Deepening Union: A Benedictine Commitment
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Transitions of 1924
In 1924, for the first time in Oestreich's experience, his ascendancy stalled. The problem began when, in June of that year, Hintemeyer sailed for Rome. Leo Haid, aged and ill by this time, had asked Father Felix to serve as proxy for the bishop's (overdue) visit ad limina. Hintemeyer debarked at Naples, intending to stay at Montecassino before traveling to Rome. This was to be but the first stop in a six-month journey across Europe, dedicated to advertising Haid's eminence and accomplishments. So Oestreich, still at Belmont, was unprepared for the news he received in early July. It came in a letter from Fr. Mauro Inguanez (1887-1955), Montecassino's guest master, dated July 1. Therein, Inguanez advised Fr. Thomas of Hintemeyer's death.39 It was only the first of the shocks to be suffered that month. Next, at about the same time, Oestreich's health broke, and his abbot wisely relieved him of the office of rector in the college. Then, before month's end, Haid, too, was dead. In a four-week period, Oestrich had lost his closest friend, lost the abbot whose vision he had taken as his own, and he had been required to relinquish his responsibility for guiding his monastery's educational venture. Three of the primary hallmarks in his life had been uprooted.
One can only imagine how these losses affected Fr. Thomas. He left no account of his experience. Knowing his allegiance to both men, however, and to his academic work, the transitions of 1924 were surely burdensome. For more than a quarter century, Haid, Hintemeyer, and Oestreich had been the defining coalition in Belmont's labors. Theirs was an unbreakable bond that had addressed all of the necessary components in their abbey's community life and identity. Now, life at Belmont--both the community's and Fr. Thomas' as the survivor--had entered a period of redefinition.
In the period after the deaths of Fr. Felix and Abbot Leo, Oestreich's disposition and constitution continued to weaken. Overwork aggravated his condition. Another factor in Fr. Thomas' decline arose with the election of Haid's successor. The selection of Belmont's second abbot produced unforeseen results. In August, Father Vincent Taylor (1877-1959) was named abbot-elect. Apparently, that choice struck Oestreich disagreeably. He grew increasingly unsettled in the aftermath, until around 1935 when he left Belmont for St. Leo's Abbey in Florida. Reasons for his departure remain unclear. St. Leo was a regular destination for Belmont monks in weak health; that might explain his departure, at least partially. Correspondence of the period suggests, however, that Fr. Thomas gave serious consideration to transferring stability to the younger abbey.40 In a letter written to Abbot Vincent, Abbot Francis Sadlier (1889-1962),41 Florida's superior, wrote, "The request that he [Fr. Thomas] should go back to Belmont upset him very much and caused him to feel very blue." Sadlier and Oestreich discussed the matter, though, allowing the younger man to be reconciled to the demands of his vocation to Belmont. Abbot Francis continued, "We talked the matter over and he realizes where the fault is and I am confident it will be all right and no furtherdevelopment. You may write him that everything is serene and he need not worry about'causing any trouble.'"42 Abbot Vincent, a man known for his pastoral skills, seems to have responded well. Returning to Belmont, and embarking on a new chapter of productive service, Fr. Thomas resumed teaching, again headed the seminary, and even served as Abbot Vincent's secretary.
39AAM, M59 Thomas Oestreich, #1. Letter from Mauro Inguanez, O.S.B. (Montecassino) to Fr. Thomas Oestreich, July 1, 1924. In this letter, Inguanez commented on his own affection for Hintemeyer, saying "The doctors did their best to save him . . . it seems to me that I lost one of my own family." return