Photo courtesy of Abtei Muensterschwarzach
The Lord of the living and the dead called into eternal glory at Münsterschwarzach Abbey on Friday, 21 April 2023, our beloved confrere Father Athanasius (Rudolf Lorenz) Meixner OSB.
Progressive disease of the laryngeal area had made it difficult for him to articulate. So last fall, the passionate missionary and agricultural expert returned to his home abbey. He lived a very secluded life in the infirmary for the last few months. With the increasing paralysis his ability to swallow and breathe was lost.
Rudolf, his baptismal name, was born in Döringstadt, Upper Franconia on 20 June 1938. His childhood milieu shaped his whole life, so that he always remained the passionate farmer.
After primary school during the war years and the gymnasium in Bamberg, he entered Münsterschwarzach on 12 October 1957. At his admittance into the novitiate, the abbot gave him St. Athanasius as his patron. His monastic journey followed the usual route: 18 October 1958 temporary profession, 22 October 1961 solemn profession, 9 September 1962 diaconate ordination, 5 July 1962 priesthood ordination, 3 September 1967 missioning to Ndanda Abbey, Tanzania.
For his academic formation for ministry, he went to St. Ottilien in 1958–1960 for philosophy and to the University of Würzburg in 1960–1965 for theology. Studies in England for the teaching profession followed in 1965–1967. Upon arriving in Africa, he became an assistant in Nkowe. After that he taught English and religion at the diocesan seminary in Namupa from 1968 to 1975. From 1975 to 1982 we find Fr. Athanas as the pastor of Malolo, in Mtua in 1984, followed by a year in the capital city of Dar es Salaam. Finally, he led the parish of Kwandolwa and Soni in the vicinity of the monastery farm at Sakarani in northern Tanzania. As an innovative farmer, he fostered old and ever new experiments and projects in all these places.
Pineapple fields, gardens, vineyards, coffee plantations and trading in cotton, probably even more, Fr. Athanas brought into being. The inner energy for the versatile work was his love for the land and its people. He saw the basis for the development of society and land in farming. A confrere who lived
in the vicinity of Fr. Athanas for 20 years, Br. Coelestin Rapp OSB, says of him: “As a pastor, he was in close contact with the people of his parish, was able to share joys and sorrows with them, and was full of admiration for their deep trust in God (Mungu yupo…).This was also true for Muslim neighbors, whose profession of faith he could recite in Arabic. He was an outgoing person without blinders. He sometimes had a brusque demeanor, ending dialogue abruptly; but I also experienced his soft heart. He was able to empathize and spoke of the misery and suffering of concrete people in tears and undertook various initiatives to alleviate it. Fr. Athanas was full of ideas and initiatives for improving people’s lives. It was his plan to settle poor mountain farmers in the lowlands and bought farmland, machinery and equipment for it.”
External adversities and even his enthusiasm thwarted many things from happening. He could humbly accept error and a missed chance. With Fr. Athanasius’ work on earth, a prominent figure in Missionary Benedictinism has gone.
He left behind for us his gift of hope and confidence. For him life means to grasp it in such a way that faith in God and the yield of the earth take root, grow, and bring forth fruit.
Münsterschwarzach, 26 April 2023
Abbot Michael and the community of Münsterschwarzach
Abbot Christian and the community of Ndanda