Jon Hassler Memorial, Saint John's Abbey, April 30, 2008
Jon came to Blue Cloud Abbey for the first time on March 2, 1973. He was teaching at Brainerd Community College then. Joe Plut, my friend and classmate here at St. John's, was also on the Brainerd faculty. He suggested that Jon check out Blue Cloud Abbey
From then on, Jon visited Blue Cloud every year and spent several days working on the manuscript of the moment. Parts of every novel from Staggerford to The Dean's List were written at Blue Cloud.
from My Staggerford Journal-March 10, 1977: Blue Cloud Abbey, South Dakota: Brain operated yesterday at half speed. Revised two and a half chapters of Jenny-a superficial revision, two brand-new sentences on page 1 exhausting my creativity. Drank less brandy with my friend Brother Benet, last night so today I will do better. (I had the key to the liquor closet)
Today two young artists, Brother Micah and Brother Sebastian, showed me their weaving. Sebastian introduced me to Sister Somebody, his cousin, saying, 'Jon is a writer.' My reaction was embarrassment. I'll have to get over that.
Said Father Francis, the guestmaster, this morning, as I passed through the lounge reading a manuscript page, 'Are you finding enough peace and quiet?'
'Plenty. It's great,' I said.
This is what the abbey has, besides prayer, to offer-peace and quiet. Who where I come from understands this value? Who here does? On the outside, peace and quiet don't exist. Here it is so plentiful as to be held cheap. Only outsiders coming in can take its measure, weigh its worth.
Before leaving to go home, Jon would have a reading from the work-in-progress for the monks and any guests who were at the abbey. The first public reading of Jon's play The Staggerford Murders, was done at Blue Cloud Abbey for an audience of men and women who were attending a workshop conducted by the Presentation Sisters. Some of the women were in the cast along with monks and Joe Plut, who had accompanied Jon to Blue Cloud.
Retreatants and guests were often pleasantly surprised to discover at Blue Cloud Abbey the presence of one of their favorite writers. In 1979, Jon became an Oblate of St. Benedict affiliated with our community. This was before he had returned to St. John's as a writer-in-residence. I was our Oblate Director then and still am. For his oblate name, Jon took Leo-the name of his father. Jon's father and mine were grocers. Jon and I also had something else in common-we had Irish mothers and that no doubt explains our great love for Ireland.
Jon encouraged and inspired me when it came to my own writing. He had me send a novella manuscript of my own to his editor in New York. She replied that it was worthy of publication but made some suggested changes. I made them and entered the manuscript in a literary contest. It was one of the two fiction entries chosen for publication. When my book The View from a Monastery, a monastic memoir, was published in 1999, Jon reviewed it for The St. Paul Pioneer Press. The publisher quoted that review for a blurb on the paperback edition the following year "A Seven-Storey Mountain for the contemporary reader." One reader, reviewing the book on Amazon.com, remarked that she and Jon Hassler had obviously not read the same book. I have to admit-Jon resorted to hyperbole in that statement. There is no comparison of my book with Thomas Merton's.
For about ten years we had an annual literary festival at Blue Cloud Abbey. Poets and writers from the region participated in it. Gretchen and Jon always enjoyed themselves at the festival. Even after Jon could no longer read, he was still very much involved in making it a festive event Over the past few months, three of the women who shared this wonderful weekend with us, have become widows. My sympathy and love to you, Gretchen, and to Martha Meek, and Sharon Chmielarz
After the last festival ever held at Blue Cloud Abbey, the poets and writers were asked by Betsy Vinz, wife of poet Mark Vinz, to put together a little anthology for the monks of Blue Cloud. This is Jon's entry, some excerpts from his journals in years past:
Brother Gene is lecturing the students from Gustavus Adolphus on the monastic life. They are gathered in the lobby down the hall from my room, and I hear his husky voice as he describes the Rule and the ordered day of a monk. It occurs to me that the Benedictines have survived for 1500 years by paying attention to form. Lots of form in their lives. Lots of ordered routine. More than necessary, it might seem to an outsider. But maybe that's why they've endured. Maybe if they'd grown careless about form, the substance would have disintegrated and there would be no abbeys for people like me and the Gustavians.
Br. Benet Tvedten, OSB