Deepening Union: A Benedictine Commitment
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Beginnings as a Benedictine
On June 24, 1892, just two weeks after graduation, the twenty-year-old Oestreich entered the novitiate of Maryhelp Abbey. When he had announced his aspiration to become a Benedictine, the boy's mother sent a letter to Leo Haid, saying, "Willie Oestreich belongsto you. If God gave him a vocation he must stay with you. . . . [We] give him to God and trustthat God's Providence will provide for [him], as has been the case in the past."16 The monastic community promptly received Oestreich. Evidence suggests that Abbot Leo Haid recognized the young man's promise and the prospects that his character and intellect contributed to his vocation.17 In response, there arose in Frater (Brother) Thomas the first stirrings of his life-long personal fidelity to Leo Haid, and to Haid's Benedictine vision. Three decades later, Oestreich articulated the qualities that he found so appealing in his abbot:
he [Leo Haid] devoted himself with characteristic energy to the upbuilding of his vicariate. He gave special care to the education of priests for North Carolina, with untiring activity promoted the erection of churches, schools and charitable institutions in all parts of the state and elsewhere in the South.18
For Oestreich, these activities--each given unreservedly and without holding back-- gave substance to the calling he and Haid shared.
After professing his simple vows on June 30, 1893,19 Frater Thomas immediately began priesthood studies in Belmont's seminary. Haid and Hintemeyer were the leading professors for the clerics at that time. During this period, it appears that these three men formed a close bond and a shared respect that would enrich both them and Maryhelp from that time onward.20
On June 13, 1897, Frater Thomas was ordained a priest. Then, in early October, Abbot Haid sent Oestreich to Rome for advanced studies. It was the first time a monk of Belmont had been sent to a Roman athenaeum. Setting sail on the Auguste-Victoria, a passenger ship of the Hamburg-American Line,21 Oestreich was on his way to experiencing an undertaking that was consequential for him and for his abbey and its college.
16AAM, letter from Father George Borbermann to Abbot Leo Haid, November 27,1891 (A1.0, #1. Correspondence 1884-1899). Because Mrs. Oestreich (an émigré) was probably not fluent in writing, Fr. George Borbermann wrote the letter for her. return