Brother Benedict Janecko, O.S.B., a monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, for more than 60 years, died on Friday, May 20, 2022, after a brief illness. Brother Ben was born November 22, 1938 in Marguerite, Pennsylvania, a son of the late Frank and Margaret (Kralik) Janecko. He was predeceased by his brother, Thomas.
He taught for many years at Saint Vincent College and Saint Vincent Seminary, before becoming, in his “retirement” an assistant manager of the Saint Vincent Post Office, something he did for nearly two decades. Brother Ben attended Saint Benedict’s Parochial School in Marguerite as well as Saint Vincent Preparatory School before earning a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from Saint Vincent College in 1961. He entered the monastic community at Saint Vincent in 1958 while a student in the College, made simple vows on July 2, 1959, and solemn vows on July 2, 1962.
He moved on to graduate work in Rome, first at the international Benedictine school in Rome, Sant’ Anselmo, where he received his S.T.L. in theology in 1966. He then received his S.S.L. in Sacred Scripture in 1969 from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. During his time in Europe, he was ordained a deacon on July 4, 1964 in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, by Bishop Joseph Avack.
In 1970, he was assigned to the Religious Studies Department at Saint Vincent College, where he taught courses such as Old Testament I & II and Mythologies of the Middle East. He spent the summers of 1970 and 1971 as a visiting scholar at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
At Saint Vincent Seminary, he taught Old Testament (1969-2007); was dean of men (vice rector, 1971- 1981) and served as coordinator of workshops in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute and Latrobe Area Hospital. He took a sabbatical leave to Israel at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem, in 1981. In 1985, he was among 29 professors named a National Endowment for the Humanities recipient of a grant to study “Judaic Studies” with Jacob Neusner and others at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The grant entailed six weeks of lectures, discussions, library work and research on how Judaic Studies might complement the study of the Humanities and the teaching thereof. From 1990 to 1995 he was a member of the Catholic Biblical Association Task Force on “The Old Testament and Ecology” headed by Lawrence Frizzell of Seton Hall University. He was promoted to the rank of professor at Saint Vincent College and Saint Vincent Seminary in 1995. In 2002, he was named assistant manager of the post office for the Seminary and College, in addition to his duties on the faculty. He retired from the seminary faculty in 2007 and the college faculty in 2012.
Brother Ben published many articles and received various recognitions for his work, including a first place for best feature article, prayer and spirituality, from the Catholic Press Association (2003), for “Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Genesis,” which was published in The Bible Today. He is best known for his book, The Psalms: The Heartbeat of Life and Worship, published in 1986 by St. Meinrad Abbey Press and reprinted in 2007 by Archabbey Publications.
As his classmate Father Warren Murrman, O.S.B., noted in the funeral homily, Brother Ben loved the psalms: “His favorite part of the whole Bible was the Book of Psalms. He loved the psalms; he lived the psalms. He taught them as poetic songs, rhythmic, insightful, challenging, nourishing, prayerful expressions spanning the whole range of human emotions. He saw the psalms as a spiritual distillation and celebration of the message of the whole Old Testament as well as a powerful prophetic proclamation of the coming of the Messiah, the mystery of Jesus Christ which would be more fully developed in the New Testament. He understood the psalms not just as beautiful sentiments or informative descriptions of the working of God, but as the voice of Jesus Christ the Son of God, speaking intimately to us now.
“All through his life,” Father Warren noted, “Ben heard the voice of the Good Shepherd in the psalms. He strove to live out those words, following the voice of the Good Shepherd, convinced that the Lord chose not only to speak to us but also through us. And, enlivened by the power of such words, he used words, frequently in small notes to encourage and support so many friends to whom he remained faithful through many, many years. He must have written thousands of such notes over the years.”
Archabbot Martin concurred in his homily at the Vigil Service:
“After his passing, I went to his room looking for a copy of his book. As I scoured his bookcase, I found innumerable slips of paper sticking out between the books. The slips all contained a thought or an insight or a quotation. I was one of many regular recipients of these musings from Ben. Almost weekly, I’d receive an envelope addressed to me in his distinctive handwriting with a copy of some sort of inspiration enclosed pertaining to a timely scriptural or monastic topic. From a common phrase, to a play on words, to an inspirational quote, to rock music, Ben could be relied upon to derive a religious connection and a spiritual insight.”
As epitomized by Psalm 1
He truly was blessed, happy.
Not in a trite, shallow or glib way, but in a real, tangible overflowing, way.
He was satisfied and content.
The happiness described in Psalm 1 is not in any way contingent on our circumstances. And neither was Ben’s, no matter his current assignment. He was blessed whether a monk at the Archabbey, as a student in Rome, a professor in the College and Seminary, or as the assistant postmaster here at Saint Vincent. Although not a federal employee, he lived:
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night
stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
The mail must go through.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.
These verbs indicate a decisive stance: “Here’s a man who has made a decision!”
The scriptures were not a passing fancy, a casual interest, but rather his life’s work. Even to the end, Ben’s mind was focused on Biblical truth and probing deeply about how that truth applies to human existence. I came across a quote from Pastor John Piper. It includes a delightful play on words, the kind that made Ben’s eyes twinkle.
“The only hope against the pleasures of the WORLD are the pleasures of the WORD.”
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in due season,
and its leaves do not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
Everyone is looking for prosperity, for success. Ben found it! I’m not referring to his book and articles and awards and NEH grants, but rather generations of monks, priests and laity influenced by his contagious fascination with and keen interest in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Unlike the wicked driven away by the wind to perish, Ben is set for eternity. His future is absolutely secure. With eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, the ultimate Psalm One man, as he gazed on Jesus, he will become like Him.
We ask for your charity and customary suffrages. It is consoling to know that every monk of our monastery offers three Masses for the repose of Brother Ben’s soul, and that he will be included among those confreres for whom all professed monks of our Congregation offer Mass monthly.
MAY FLIGHTS OF ANGELS SING THEE TO THY REST
+Martin R. Bartel, O.S.B. Archabbot
Saint Vincent Archabbey Latrobe, Pennsylvania