Fr. Thomas Schnurr, the oldest priest and monk at St. Bernard Abbey, died peacefully at 6:05 p.m. on April 5 in his monastic cell in the infirmary area of the Abbey. Fr. Thomas, a native of Louisville, Ky., celebrated his 101st birthday last November 11th. He was active until the past few months when illness limited his ability to participate in the daily life of the monastic routine.
Fr. Thomas came to St. Bernard at the age of twelve as a “Minim,” a student in the seventh grade. At the age of 19 he entered St. Bernard as a novice in June 1926 and professed his first vows as a Benedictine monk one year later in June 1927. He was ordained to the priesthood in September 1932. After his ordination, Fr. Thomas attended Catholic University in Washington, D.C. where he attained his Masters degree in Philosophy in 1934 and did further studies toward a doctorate. He was also a member of the American Benedictine Academy, an academic society to promote the study of philosophy and theology.
In his priestly ministry Fr. Thomas served as pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Cullman from 1943 to 1947. He also served as chaplain to Sacred Heart Monastery, did weekend and summer ministry in parishes in North Alabama, especially at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Florence, Alabama, and St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Decatur, Alabama, Florida and Kentucky, and as chaplain to Benedictine Manor.
With the exception of his years of study as Catholic University and his extended assignment as pastor to Sacred Heart Parish in Cullman, Fr, Thomas resided at the abbey and taught Latin, Greek, German, philosophy and music. He also played in and directed the St. Bernard Symphony until its dissolution in the 1960s. In the abbey he served as archivist and worked on the abbey stamp collection. Fr. Thomas was an avid reader and kept current on the happenings in and around Cullman by reading The Cullman Times. For exercise and as a hobby he would work to preserve and clear the abbey forests and tend his garden, raising fruits and vegetable for the abbey. As the infirmities of age began to set in he had to withdraw from these activities.
By the numbers: 90 years ago Fr. Thomas came to St. Bernard; 82 years ago he became a monk; and 77 years ago he was ordained a Catholic priest.
Fr. Thomas was a repository for the lore and history of the early days of the growth and development of St. Bernard Abbey. As a teacher he was beloved by his students; as a priest he was a faithful minister of the gospel; as a monk he was a faithful witness to Benedictine values and the monastic way of life.
Abbot Cletus said Fr. Tom was a true saint at St. Bernard Abbey. “He was a good man, and people will always remember him as a man who went by the book. He was a true man of discipline. By his life and by his death: he showed us how to do it!”
The last living of five children, Fr. Tom is survived by a host of nieces and nephews.
The monks will receive his body on Tuesday, April 7 at 5:00 p.m. in the Abbey Church. Vespers for the Dead will be chanted held at 7:00 p.m. The Funeral Mass will be celebrated held at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday. Abbot Cletus said, “We welcome friends and family to join us as we celebrate the life of our beloved Fr. Thomas Schnurr.”