Abbot Owen Purcell, OSB, a monk of St. Benedict’s Abbey died Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, in his room at the Abbey fortified by the sacraments. His brother monks and numerous friends had been keeping vigil with him during the previous week.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Abbot Owen will be celebrated in St. Benedict’s Abbey Church at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, November 13, at with interment following in the Abbey cemetery. Vespers for the Dead, followed by visitation, will be prayed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, in St. Benedict's Abbey Church. The Arensberg-Pruett Funeral Home is in charge of the final arrangements. Memorials in honor of Abbot Owen may be sent to St. Benedict’s Abbey, 1020 North Second Street, Atchison, KS 66002.
Abbot Owen was born on July 25, 1931, in Leavenworth, the son of Thomas and Martha (Michalak) Purcell. He graduated from Immaculata High School in 1949. Having met monks from Atchison who came to Leavenworth, he was inspired to enroll at St. Benedict’s College that fall. Feeling the call to embrace the monastic life, Abbot Owen entered the novitiate on July 10, 1951, and professed first vows on July 11, 1952. After completing his college studies at St. Benedict’s College in 1954, cum laude, he studied for the priesthood here at the Abbey. He professed solemn vows on July 11, 1955, was ordained a deacon on May 26, 1956, and was ordained a priest on May 30, 1957, in St. Benedict’s Church by Archbishop Edward Hunkeler.
Abbot Owen’s response to God’s call would allow him to be a vessel of God’s infinite mercy to countless people.
He began a fruitful apostolate at Maur Hill Preparatory School in 1958, interrupted in 1960-1961 to receive a master’s degree in Latin from St. Louis University. Abbot Thomas asked Abbot Owen to take on the role of Cleric Master and Subprior, which he carried out faithfully from 1966 through 1969. In 1969 he returned to Maur Hill, where he would serve as a teacher and prefect through 1980.
In 1978 Abbot Brendan asked him, in addition to his role as Chaplain at Maur Hill, to take on the role of Chaplain for the sisters at Mount St. Scholastica Monastery and to serve as chaplain at Valley Hope, a center here in Atchison for helping people overcome addictions to alcohol and drugs. His experience gave him a great compassion for people who came to him for help. He was able to share with many the fruits of his own struggle with addiction.
In 1980 Abbot Ralph asked Abbot Owen to serve as Prior and Novice Master of the Abbey. During these years the community renovated the monastery, introduced our current Liturgy of the Hours books, and worked to strengthen the monastic life. For one semester in the fall of 1986, he served as an adjunct Latin professor at Benedictine College. On enrollment day he could be heard calling out to students: Latin anyone?
On Dec. 28, 1989, the monks elected Abbot Owen as the community’s seventh Abbot. Dr. William Hyland, a professor of medieval history in the college at the time, said that he remembers Abbot Owen’s definition of a monk: “the goal of his life as a monk is to live transparently; that is, what they see when they meet you is what is also going on inside. No veils, no hypocrisy.”
Following his resignation as Abbot in the spring of 1994, he would help on the grounds and go out to plant trees with Father Hilary. In 1995 Abbot Barnabas asked him to take on pastoral ministry. In coming years he would serve as pastor at St. Mary, St. Benedict; St. Bede, Kelly; St. Patrick, Corning; St. Ann, Effingham; and St. Louis, Good Intent. From 2003 to 2005 Abbot Barnabas asked him to serve as Junior Master for the Abbey. From 2009 to 2012 he served as the chaplain at the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, and as chaplain for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. During that time he also served in prison ministry at the Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth.
The love that people had for Abbot Owen was evidenced by the number of people who came from all over in his final days to give their farewell to him, including sisters, parishioners, friends, former students, and people helped by his wise counsel. Many of the members of the basketball team from the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth came to express their appreciation for their team chaplain.
Abbot Owen was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by the monks of the Abbey, the sisters at the Mount, and the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth whom he served faithfully, and countless friends.