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Monday, December 1, 2014

50 Years Ago: "Sie werden in Kremsmuenster anfangen."

In a slightly later photo, Father Oliver Kapsner, OSB, types a manuscript
description on an inventory card to go on the microfilm.

We last visited with Father Oliver Kapsner, OSB, in Einsiedeln Abbey, Switzerland, where he was facing the prospect of an early return to the United States, with only very limited results to show for his travels to several European Benedictine monasteries. The hoped-for, bigger collections at Monte Cassino, Saint Gall and Einsiedeln refused his request to microfilm their precious manuscripts. He announced in a letter dated November 7, 1964, that he was about to embark on a five-week tour of Austrian monastic houses in hopes of finding some support there. So, exactly 50 years ago at this time (mid-November to mid-December 1964), Father Oliver was on the road. I have not yet found exact dates for his stops in Austria, so I don't have exact dates for the events described below. Suffice it to say that we are likely now (in December 2014) at the 50-year mark for the real "start" of the work in Austria! Here is Father Oliver's account, as he himself recounted the events. This account later appeared in two different publications (Scriptorium, vol. 25, 1986, and A Sense of Place, vol. 2):

1986-12 Scriptorium Volume 25 Christmas 090

 "My first stop in Austria was at Saint Peter’s Archabbey in Salzburg. The abbot was most gracious and felt favorably inclined towards our project but hinted that not all Austrian abbeys felt the same way. In fact, he said that two abbeys had telephoned him to inform me that I need not come there at all. But he signed a written agreement to indicate his willingness. Lambach Abbey was the next stop. There the abbot had just been deposed, and there was no librarian; hence, not much could be accomplished."

"The next stop was Kremsmünster Abbey. When I arrived, the porter immediately told me that the abbot wanted to speak to me on the phone, whereupon I was set for the next treat of bad news. But his first words on the phone were: Willkommen in Kremsmünster. Sie werden in Kremsmünster anfangen (“Welcome to Kremsmünster. You will begin your work here”). Brother, what a day that was for me, to hear such good news with my own ears. The abbot, Albert Bruckmayr, was newly elected four months previously. In Rome he had been a classmate of Fr. Vitus Bucher. He said that after all that Saint John’s had done for them during the hard years after World War II, it just would not be right to turn Saint John’s down now. Here I also learned that during the general chapter of the Austrian Benedictine Congregation in the summer of 1964, Abbot Baldwin’s offer was considered and was turned down. Ironically, the instigator for this unfavorable decision was the librarian from Kremsmünster, who had recently attended a convention in Munich where the director of the mighty Bayerische Staatsbibliothek had thundered against fulfilling requests coming from other countries to photograph whole portions of their manuscript collections. So the assembled Austrian abbots simply said that if the librarians don’t want it, that’s it. Ever so fortunately, the aged abbot president of the Austrian Congregation neglected to inform Abbot Baldwin of this decision. If he had done so, I would not have left for Europe."

"When Abbot Albert informed their librarian of his decision to let us begin our work at Kremsmünster, the librarian turned about completely and was totally cooperative. He even went out of his way to improve the reading of the agreement which I was presenting for signing, making a few minor modifications, and rendering the German more elegant. He then also duplicated enough copies for my use during the rest of my trip. Next, he asked why we planned to contact only Benedictine monasteries in Austria? Why not also the Austrian Cistercian, Augustinian, and Premonstratensian abbeys? I told him that I had no objection whatever if that would be arranged. So the next day he himself accompanied me to Sankt Florian, a famous Augustinian abbey thirty miles away that possessed an excellent manuscript collection. And a contract was signed at Sankt Florian."
Undated photo of a microfilm camera, probably taken at Saint John's University.

"The sky was beginning to clear before me. Three monasteries had signed the agreement. Now negotiations were considerably easier. First, Michaelbeuern signed, then Seitenstetten, then Melk, then Göttweig (the abbot of Göttweig was also the new administrator of Lambach, so he signed for Lambach). From Göttweig the Cistercian abbey of Zwettl lay to the north, and another Cistercian abbey, Lilienfeld, to the south, both of which signed. I met a Cistercian monk at Lambach who also encouraged me to visit the Cistercian abbeys in Austria, gave me their names, locations, and directions for reaching them conveniently on my visitation tour of the Benedictine abbeys. Then I was off to Schottenstift in Vienna, which signed the agreement. There too the librarian was most gracious to me. One day he accompanied me to Klosterneuburg of Augustinian canons ten miles north of Vienna, which signed the agreement."

"The following day he accompanied me to the Cistercian abbey of Heiligenkreuz, twenty miles south of Vienna, which signed. Only here the abbot, who had a reputation as a stickler, required that I obtain a letter for him from my abbot showing that I was duly authorized to do this work. The Austrian Benedictine abbots had all received such notification beforehand. From Vienna I went way down to the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Paul in Lavanttal in Kärnten. At first, the abbot hesitated but then did sign the agreement."

"Then came my last stop, Admont, where the librarian was vehemently opposed to our project. The kind abbot called a meeting of the Small Chapter to which I was invited to explain our offer. The meeting ended with the signing of the agreement."

"Now I could return to Einsiedeln on December 20 to relax a bit and to enjoy Christmas. What a Christmas gift I had in my bag: fifteen Austrian abbeys had signed the agreement: ten Benedictine, three Cistercian, two Augustinian. and the big break had come when least expected."

Bookplate in the Saint John's University bookplate collection, showing the interior of the
Kremsmuenster Abbey Library, from about the year 1899.


When we next return to hear more from Father Oliver, he will be back at Einsiedeln for a Christmas break! In the coming months I hope to return occasionally to his story with posts on the preparations to start the microfilming in January-March 1965 and the start-up of the microfilming in April 1965.