Archabbot Paul R. Maher, O.S.B., the tenth archabbot of Saint Vincent Archabbey, died Thursday, June 29. He was 91 years old. A native of Latrobe, he served as archabbot from 1983 to 1990.
As archabbot of Saint Vincent, he served as chairman of the Benedictine Society of Westmoreland County, chancellor of Saint Vincent College and Seminary, chairman of the Saint Vincent College Corporation and member of the Saint Vincent College Board of Directors.
In 1991 he was awarded the Saint Vincent College Presidential Medal of Honor for his lifelong service to the Saint Vincent Community.
Archabbot Paul received his early schooling in Latrobe, where he attended Holy Family School and was an altar server in Holy Family Parish. Having completed elementary school, he went to Saint Vincent Preparatory School for his secondary education. He graduated from Saint Vincent Prep in 1943, in the middle of the Second World War. As a teenager, he had been considering the priesthood and had the option of entering the seminary at Saint Vincent after graduation from prep school, but he said that at the time he “was not sure enough to take that step.”
In 1943, four of his older brothers were in the U.S. Army. Influenced by them, and having just turned 18 years old, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. For the next two years he served in the European Theater as tail gunner on a B-24 bomber. He flew 21 combat missions over southern Germany and Austria and was honorably discharged at the end of the war.
Just as he had been influenced by his four older brothers to serve in the military, so now the influence of his older brother William, who had become a diocesan priest, and his older sister Rita, who became a Religious Sister of Mercy nun, helped him reach the decision to study for the Benedictine priesthood.
In 1945 he returned to Saint Vincent and began his studies at Saint Vincent College as a candidate for the Benedictine Order. In 1947 he was admitted to the Order as a novice and made his simple profession of monastic vows on July 2, 1948. He professed solemn vows three years later, on July 11, 1951.
Archabbot Paul received his A.B. Degree from Saint Vincent College in 1950 and immediately began his studies of theology in Saint Vincent Seminary. In 1951 Archabbot Denis Strittmatter, O.S.B. sent the young Benedictine brother to Rome to complete his theological studies at the Pontifical Atheneum of Sant’ Anselmo. Two years later, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Placido Nicolini, O.S.B., at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi on June 21, 1953. After ordination, he continued graduate studies at Sant’ Anselmo for another four years, earning a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1957.
Upon completion of his doctorate, Father Paul returned to Saint Vincent, where he taught philosophy in the College and Seminary from 1957 to 1966, serving as chairman of the College’s Department of Philosophy from 1961 to 1966.
During his years of teaching at Saint Vincent, he also served as moderator of one of the College’s residence halls (1958 to 1960), socius (superior) of the monastery’s junior monks (1960 to 1963), and vice rector of Saint Vincent Seminary (1963 to 1966).
In 1966, Archabbot Paul was named prior (superior) of Saint Vincent’s mission to China and a member of the faculty of Fu Jen Catholic University, Taiwan. He remained in Taiwan as monastic superior and university professor for 17 years.
In 1983, the Benedictine community of Saint Vincent Archabbey was scheduled to conduct an election to choose the successor to Archabbot Leopold Krul, O.S.B., who had retired from the office upon reaching the canonical age of 65. At the time Prior Paul had returned home to Saint Vincent from Taiwan for what he thought would be “a routine summer visit.” His visit coincided with the abbatial election, and to his astonishment his confreres at Saint Vincent elected him Archabbot Leopold’s successor and tenth Archabbot of Saint Vincent.
In 2012 he reminisced: “After the nomination ballot, someone joked with me about becoming the new abbot. I told him I had enough votes to be flattered but not enough to be elected, so I wasn’t worried.” On the second ballot of the election, however, he was chosen with more than two-thirds of the votes cast in his favor. In his reminiscence he said he was “surprised and somewhat daunted.” He had packed enough only for a brief visit to the United States and had left all his other clothes in Taiwan. But he decided that this was the Lord’s way of reminding him that like every Christian he was on a journey and that as a monk he really needed no more than he had packed.
The election took place on June 7, 1983, and on June 30, 1983, Archabbot Paul received the abbatial blessing in the Archabbey Basilica from Bishop William G. Connare of Greensburg. Among those present at his blessing were Archbishop Rembert Weakland, O.S.B., of Milwaukee; Bishop Norbert Gaughan, auxiliary bishop of Greensburg; Bishop Rene Gracida of Corpus Christi, Texas; and the two retired Archabbots of Saint Vincent, Archabbot Egbert Donovan, O.S.B., and Archabbot Leopold Krul, O.S.B.
During his tenure as superior of Saint Vincent, Archabbot Paul led the community through a thorough reassessment of its apostolic commitments in the light of declining numbers of young men entering the Archabbey’s novitiate and worked successfully to balance the Archabbey’s budget. The reassessment resulted in the community’s firm recommitment to its apostolic work in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Brazil and China, where the monks carried on their traditional activities in education, pastoral care and the missions.
It was also during Archabbot Paul’s tenure and under his direction that the administrative structure of Saint Vincent College was reorganized, the academic programs were expanded and improved and the College became a coeducational institution.
Mark W. McGinnis, author of the book The Wisdom of the Benedictine Elders, described Archabbot Paul as a “very intelligent, highly experienced abbot who has the demeanor, gentleness and openness of an ideal priest.” His brother monks would agree with this and add that he was an ideal monk: humble, generous, thoughtful of others and devoted to the Benedictine life of prayer and work.
In the interview McGinnis did of him for the book published in 2005, the Archabbot described his vision of the Benedictine life and the values that embodied for him Benedictine prayer and work:
“As abbot my goal was to enable individual monks to best use their gifts and talents. When that worked and I could see it happening in the monk and within the community, it was very satisfying. It is rewarding to see a young man come as a novice and get a feel for where he is at that time, and then watch him evolve academically, monastically, and spiritually. It may almost be like a couple watching their kids grow up … The values that motivate our work are the love of God and love of our neighbor. More specifically and within the Rule of Saint Benedict, hospitality is a very important value for us. Hospitality must be shown not just toward guests but toward our students and all others we have contact with. The Rule of Saint Benedict forms the foundation of our life. There are parts [of it], where the moderation and humaneness of Benedict come through, that have a special significance for me.”
Following his retirement in 1990, Archabbot Paul became a parish assistant at Saint Benedict Church, Carrolltown, Pennsylvania, where he resided until 1996. He returned to the Archabbey that year to serve as guestmaster and archivist until 2009.
Archabbot Paul was the son of the late William A. Maher and Edna G. (Hunt) Maher. He was one of 12 children, two of whom are currently residing in Latrobe: Robert A. Maher and Joseph Maher. Six brothers – Monsignor William J., John F., Edward, J. Roger, Richard and Leon Maher – and three sisters – Regina Atkinson, Sister Rita Maher, R.S.M. and Loretta Maher – are deceased.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Benedictine Health and Welfare Fund, Saint Vincent Archabbey, 300 Fraser Purchase Road, Latrobe, PA 15650-2690.
Photo: Archabbot Paul R. Maher, O.S.B.