Brother Willibald (Isidor) Gegg OSB was born on 23 March 1934 in Bergen, Germany near Neuburg on the Danube River, as the son of the farmer Konrad Gegg and his wife Walburga, née Schlamp. His parents had eight more children. In Bergen, he often attended elementary school from 1940 to 1948, however his schooling frequently was interrupted by the events of World War II. His matriculation certificate referred to him as a “very quiet” student. The young Isidor then moved to the local vocational school, which he completed in 1950. Subsequently, he worked as an agricultural assistant on the farm of his brother-in-law, and later on his parents’ farm. From 1953 to 1955, he attended the Agricultural School in Neuburg an der Donau, where the final report highlighted his skills in practical activities.
He made initial contact with Sankt Ottilien through his younger brother Gregor, who already had entered the Archabbey in 1955. On his entrance application in March 1958, he wrote that “after much deliberation and scrutiny” he decided to become “a coworker in the vineyard of the Lord”. His home priest stated in a cover letter to the application that the candidate was “modest and quiet”. The following month, he arrived at Sankt Ottilien. There he received the religious name “Willibald” after the Anglo-Saxon missionary and first bishop of his home diocese, Eichstätt. He finished the novitiate on 9 May 1960, and following three years of temporary vows, he made his Solemn Profession on 9 June 1963. Immediately after entry to the monastery, Brother Willibald had begun training as a gardener, completing his trade test on 4 October 1961. He was active in this area until July 1973, at which time he had to shift his duties on short notice to the chicken yard (Hühnerhof), where a brother had dropped out. Since he had no prior knowledge, he had to teach himself chicken husbandry and over the decades developed into a true expert in all related issues. Through immense diligence and great thrift, he developed the chicken yard into a lucrative farm with specialties of pullet rearing and egg production. Using a small van, he brought the chickens himself to small animal owners in the area, and wearing his worker’s cap, he was for many a familiar part of the townscape of Sankt Ottilien. The care of the chicken yard required work seven days per week, and he did so with great reliability and punctuality. He practically never took a vacation.
Brother Willibald was disrupted twice from his regular daily routine by severe accidents. In 1984, an insane man took a hatchet from him and inflicted severe head injuries, which left him with a scar on his forehead for the rest of his life. In 2008, he fell down a staircase and then had to struggle with permanent pain from a vertebral injury. With considerable tenacity, he overcame these and other health difficulties.
In 1999, he asked for a successor to be appointed, as his strength was waning. Even with a committed brother at his side, he continued his previous work, from which he pulled back in his old age, especially after a prolonged hospitalization at the beginning of this year. However, he helped during the last year of his life in other areas such as the scullery or the apple harvest.
By his manners, Brother Willibald was a true “Ottilian”: enormously industrious and reliable, sober, speaking no superfluous words and always satisfied, since he made no demands. He was gifted with a rather dry sense of humor that was not always transparent. His choir duties were a matter of the heart, and you saw him — as befitted his restrained nature — regularly in one of the back benches of the side choir. At the beginning of 2019, one of the medical examinations discovered that he had advanced cancer, which weakened him and eventually left him bedridden, something that he patiently accepted. During a visit shortly before his death, he said in his direct manner about the upcoming farewell: “That’s part of it.”
Brother Willibald died peacefully in the afternoon of Thursday 9 May, accompanied by his community and the staff of the infirmary at Sankt Ottilien. Over the past several years, his strength had subsided more and more. He expected death consciously and accepted it with calm composure. He died on his 59th anniversary of monastic profession. The always tirelessly active brother is now able to rest in peace!
A Requiem funeral Mass will be held on Tuesday, 14 May 2019 at 10.30 a.m., in the abbey church of Sankt Ottilien. We ask a kind remembrance of Brother Willibald in your prayers. May he live in the everlasting joy of our heavenly Father!
Archabbot Wolfgang and the monastic community of Sankt Ottilien