, Wolter had helped persuade Conrad to adopt the Beuronese liturgical ritual and even promise to send several fraters from Conception over to Beuron for a more monastic formation. Indicative of the influence exerted by Placid Wolter was his ability to change Conrad's opinion on the adaptation of the Roman Breviary by St. Meinrad and the adoption by Conception of monastic cowls that were sent from Beuron.

In dealing with Beuron one must deal directly with the events of 1876, especially the blistering letter from Anselm Villiger to Conrad, demanding that he drop all practices associated with Beuron and conform to usage of Engelberg. But here it is important to underscore the fact that, even as Conrad humbly and obediently accepted his abbot's wish, he never let go of Beuron as his monastic ideal. For a brief moment after receiving Anselm Villiger's letter in November 1876, Conrad considered abdication of his position of superior at Conception (acknowledging that Adelhelm Odermatt could take his place) and the founding of a new monastery where he “could have the freedom to ordain everything that I would find the best and most corresponding to the spirit of our Order.”

But Conrad's more realistic side prevailed and he decided to do all he could to preserve what he thought was the essential core of Beuronese observance, even if it had to be clothed in a non-Beuronese garb. It seems that Conrad could support Engelberg's exhortation to mitigate corporal asceticism and certain aspects of monastic discipline. But he drew the line at the two things he valued most: the liturgy and chant.

For Conrad, the measuring stick for any authentic monastery was the monks' performance of and their faithful attendance at the Divine Office, coupled with the dignity of their choral participation and liturgical ritual. In fact, liturgy and music became the early battleground for implementing Beuronese ideals. It was the arrival in 1875 of a European lay brother, sent to Conception by Placid Wolter and accomplished in chant and organ, that set off Ignatius Conrad (a monk of Einsiedeln and blood brother to Frowin Conrad who had come to America in 1875 to assist with the Conception foundation) to write back to Engelberg about the "betrayal" of the motherhouse. A decade later, Conrad built upon his earlier experience and proved to be much more prudent in his selection of Raymond Huegle, a student from Engelberg (he would later take the monastic name of Gregory) who came to Conception in 1885, and over the next forty years in community set an extremely high standard for Gregorian chant and liturgical music, one that incorporated the best of both Beuron and Solesmes. In this respect, Conrad's monastic ideal was vindicated by the manner in which Father Gregory (Raymond) Huegle and the Liturgical Movement won endorsement at Conception in the decades after Conrad's death.

European Influences on Conrad's Monastic Ideal

The monastic ideal of Beuron certainly was kept alive through the regular visits that were made by Conrad to the houses of Maredsous and Beuron. Conrad's European trip of 1885 is typical of the pilgrimage path he trod: stop-offs at Maredsous and Beuron were obligatory on the way to Switzerland. It also helped that after Anselm Villiger had the chastening experience of birthing the “New Engelberg” of Mount Angel, he became a great deal more appreciative of the Benedictine principles of Conception under Frowin Conrad. Perhaps this is why he would avert his eye to the reclaiming of Beuronese practices by Conrad in the years after “the bomb” of 1876.

Conrad lobbied for the adoption of Beuronese usage when helping to draw up the first constitutions of the Swiss-American Congregation. He incorporated Beuronese practice in everything from profession ceremonies to abbatial elections and one must admit of an invasive return of Beuronese liturgical customs at Conception in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.

Perhaps the clearest signal of this return was the artwork that was used for the abbey church during the construction of the 1890s. When Adam Kuhn and George Roesler came from Germany to Conception in 1892 (after having served apprenticeships with the famed Beuronese artist Desiderius Lenz), Conrad soon put both of them to work in painting the frescoes of the church interior in the classic Beuronese style. As Fathers Ildephonse Kuhn and Hildebrand Roesler, they in turn trained a talented retinue of artists (such as Father Luke Etlin) who promoted the Beuronese style well into the twentieth century.

It is easy to speak of “the Beuronese ideal” promoted by Conrad during his many years at Conception, more difficult to specify its component parts. Certainly the Beuronese manner of monastic customs – from the form of culpa to liturgical usage and even rituals of recreation and table waiting – struck a responsive chord in Conrad. A traditionalist at heart, Beuronese practices kept him in contact with what he saw as being the central core of Benedictine tradition. This became even more vital when he was uprooted from European soil and felt adrift in the foreign and very unmonastic waters of America.

In contrast to founders like Wimmer or Marty, Conrad felt the need to transplant the stable structure of reformed European Benedictinism, rather than strike out on his own. There was also a felt kinship with Beuronese monasteries and superiors that Conrad openly acknowledged. Whether staying at Beuron or Maredsous or Maria Laach, he felt at home. Nor did he disguise his admiration for the leadership of Beuronese houses, above all the Wolter brothers, but also for the formidable wave of Beuronese abbots such as Hildebrand de Hemptinne and Fidelis von Stotzingen, the first two abbot primates. When Conrad communicated with the cadre of Beuronese superiors, the tenor of his writing was distinctive. There was a mix of formality and ceremony about monastic life which they embodied for him and which he was constantly hoping to emulate.

One of the reasons why he was not able to implement this ideal in the manner he had hoped was that it was at cross-purposes with the monastic ideals of his confreres, both at Engelberg and at Conception. Whatever the construct "New Engelberg" was expected to take, it was not to have Beuron as its exemplar. In retrospect, one can say that Conrad would have benefited from a more restrained espousal of Beuronese practice. Someone like Abbot Anselm Villiger, who had visited Beuron on a number of occasions, actually had a certain esteem for their monastic observance. But when he heard nothing but Beuron being celebrated in the early correspondence of Conception's first superior, he took pause.

One can certainly say that Conrad's vocal support of Beuronese standards rubbed his closest monastic confreres the wrong way. His founding companion, Adelhelm Odermatt, and his own brother Ignatius Conrad, were strongly opposed to Beuronese monastic practices from the start. And their candid letters, written to Engelberg while both were in Maryville in the summer of 1876, seemed to be the deciding factor in persuading Villiger to write his famous letter of November of that year attacking the Beuronese practices that had crept into Conception.

Indeed, one could say that accusations of Beuronese favoritism were never wholly absent from Conception. In 1921, two years before his death, Conrad tried to give financial assistance to Beuron as a means to help reduce the German abbey's debt. After having heard that Conception would send $7,000 in Mass stipends to assist Beuron, canon lawyer Augustine Bachofen wrote in his journal: "Such are the blessings of overly aged prelates. Nesciunt quid faciunt (they do not know what they do). But it is Beuron, and the abbot's contemptible hankering after those Pharisees [that] prompts him to go against his conscience which troubles, and seeks redress from me to pacify it."

However prominent Beuron was in forming the personal vision of Frowin Conrad, it did not encompass the whole of his monastic ideal. Nor did it take too many years in the wilds of Northwest Missouri for Conrad to come to see that a monastery whose resources focused primarily on liturgical prayer and music was not yet ready to flourish in nineteenth-century America, as Solesmes and Beuron had flourished in the atmosphere of nineteenth-century Europe. Still, Conrad saw anything added on to his ideal as aberration rather than necessary adaptation.

What Conrad insisted upon first and foremost was that his community would be seen as a monastery and not a mission house. His primary means of attaining that was to stress a sound formation in liturgical prayer (and plain chant) and the Catholic faith. He did not skimp on what he took to be the necessary path of imparting such formation – through the superior. During those times he was at home, Conrad took a first-hand role in the theological education of clerical candidates. Spiritual instruction for Conrad was an obligation that he saw extending primarily to his monastic community and only secondarily to the immigrant faithful. What made Conrad exceptional among the American Benedictine superiors of his day was his willingness to see that ideal through by personal example.

American Monastic Influences on Conrad

Perhaps the nineteenth-century abbot who was most sympathetic to Conrad's ideal was Bernard Locnikar of St. John's, Collegeville. As novice master and prior of the Minnesota community during years of intense missionary work and building in the 1870s and 1880s, Locnikar felt that St. John's had lost its monastic spirit. It is noteworthy that when Locnikar became abbot in 1890, he pointed to Conception Abbey as the model for liturgical observance and Benedictine life that his Collegeville monks were to emulate. The fact that he called his friend Conrad to conduct the first community retreat of his tenure and the frequency of correspondence between the two abbots with regard to things liturgical and spiritual attest to their common monastic objective. Unfortunately, Locnikar died unexpectedly only four years into his term of office. The loss of a companion in carrying out monastic objectives was a blow to Conrad.

Another American abbot with whom Conrad did feel a connection was Fintan Mundwiler of St. Meinrad. Having known Mundwiler while in school at Einsiedeln and having worked closely with him during the early years of Conception's foundation, the ties of friendship were strong. And when both Conrad and Mundwiler began to steer the course of their respective communities as superiors in the 1870s, they supported one another in their dedication to foster the claustral life and cut back as far as possible on external commitments. They were also responsible for drafting the first statutes of the Swiss-American Congregation. In the process, they made no secret of the monastic model they had in mind. As Conrad wrote in his journal after meeting with Mundwiler, the first abbot president of the congregation, in 1881:

“During Abbot Fintan's stay at Conception we talked among ourselves about monastic affairs. He read here the Constitutions of Beuron; also the letters from Abbot Placidus [Wolter] to me. He expressed himself quite satisfied with them. He is one with me in the opinion that we should modify the statutes of the Swiss Congregation to which we are bound, by using the Beuronese in a manner which would be the best means to cultivate a monastic spirit and discipline under our conditions.... The complete harmony of our Abbot President with me in regard to our Benedictine way of life was to me a great consolation. We shall hold ourselves most of all to the excellent work of Abbot Maurus Wolter, the Monastica Elementa, and carry it out in the best way possible.”

Other Monasteries and Influences

Conrad's affinity with Fintan Mundwiler also indicates his Swiss connection. He was always proud to profess his Engelberg roots, and his genuine interest in Conception's Swiss motherhouse continued unabated. On his last visit to the Swiss monasteries of Engelberg and Einsiedeln in 1920 Conrad commented in a nostalgic vein on the way in which his entire monastic life had been shaped by these two monasteries. Competing with Engelberg and Einsiedeln in his affections was St. Meinrad, what Conrad dubbed “our second motherhouse.” From his initial days spent there upon his arrival in the United States in 1873, through his long friendships with Abbots Martin Marty and Fintan Mundwiler, Conrad showed his trust in St. Meinrad by making it the first choice for his junior monks to study theology

For all the shortcomings he may have admitted at Swiss Benedictine houses, Frowin Conrad was best able to recognize how precious his own monastic ideal was when he visited other monasteries. Whether giving retreats, making visitations, or spending time at other American houses, he was quick to express his reservations over the lack of true Benedictine structures and training that characterized their life. His observations of Atchison, Subiaco, St. Vincent, St. Joseph, Richardton and Mount Angel all lament the overemphasis on school and missionary life and the negligence in nurturing the inner life of the liturgy and cloister. Though Conrad was discreet in voicing his concerns in public, his journal and letters became once again the authentic barometer of how much he was distressed over the failure of other American Benedictine houses to reflect a true monastic spirit. While giving a retreat at St. Benedict's Abbey, Atchison, in 1876, Conrad wrote: “There is much good will here but the Abbey appears to be more of a college of professors than a Benedictine monastery. This is so since the Office is said as fast as possible.”

Writing of a visit to the new Swiss-American foundation in North Dakota, Conrad repeated a familiar lament of overextension in the missions:

“Father Prior [Vincent Wehrle] arrived here today and is in a bad fix. He has too many missions and not enough priests to care for them. May the monastic morale not suffer under all this work and may the time not be far away where we can give some of our missions back to the bishops or so order the conditions that several monks can at least live together in one mission, according to the Holy Rule and Constitutions.”

Monastic life at Conception could easily have turned in on itself, taking on the provincialism that was not unknown in Benedictine communities of that era. To his credit, Frowin Conrad refused to fall into such a pattern. By his frequent trips to Europe and Rome (necessitated in great part in early years by the need to raise money and recruits, and in later years by his role as Abbot President of the congregation) and his uninterrupted correspondence with prominent monastic figures, Conrad was able to provide Conception with a valuable window to a wider monastic world. Some of this same Benedictine internationalism carried over into Conrad's decision to send his monks abroad for study. The policy of sending monks to Sant'Anselmo in Rome began with Conrad. The impact that Father Augustine Bachofen had on canon law and Father Patrick Cummins in Scripture and theology was due largely to the European training and American opportunities they were able to receive as a result of their abbot's farsightedness. However the horizons of Conrad were much more limited when it came to staying up-to-date with developments in the American Catholic Church and society. In Conrad's journal and correspondence, little comment is reserved for ecclesiastical and historical events that occurred outside the orbit of Conception.

Personal Witness

Perhaps what is most remarkable about Conrad's singularly long tenure as superior was the consistent manner in which he taught and exemplified his monastic ideal. The ascetical framework he proposed for his monks was as unchanging as the photos of the slight and somewhat pinched face of a superior who obviously practiced what he preached. If there was an underlying virtue that captured the Benedictine spirit of Conrad it was humility. The refrain that the reader of the journal repeatedly hears is an invocation to the Lord to show mercy and forgive what he truly saw as his own failings and shortcomings. Even at those points where Conrad's judgment of other monastic enterprises (like Mount Angel) was proven to be entirely accurate, he would never allow himself to take satisfaction in the result, but simply entrust it to God's will. That humility never left Conrad, even through the wearing of cappa magna and the weighty responsibilities he took on during his years in office.

In the end, Conrad was not so much wedded to Beuron for his monastic ideal as he was dedicated to living out an authentic wit- ness to the Rule of Benedict. This seems to have been the conclusion of Damian Cummins, who wrote as someone who knew Conrad personally: “To what extent Abbot Frowin was influenced by the Wolter brothers and Beuron is a matter for speculation. Personally, we do not believe he allowed himself to indulge greatly in the Benedictine pastime of analyzing 'true Benedictinism.' The evidence is that, during his robust years, he [Conrad) believed in forging ahead, by whatever means others had found useful.” And as Conrad himself would put it almost a decade after his coming to America:

“In everything I adopted from Beuron I was not so much concerned about Beuron itself as I was about what I believe to be the monastic observance closest to the spirit of the Holy Rule .... My entire endeavor today is at it was at the beginning of our foundation, that we become a genuine Benedictine monastery according to the principles of the Holy Rule as far as the conditions of the country and our weaknesses permit.”

It is those "conditions and weaknesses" that will next be considered in examining the reality through which that Benedictine ideal was lived out.

The Challenge and Change of Monastic Life in America

The elements that tempered and conditioned Frowin Conrad's monastic ideal are legion. In reviewing the succession of obstacles and practical demands that Conception confronted in its first half-century, one can only marvel at the fact that its physical and spiritual development was relatively unimpeded. A lion's share of responsibility for that growth was due to Frowin Conrad being superior. In a fashion unthinkable today, he symbolized the spirit and commitment of Conception for almost half a century. It was a commitment whose ultimate form and focus was forged out of a crucible of competing personalities and pastoral needs. How that commitment took form is the concern of this concluding section.

For someone as committed to strict observance of the claustral life as Conrad, the all too real exigencies of sacramental assistance became the first reality check on the ideal of “authentic monastic observance.” In his first years at Conception, Conrad was quick to perceive the different cultural context of America. He was also aware of the diverging ideals of monastic life he had with a succession of bishops who placed a premium on sacramental assistance. The mixture of resignation to pastoral requests and resolution in carrying through on the project of establishing a true monastic observance are captured in an early journal entry:

“Conditions here are at present shaping themselves so that I need to send off my priests from the monastery. May it be possible for me through God's grace to impress upon my dear confreres more and more that as Benedictines we have a special and very different vocation than secular priests or religious missionaries.”

There was a decidedly temporary quality that Conrad envisioned for large scale parish work. It was needed to pay off debts and to satisfy the needs of an immigrant population that was otherwise without the services of Catholic clergy. As he wrote to Engelberg in 1881:

“If we were only out of debt, I should be very glad to keep all of my fathers at home and allow them to go out only as long as the Reverend Bishop [Hogan] still suffers from an insufficient number of diocesan priests. The more I see the more surely I become convinced that living outside the monastery is most destructive of the spirit of our monastic discipline. I would gladly be rid of this situation which for the present has become a necessity. On the other hand, it would seem to me that the spiritual care of the German people in the newly-established diocese of Kansas City is so pressing that I must be willing to supply several zealous and self-sacrificing priests, for I realize how much real good they can accomplish.”

One of the means of safeguarding the souls and monastic spirits of his monks who were on mission was to try and promote a community life that the expositi would follow while outside the monastery. Writing to Anselm Villiger, Conrad commented:

"If the expositi of Conception are to be protected from the dangers which surround them, it is my duty as superior to keep a tight control on them while insisting that they carry out to the best of their abilities the daily honorium and spiritual exercises of the monastery."

Conrad's concern over the spiritual state of the monks on mission was something that remained a constant source of anxiety during his years in America. In this sense, it reflected his inability to adapt to a reality that was far more entrenched than he had ever imagined. The following three excerpts from Conrad's journal (that cover three different decades in Conception's growth) spell out the ongoing frustration Conrad experienced:

“I commend my expositi every day to the grace of God and I fear for them because of the dangers to which they are exposed. May I live long enough to see all my confreres living entirely within the monastery and see no external or internal reason to drawing them out.”

“A great misfortune in our Order in this country is the abundance of out- side activity which has nearly robbed us of the sense of genuine monastic life. We seem to be more professors and missionaries in our life than monks, the result being that all of our activity is more pretense than truth.”

“May the monastic morale not suffer under all this work and may the time not be far away where we can give some of our mission stations back to the bishops or so order the conditions that several fathers can at least live together in one mission, living according to ourHoly Rule and Constitutions.”

Of course, the time of "mission-less" monasticism in America was still far away in the era of Conrad; nonetheless his fatherly care and desire to establish standards of observance for those involved in missionary and parish work had him stand out among the abbots of his day. As if to prove the staying power of Conrad's convictions, the norms of observance for expositi that he had written in his first years at Conception were later requested by Adelhelm Odermatt for his “straying” monks at Mount Angel.

Another perennial tension in living out the monastic ideal was that of the apostolate of education. Like many Benedictine superiors thrust into the American scene in the last century, Conrad was expected to have his monks serve as educators. There is no evidence that either Abbot Anselm Villiger or Frowin Conrad had any intention of establishing a seminary or school at Conception, but there was the precedent of seminary schools at St. Vincent, St. Benedict's (Atchison) and St. Meinrad. Moreover, Bishop John Hogan of the Diocese of St. Joseph was desperately in need of priests. When he finally approached Conrad in 1883 with the request that he start a diocesan seminary at Conception, the reaction is found in a journal entry of that time:

“I do not want the responsibility of the Bishop's seminary, because the theological students for the priesthood are very doubtful in their vocation. Therefore I intend to start a small college this year in which we will train the boys from the beginning and then we will know what we have before we take them into advanced studies. I also hope that with the help of God we will in this way build a school for the benefit of the monastery.”

What was being proposed was nothing less than a monastic school, models of which can be found throughout an earlier Benedictine tradition, but one which never was translated in satisfactory fashion to the American scene by Conrad. There came instead New Engelberg and later Conception College, a far cry from the exclusive monastic school first envisioned by Conrad, but also a distant creature from the seminary eventually instituted by Abbot Stephen Schappler in 1940. It was also a continual source of tension for the abbot. Of particular worry for Conrad was the shorthandedness of Benedictine faculty that required him to have fraters (those monks, usually in simple vows, who were studying for the priesthood) as teachers. He would make repeated promises that this was only a temporary expedient, but the temporary in this case remained permanent.

Another trying feature of the school was the maintenance of a high academic standard. Allusions to disappointment with the quality of the students' examinations abound in Conrad's journal. And the college added to the financial strain of an already strapped community. The need to send students home early for vacation because of a lack of coal or accepting students with minimal literacy qualifications in order to bring in precious tuition income did not add to the luster of Conception College's reputation. It is a little amusing to note that, as much as Conrad accepted a school for his own monastery only with reluctance, he was much more forward in proposing it as monastic work for other communities. The Sisters in Maryville, as well as the missionary men and women in the Dakotas and the monks at Conception's foundation in Cottonwood, Idaho, were advised on different occasions that a school was a necessary start for a monastic presence. The failure of most of these educational institutions to last more than a few years may have confirmed Conrad's initial wariness with regard to the hazards schools posed to living a full monastic life.

Conrad's Work with the Sisters and Native Americans

If one were to measure the time Conrad gave to special areas of administration and responsibility, the cause of the Benedictine sisters would be near the top. In a way he never could have anticipated, Conrad became an instrumental factor in the guidance and growth of the first generation of American Benedictine sisters who came from Switzerland. With the first community of sisters from Maria Rickenbach at nearby Maryville, he was by turns arbiter and advocate. When the community divided into “contemplative” and “missionary” groups, the abbot of Conception retained his role as superior and spiritual counselor for both the contemplative group at nearby Clyde and with the missionary contingent that traveled to the Dakotas. He was also the one responsible for sending Benedictine sisters to Arkansas in the 1880s. At the request of these communities, Conrad would invest and profess new members, preach retreats, conduct visitations and preside at elections. One sees him administering Last Rites to Mother Anselma Felber on her deathbed, personally instructing the Clyde sisters in the Latin recitation of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, and spending long hours in writing to individual sisters and communities on problems that he had been asked to consider.

One is also struck by the sheer breadth of Conrad's contacts with groups of Benedictine sisters. He would make visitations to convents in the Northwest on his trips to Mount Angel and he would stop regularly at the women's houses in the Dakotas on his return journey to Conception. The steady stream of correspondence from the superiors of these houses also attests to the esteem they had for his counsel. Although there were occasional differences of opinion with Conrad, the countless Benedictine women who worked with him remained unstinting in their respect and fondness for his care and grateful for his dedication to instilling Benedictine principles. Nonetheless, the demands of time and personal attention given by Conrad to the sisters resulted in less concentration and energy given to implementing his monastic ideal at Conception.

Connected to the energy drain of caring for Benedictine sisters and the life of his expositi, was the matter of the missions to the Native Americans of the Dakotas. This was another enterprise that Conrad never imagined as part of his monastic ideal, but took on because of the pressing need for personnel and the plaintive requests that came from his friend Martin Marty. Conrad accepted this work with some apprehension at first. It was a justifiable concern when one sees how it became a huge investment of resources on the part of Conception. But there was a genuine sense of dedication and sacrifice that Conrad himself projected in his support of the “Indian missions.” His frequent visits to the Dakotas and his personal interest in the culture and well-being of the Native Americans are immortalized in the work of Fathers Martin Kenel, Bede Marty, and Bernard Strassmeier.

Opposition Within and Responsibilities Without

An obstacle that did impede much of Conrad's ability to forge ahead with his plans for Conception was the opposition created within his own community to his monastic ideal. Foremost of those opposing voices was that of Father Adelhelm Odermatt. Soon after Odermatt occupied the parish house at nearby Maryville, it was evident that the two pioneers from Engelberg had radically different ideas of monastic life. It is hard to assess how much of Odermatt's opposition was based on his personal antipathy to Beuron and how much on a personal desire to start his own community. But he certainly was responsible for directing the letter writing campaign to Engelberg that led to Abbot Anselm Villiger's 1876 accusation of disloyalty with respect to Frowin Conrad. It also seemed to grease the skids for Odermatt's subsequent permission from Villiger to leave Missouri and found a “new and true” Engelberg on the West Coast. If one can judge by the tenor of Conrad's journal entries and letters, the personal grief caused by the Mount Angel enterprise was more painful even than the reproof from Villiger on Beuronese observances. Writing to Father Benedict Gottwald, then prior at Mount Angel in 1896, Conrad said:

“I cannot tell you how much it hurt me then and how abandoned I felt when Father Adelhelm and Father Nicholaus [Frei] set out with the blessing of Abbot Anselm [Villiger] to begin their own foundation. And even more the following year when they received the full approval and support of the [Engelberg] chapter for their enterprise. I was almost certain they would fail and I made no secret of this to Abbot Anselm.... I knew both of the men too well – in spite of their striking abilities – to be able to put faith in their beginning.”

To his credit, Conrad never ignored the needs of Mount Angel – even when its mountain of debts produced a promise from Engelberg that they could never provide any more funding for their American houses. He gave retreats to the Oregon community, presided at special visitations, corresponded extensively with their successive superiors and monks during their difficult early years. Conrad never expressed any bitterness or recrimination for what the outside observer can reasonably see as impudence and irresponsibility on the part of Mount Angel's founding members. There were a minority of monks at Mt. Angel who agreed with Conrad's desire to construct a fuller and stricter monastic observance at the Oregon foundation, but the tradition of activism remained in the ascendancy.

The Mount Angel experience was played out on a personal level with other Conception monks who preferred more pastoral work and less monastic asceticism. Conrad displayed remarkable equanimity in dealing with such opposition. In the process, he showed a priority of place for the individual soul over the collective ideal.

Another reason why the desired goal of a rich liturgical and claustral life did not fully come into being in Conrad's time as superior was the overwhelming weight of outside responsibility that he faced. One need only look at the early years of trips to Europe to beg for money and American circuit-riding in response to missions, retreats and visitations of monks living outside the community. This was compounded by Conrad's role as praeses of the Swiss-American Congregation from 1898-1922. There was simply not a great deal of consistent time that he could devote to Conception's individual needs. Nor did it help that he found it particularly difficult to delegate his own authority. One can't help but think that the chances of Conception realizing the monastic ideal of Conrad would have been helped in no small terms by a generation of apprentice leaders who would have been nurtured and empowered by their abbot.

On two accounts, Conrad's leadership model shows deficiencies. Not only for Conrad himself as abbot, but for his peers in the abbatial office, authority was not subject to assessment or challenge. As valid a spiritual principle as this is, it could not be squared with the very real situations of leadership crisis that Conrad confronted as Abbot President. In the face of significant community opposition to two abbots at Mount Angel (Thomas Meienhofer and Placid Fuerst) and at St. Mary's, Richardton (Vincent Wehrle and Placid Hoenerbach), Conrad refused to take action, allowing the course of events to erode the authority in both communities. The other deficiency can be categorized as a lack of good organization. He was not a person who found it easy to plan and order the details of running a community. A stickler for the letter of the law, he could not always see the broader sweep. Nor was he successful at engaging his fellow monks in the pursuit of a common purpose and coordinating their efforts.

Even though Conrad remained remarkably healthy for most of his time as abbot, his last decade as superior at Conception and Abbot President (1913-23) witnessed a clear diminishment of his capacity to carry out his duties. The bankruptcy and ensuing financial scandal in Richardton was in large part a result of his inaction from 1918-23. Had Conrad stepped down as president earlier or initiated steps for the election of an abbot/coadjutor several years prior to his successor Philip Ruggle's election in 1922, a difficult transition could have been smoothed considerably.

In his last years, some of Conception's monks were already able to apply a balance scale to Conrad's contribution. Writing shortly after their founder's death in 1923, Augustine Backhofen wrote:

“He was a well-meaning, pious man with a disciplinarian grasp. His hobby was plenty of ceremonies and devotion, a too one-sided imitation of the Beuronese tendencies, but he lacked to a great extent the organizing talent required of a great founder.... He never fully assimilated his mode of thinking and way of acting to the conditions prevailing here. Despite these shortcomings, he was certainly an earnest and true Benedictine who had the Divine service at heart, and endeavored, as he often said, to build up a genuine Benedictine house and a home of prayer.”

That may capture the strengths and limitations of Conrad's skills in promoting his monastic ideal as well as any other assessment.


If one indulges in the pastime of historical might-have-been, it is intriguing to conjecture what could have been the finished monastic product at Conception had Frowin Conrad been given a free hand to shape it according to his own design. But there was a more checkered reality that colored the half-century of Conrad's tenure at Conception. It was a reality marked by personal demands of bishops and brother Benedictines, the precariousness of economic survival, the alternate suspicion and reserve of the motherhouse, and the mercurial ebb and flow of new monastic vocations.

What strikes the observer of Conception's founding generation, however, is that such a firm monastic groundwork was able to be laid in spite of contrary factors. Much of the credit for that framework of stable and sage direction goes to Frowin Conrad. What came after Conrad's death in 1923 for Conception was no mere clone of their first superior. The Swiss and European-centered identity was being assimilated not only by a growing percentage of American recruits, but by superiors whose notions of leadership were far removed from the horizon of Conrad. Still, the stamp of Frowin Conrad as spiritual father, monastic visionary and exemplary monk was not to be discounted. It left Conception with a personalized model of monasticism that few communities could come close to matching. It is a heritage that deserves examination and emulation at a time in our history when our vision of the past too easily grows dim.