Photo : St. Georgenberg monastery from S, cropped | By Wolfgang H. Wögerer, Wien – Own work, CC BY 3.0

Br. Johannes (Jürgen) Wagenknecht OSB
Missionary Benedictine of St. Georgenberg Abbey
26 July 1962 – 8 January 2021

Our confrere set out for a walk on 8 January 2021 but did not return. Search teams that were deployed discovered his lifeless body below the cliff on which the St. Georgenberg monastery sits. According to the police, despite wearing good shoes, he slipped in the steep, leaf-covered wooded terrain and fell 100 meters into the Wolfsklamm Gorge. A doctor that was summoned could only confirm his death. Since this tragic event, there has been profound shock in the community of St. Georgenberg Abbey, among his family members and with the people who knew him and had dealings with him.

Let us first allow the external life of our deceased confrere pass by our spiritual eyes. Br. Johannes was born in Lustenau, Vorarlberg, on 26 July 1962 as the second of four children of Mrs. Maria Wagenknecht, née Tabernig, and Mr. Herbert Wagenknecht. His mother was a housewife and his father a mason foreman. He grew up in the village of Sulz and attended the local primary school. On the recommendation of the primary school director, he transferred to the gymnasium in Feldkirch in 1972. He graduated in 1980 with excellent results. Then followed the study of architecture and forestry in Innsbruck and Vienna, combined with odd jobs. For some years he worked in various companies as an unskilled and semiskilled metalworker. In 1989 he began his candidacy for the Benedictine Abbey of St. Georgenberg-Fiecht. After postulancy, he made his temporary profession on 20 April 1992 under Abbot Edgar Dietel. The same year he attended an introductory course in administration for religious congregations at the Unitas Solidaris trust company in Vienna. Trusting in God’s grace, kindness and help, he professed his final vows under Prior Administrator Leo Pittracher. Under him he began his work in administration with Fr. Christoph Puschner. During Abbot Anselm’s time in office he served for some years as the cellarer and devotedly took care of our confrere Fr. Benedikt Vollmann until his death. Due to illness he had to give up the post of cellarer and could not complete the correspondence course in theology he had begun.

After long period of recovery, he performed important tasks in our administration until his death. He used to prepare firewood in our forest, something that brought him much joy. In addition to his usual activities, he always helped where he was needed, especially when moving from the monastery in Fiecht to St. Georgenberg. In his free time, he explored the abbey property and tried to find and walk old, no longer marked trails and steep climbs. Thus he was the one who knew his way around the region of the monastery the best and could answer questions about it. At times he expressed the desire to retire to a hut and live there without any amenities; this was granted him. Sometimes he withdrew inwardly to a great extent in everyday life, even if he remained friendly in his dealings with people.

In the search for God and in his work, in addition to the prayer life of our community, he also took part in a diocesan prayer group and in a Bible sharing circle. In his encounters with others he was approachable, cheerful, friendly and helpful. He had a special heart for the poor. Sometimes he did not notice when he was being taken advantage of by a certain group of people. His cheerful demeanor and his amusing style belied that fact that he suffered from depression. Inpatient hospital stays, medicine and extended psychotherapy contributed to his being able to manage everyday life well. It is a shame that his life ended so tragically while talking a walk. May Br. Johannes have experienced what Bishop Reinhold Stecher once said: “At no hour of our life does the Lord embrace us so intimately as our last.” Looking back on the earthly life our confrere, it was “a life in fragments” that God can now expand and complete. We thank him that he shared a great part of his life with us “with the Gospel as a guide.”

— Prior Administrator Raphael Klaus Gebauer OSB and the Community of St. Georgenberg Abbey