Deepening Union: A Benedictine Commitment

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Later years and final thoughts

As the 1930s progressed, Oestreich's health continued to decline. Although there is no evidence that he complained or sought exemptions, he seems to have begun suffering increasingly from the weight of his responsibilities and the resultant exhaustion. Finally, he was forced to renounce his several occupations at the abbey. Oestreich was sent to Saint Joseph Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. There, the Sisters of Mercy of Belmont nursed him while he, as the hospital's chaplain, ministered to the patients. In a half-century of priestly life, this was, strictly speaking, Oestreich's first parochial assignment. Finally, in his senior years, he could say that he had labored in every aspect of Belmont Abbey's mission, in monastic, educational, and pastoral service. In this new assignment, as in the ones of earlier years, Oestreich labored unreservedly and without complaint. He died in Asheville on November 15, 1943, and was returned to Belmont for burial in the abbey's cemetery.43

At Belmont Abbey, the leadership of Fr. Thomas Oestreich is acknowledged still, fifty-nine years after his passing. He was truly a championed leader, remembered more for his example than for any of the specific jobs he held. In particular, he gave himself fully to the vision of his abbot, enriching the schools with his teaching, and administrative skills. From the day he arrived at Saint Mary's College in 1888 to the day he was laid to rest in 1943, no aspect of his life can be told without mentioning the abbey and the Benedictines. They were at the center of his work; they were the principle that informed his scholarship, the breadth of his aspirations and love. They formed his life and built his character.

That is why Oestreich is still cited as an example at Belmont before students, faculty, monks, of us all, to this day. He led by the strength of his dedication and by his wise embrace of the full dimension of his Benedictine commitment. Fr. Thomas recognized, as his mother had said in 1891, that he belonged at Belmont, that "God gave him a vocation, and he must stay."

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43The archivist of Sacred Heart Convent (Belmont, NC) was unable to uncover the exact dates of Fr. Thomas'residence at the hospital in Ashville. return

© 2003 by The American Benedictine Academy /