1891 German biography of Saint Vincent founder finally translated into English
In an 1854 letter to the archbishop of Munich, the Rev. Boniface Wimmer said the monastery that he had founded near Latrobe eight years earlier sometimes felt like Noah’s ark.
“All sorts of creatures from everywhere gather under our roof,” he wrote.
“Often, too, useless guests come, who disappear after a while or get sent away. To him who knocks, the door is opened. Some leave soon, others only after months. Some even return and are admitted again. Whoever stays is good,” Wimmer wrote.
The letter is one of many gems contained in the first English translation of a German biography of Wimmer originally published in 1891. The new translation of “Boniface Wimmer: Abbot of Saint Vincent in Pennsylvania” is available from Archabbey Publications.
The translation sheds light on one of the seminal figures of Benedictine monasticism in the United States, although there are “no new or surprising revelations” about Wimmer, according to the preface. There are, however, some personal details not recounted elsewhere.
The biography was translated primarily by longtime Latrobe resident Maria Von Mickwitz and edited by the Rev. Warren Murrman, longtime professor of theology and liturgy at Saint Vincent Seminary.
Murrman, 80, said the project started several years ago, with a request from Archabbot Douglas Nowicki that Von Mickwitz translate the historic German work into English, but dates back even earlier with Murrman’s translation of the letters of Boniface Wimmer.
“I had translated a little bit here, a little bit there,” Murrman said. “Then there was this little book in German that had never been translated and had gone out of the awareness even of people here at Saint Vincent.”
Von Mickwitz, 81, did the bulk of the translation, while Murrman contributed translated material, footnotes and a short biographical sketch of the original author, the Rev. Oswald Moosmueller.
Murrman said the English translation will be of interest to researchers, Catholic scholars, Benedictines and lay people who are interested in the history of the Catholic Church in 19th-century America and Western Pennsylvania.
Wimmer, a Benedictine priest from the Bavarian Abbey of Metten, came to America in 1846 with the goal of establishing the Order of Saint Benedict in the New World, according to Saint Vincent Archabbey.
Moosmueller, a Benedictine missionary monk, had written an earlier history of Saint Vincent and completed his biography of Wimmer in 1891, just four years after Wimmer’s death as Saint Vincent’s founding archabbot. The book originally appeared as a supplement to the German-language Catholic newspaper Der Wahrheitsfreund (The Friend of Truth), published in Cincinnati.
Von Mickwitz said she “fell in love” with the project and spent about 250 hours translating and proofreading.
“It is one of the best projects in my whole entire life. It was a lot of work, but I still enjoyed it. I almost know it by heart,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in Saint Vincent’s, so it was just the most congenial, most satisfying project I’ve had in a long time.”
A native of Bavaria, Germany, Von Mickwitz moved to Western Pennsylvania in 1952 after her father got a job with an industrial ceramics company in Latrobe. She went on to a career as a child psychologist and, since her retirement 10 years ago, has spent time translating historical material from German into English for Saint Vincent Archabbey.
A native of Jeannette, Murrman learned German in high school at Saint Vincent Preparatory School. He later spent five years in Germany studying theology at the University of Munich and liturgical science at the Liturgical Institute in Trier, Germany.
Murrman just completed his 50th year teaching at Saint Vincent Seminary and is professor emeritus of theology and liturgy.
Asked the most difficult part of the project, Von Mickwitz said, “The man wrote in sentences that covered a paragraph.”
The book is available for $21, plus $2 shipping, by writing Archabbey Publications, 300 Fraser Purchase Road, Latrobe, PA 15650. It also is available online at www.stvincentstore.com and through Amazon.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .