Photo : Returning to Saint Ottilien from the train station, cropped | Brother Simon, Sant’Anselmo

Brother Günther Kempen unexpectedly succumbed to a sudden cardiac arrest while taking a morning walk in front of the monastery. He was in his 50th year of profession and the 86th of his life.

Our confrere came into the world in Aachen on 19 February 1937 as the second child of Joseph Johann Kempen, a businessman, and his wife Helene, née Röper. His parents, deeply rooted in the faith, had been granted a six-year-older daughter who later entered the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus. In 1943 the family fled from Aachen, which was particularly fought over during the Second World War, to the town of Osterode in the Harz, where Günther attended primary school from 1943 onwards. After his father was killed in the war, his mother had to raise the two children alone. In 1945 the family moved to Neuss am Rhein where Günther transferred to the local primary school. After finishing school in 1951, he attended the municipal commercial school of Neuss from 1951 to 1953. He then completed a commercial apprenticeship at the Neusser Ölwerke and graduated as an industrial management assistant in September 1955. For a while he stayed with his training company. However, in 1956 he moved to the Böhler steelworks in Düsseldorf for further training as a commercial employee. There he worked in the purchasing and export department until September 1964. The final report gives him high praise and says that you could always rely on him.

At the time he resigned his job, he had decided on an assignment abroad in the mission area of the Territorial Abbey of Ndanda where a large number of lay volunteers were working during those years. From November 1964, he served in reorganizing the business administration of the Ndanda Mission Press, which had considerably increased its capacity by switching to modern printing presses. As Bishop Viktor Hälg points out in his final assessment, Günther was able to combine “independent action with harmonious cooperation” and at the same time radiated clear authority. In 1967 Günther returned to Düsseldorf where he worked in the steel export department of Mannesmann until the end of 1970. The job reference calls him a “very capable and reliable employee.”

During this time the missionary spark seems to have been ignited. At the age of 34, he asked to be admitted into the novitiate of St. Ottilien Archabbey. A few years later, he was joined by a close friend from his youth, Brother Lukas Krüll (1937–2009), who had also worked with him at the same time as a lay helper in Ndanda. Entering the monastery may not have been easy for the self-confident and independently inclined Günther. But at his admission to the novitiate he managed to be able to keep his baptismal name, which was unique in the history of the archabbey up till then. He professed his temporary vows on 18 September 1972. After final vows he again returned to Ndanda in the spring of 1976, where he worked in the accounting department. When in 1980 the mission procura of St. Ottilien needed a specialist for the numerous container shipments to the mission areas, Brother Günther was requested.

The mission procura was to be his place of work for the next twenty years. There with precision and high competence he handled the innumerable shipments for the mission operations, especially in Africa, since the printing houses and hospitals in particular had large specialized demands. For this he often went to Hamburg to personally accompany the shipping of the containers and handle the customs formalities. Upon his “retirement,” he initially moved to the EOS publishing house as a proofreader, where he corrected extensive works. From 2003 he was a salesperson in the farm store, where, with his pithy humor and succinct Rhenish dialect, he provided amusement, but could also rattle highly sensitive souls. After suffering his first stroke in 2010, he retired for good.

He had a close relationship with his family, his mother and his sister, who as Sr. Clara Augusta had become superior general of her Congregation, and he spent his vacations with them in Neuss, his hometown. He was also regularly to be found there at the riflemen association’s parades. A legacy of his shooting days may have been the striking black jump boots that he liked to wear and which he took with him to his grave. In the monastery he was involved in the Brothers brass band and in the fire department. In his spare time he was an avid reader, especially of historical works.

After another stroke in November 2018, he lost the ability to speak and resorted more and more to being cared for in the infirmary. There he developed into a model patient with modest demands; the only thing he valued was a daily ice cream. However, he remained decidedly self-determined and independent until the end of his life. We are grateful for his fifty years of service to our community, often with demanding tasks that he was dedicated to reliably fulfilling.

Kindly remember Br. Günther in your prayers. May he live in the everlasting joy of our heavenly father.

Archabbot Wolfgang and the community of Sankt Ottilien