Abbot James Albers praises influence of family, monastic community
by Vaughn Kohler
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — When James Albers was a boy in Bendena, his parents would often point to his longtime parish pastor, Benedictine Father Augustine Rottering, as a shining example of the joyous experience of religious life.
“My mom and dad would often say ‘Look at Father Augustine,’” he said. “‘Doesn’t he look happy being a monk and priest?’”
Years later, when Albers entered the monastery, he was the youngest member of the St. Benedict’s Abbey community — and Father Augustine was the oldest.
“On my first day in the monastery, he pulled me aside,” he recalled. “He said, ‘I’ve been praying for this for a long time.’”
Now, Father Augustine has reason to be prouder still. On Dec. 28, 2012, the monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison elected Father James Robert Albers, OSB, their ninth abbot.
If you asked Abbot James how he came to that position, he would be quick to say he has accomplished nothing on his own. God brought him to that place in his life because of the love and support of others.
“I owe so much to my family,” he said, “not just my biological family, but also my confreres at St. Benedict’s Abbey.”
Abbot James was born in Ost, a small town west of Wichita, but grew up northwest of Atchison in Bendena, where his family belonged to St. Benedict Parish. He graduated from Midway-Denton High School in 1990 and Benedictine College in 1994. He entered the novitiate at St. Benedict’s Abbey in December 1995 and made his first profession on Dec. 8, 1996. Three years later, he made his solemn profession on Oct. 2, 1999.
After having studied at the Pontifical University of Sant’Anselmo in Rome from 1997-2000, he was ordained to the priesthood in July 2000. Following his ordination, he did a pastoral year at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Seneca and served as alumni director at Benedictine College from 2000 until his appointment as prior of the St. Benedict’s Abbey community in July 2002.
Abbot James believes his path from small-town Catholic boy to monk, priest and now abbot of the institution that co-founded Benedictine College and Maur Hill-Mount Academy is owed, firstly, to the influence of his family. Robert (Bob) and Elizabeth (Betty) Albers raised five children and gently encouraged each one of them to consider the religious life.
“Whenever my parents talked to me about what I wanted to do in life, they always mentioned a vocation to the religious life,” said Abbot James. “They wanted all of their children to know that a vocation to the religious life was as viable as any other option.”
The Albers family has ties to the Benedictine monks reaching back more than 150 years. As Abbot James’ family has influenced him, the monks have influenced his family.
“There are so many connections between my family and the Benedictines,” said Abbot James. “It is impossible to name all those who have greatly impacted us.”
In addition to Father Augustine, for example, “Father Meinrad Miller invited me to come to a weekend retreat in 1995 and encouraged me to discern my vocation,” said Abbot James. “And my predecessor, Abbot Barnabas Senecal, gave me a great example of compassion.”
“All of my brother monks have served and supported me in so many different ways,” he said. “My hope and prayer is to faithfully serve them as a spiritual father.”
As he begins his tenure, Abbot James is humbled by the demands of the position.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say I am a little scared by the responsibilities that are ahead of me,” he said. “I am very much counting on the prayers of many people and the support of my confreres.”
At the same time, he moves forward with resolve.
“In the Rule [of St. Benedict], the abbot is responsible for the souls of his brothers — to challenge the strong and to give the weak nothing to run from. We are on a journey together toward salvation, and my responsibility is my brothers.”
What is an abbatial election?
An abbatial election is a democratic process in which the monastic community gathers to cast ballots to elect a new abbot, the spiritual father of the community.
To prepare for the election, monks pray for discernment, read to become more acquainted with the process, and dedicate their prayers to God’s blessing on the election. In addition, a committee is appointed to oversee the process, and presenters from outside the abbey are invited to address the community on questions like “What kind of elector should a monk be?” or “What kind of electee should the future abbot be?”
The actual election is a twoday process. It begins with prayer; confirmation of the officials of the election and voting members; the naming of proxies for those absent; roll call; the taking of oaths; and the naming of candidates.
On the evening of the first day, there is a nominating ballot. Each monk may name two candidates by secret ballot. No candidate is allowed to campaign for votes. The community discusses each nominated candidate to see who, they believe, has the qualities necessary to lead the abbey.
On the second day, after the Mass of the Holy Spirit, the official voting process begins. Once the man is elected, the choice is left to him whether or not to take on the role. It is not forced upon anyone.
After he accepts and the election is confirmed, he is immediately the new abbot. The community goes to the church for a thanksgiving service.
Abbot James will receive the liturgical abbatial blessing from Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann on March 17.