Photo and text courtesy of Saint John’s Abbey
Jonathan (Francis) Fischer was the third of seven children born to Wendelin Matthias and Rosemary (Engel) Fischer in Strasburg, North Dakota, on April 4, 1934. His father owned an auto service station in Strasburg, and his mother was a homemaker.
After his elementary education at Saint Benedict’s Grade School in Strasburg from 1940 to 1948, Francis attended Strasburg High School (1948–1952). Following high school graduation, he enrolled in Saint John’s University, graduating with a B.A. in philosophy in 1957. During his undergraduate years, Francis made first profession in 1955, with the monastic name Jonathan. Upon completion of his divinity studies at Saint John’s, Father Jonathan was ordained to the priesthood in 1961 in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Saint Cloud, Minnesota.
In 1965 Father Jonathan earned an M.A. in German at Middlebury Language School in Middlebury, Vermont. Father Jonathan continued postgraduate studies in German in 1966 with the aid of a grant at the University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale. He was subsequently awarded another grant for German language study in Munich, Germany, under the sponsorship of Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon. His German language study extended through the years 1967 and 1969 at the University of Colorado in Boulder. In 1988 he completed his hospital chaplaincy training by earning his certificate in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Saint Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, Minnesota.
Father Jonathan’s work assignments spanned administration, education, manuscript microfilming, and pastoral ministry. In 1955, even before finishing his undergraduate education at Saint John’s, he served as assistant director of summer retreats at Saint John’s Abbey until 1959. After ordination, Father Jonathan was a prefect at Saint John’s Preparatory School (1961–1965), and he also taught German and religion at the school from 1961–1973. During his years as a teacher, he served for one year as the director of the Student Exchange Program at Melk Abbey, Melk, Austria (1970–1971). Growing up in a German environment in Strasburg and well educated in the language and its literature, Father Jonathan was a solid teacher, though temperamentally not well suited for banter in German with teenagers!
He was appointed associate pastor at Saint Joseph’s Church, Saint Joseph, Minnesota, from 1972–1975, becoming pastor in 1975 and continuing in this role through 1978. During his years as pastor, Father Jonathan also served as assistant chaplain at Saint Benedict’s Monastery, Saint Joseph (1973–1978), followed by a one-year appointment as chaplain (1978–1979). Reflecting on this experience, he said that he “found it a distinct privilege to work with these intelligent and prayerful women.”
Father Jonathan took on a missionary assignment in 1979 as pastor in Saint Benedict’s Parish at the Indian reservation in White Earth, Minnesota, until 1983, where, as he said, he “met and worked with a great variety of beautiful people,” doubling as pastor during these same years at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Ogema, Minnesota.
After this service, Father Jonathan was appointed field director in Germany and Portugal for what is now called the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (hmml.org), Saint John’s University, where he oversaw medieval manuscript microfilming from 1983 –1987. He later described this as an “interesting project—fascinating work.” In this work, his skilled background in languages was very helpful.
Father Jonathan’s next pastoral assignment was as chaplain of Divine Redeemer Hospital and Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Saint Paul, Minnesota, from 1988–1991. He served as chaplain at Saint Joseph’s Hospital and Saint John’s Hospital (in addition to three years for Midway Hospitals) in Saint Paul from 1991–2014 and here he found a pastoral groove that was magical. In this chaplaincy work he was able to meet the need for pastoral sensitivity, ecumenical awareness, and spiritual astuteness. He likewise gave generously of his time by conducting regular grief support groups at Divine Redeemer and Midway Hospitals for five years. Father Jonathan returned to the abbey for retirement in June 2014.
Among his interests and hobbies, Father Jonathan enjoyed reading and tinkering with things that needed fixing.
Father Jonathan died on January 11, 2023, in the retirement center at Saint John’s Abbey. He is survived by a sister, Jolenta Masterson, Sequim, Washington, Sister Judith, at Mother of God Monastery, Watertown, South Dakota, sister, Elaine Worline, Redmond, Washington, brother, Henry, (Kathleen), Littleton, Colorado, brother, Jack (Nancy), Salem, Oregon, and the community of Saint John’s Abbey.