Born: August 20, 1933
Professed: July 11, 1954
Ordained: September 19, 1959
Died: December 30, 2018
Peter Vincent Nolan was the sixth of eight children born to Michael James and Anne Marie (Connolly) Nolan in Bronx, New York, on August 20, 1933. Peter savored a proud Irish heritage with his father and mother hailing from County Galway, Ireland. Both of his parents were deeply religious. He later wrote of his mother, “The memory of her is a source of great pride and humility.” Of his father, he later reflected: “It is his deeds that tell of his devotion, and they speak very well.” He attended Our Lady of the Assumption Parish Catholic School (1939–1947) and then enrolled at Cathedral College High School in Manhattan (1947–1951).
From a very early age, Peter wanted to become a priest, even though he struggled with the choice of religious order: “I wanted to be a priest. And I wanted to do God’s will. And that was all. If the Benedictines could help me to do both, then I would be a Benedictine.”
Peter began his undergraduate education at Saint John’s University in 1951, graduating with a baccalaureate degree in philosophy in 1956. Taking the monastic name of Kieran, he professed his first vows in 1954, with solemn profession three years later, in 1957. Following the prescribed priesthood course of studies, Kieran was ordained in 1959. Father Kieran began teaching theology and divinity courses at Saint John’s University as early as 1963 after completing a doctorate in moral theology at the University of Munich in Germany that same year.
In the academic year 1971–1972, Father Kieran took a sabbatical at the Institute of Religion and Human Development in Houston, Texas. He then returned to Saint John’s where he taught theology to undergraduates, graduate students, and those enrolled in the divinity school. In 1972 he was appointed director of campus ministry at Saint John’s University, along with pastor of Saint John the Baptist Parish in Collegeville. After his stint in campus ministry in 1975, he became rector and dean of Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary.
Father Kieran played a pivotal role in conceiving and initiating what was to become the Permanent Diaconate Program of the United States Catholic Bishops Conference, Washington, D.C. The first workshop for candidates was held at Saint John’s in August 1969, with the program itself getting off the ground at Saint John’s that fall. It was the first of its kind in the country, and Father Kieran was its first director.
As an official ministry in the early church, the permanent diaconate was restored by the Second Vatican Council, only later to be approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) for this country in 1969. One of the reasons (but not the sole rationale) for its restoration seems to have stemmed from the increasing shortage of priests in the mid-1960s. Once off the ground, similar platforms soon blossomed in dioceses throughout the United States, and it has since become a very successful program. The fortieth anniversary for the first permanent diaconate program at Saint John’s—highlighting Father Kieran’s central role—was celebrated in 2009.
Upon completion of his positions of director of campus ministry (1975), pastor of Saint John the Baptist (1978), and rector and dean of the School of Divinity (1980), Father Kieran was appointed subprior of Saint John’s Abbey in 1982 where he served through 1985.
Father Kieran was pleased to be assigned to Saint Anselm’s Priory and Parish in the Meguro district of Tokyo, Japan, in 1986 to become a member of this small community established by Saint John’s in 1947. In March 1988 Father Kieran was appointed prior of the community until November 1999. It was during Father Kieran’s leadership that the monks decided to move from the inner city of Tokyo to Fujimi, a small city about a hundred miles west of Tokyo. This decision was motivated by the need to attract vocations. The newly relocated monastery was blessed in November 1999 and renamed Trinity Benedictine Monastery.
In 2009 Father Kieran was diagnosed in Japan with Parkinson’s disease that was progressively debilitating, and in May 2011 he returned to Saint John’s Abbey where he endeared himself to the Abbey Health Center staff and community with his positive attitude and inspiring presence. Throughout his monastic life, Father Kieran showed his love of God by his generous and thoughtful caring and garnered support in his leadership responsibilities through his keen insight, large vision, respect for colleagues and all peoples, love of life and infectious humor with an Irish glint. He favored the color green. Even though physically challenged, Father Kieran was a regular participant in community prayer and worship.
Father Kieran died on December 30, 2018, in the retirement center at Saint John’s Abbey. He is survived by two sisters, Rita Olsson and Mary Jeanine Nolan, and three brothers, Augustine, Matthew, and Bernard; and the community at Saint John’s Abbey. The monks, family, and friends will celebrate the Eucharist of Christian Burial for Father Kieran at 10:30 am on Saturday, January 5 in Saint John’s Abbey and University Church with interment in Saint John’s Cemetery following the service.
Abbot John Klassen OSB and the monks of Saint John’s Abbey