Photo : Courtesy of Sankt Georgenberg Abbey

Abbot Emeritus Anselm (Manfred) Zeller OSB
Missionary Benedictine of Sankt Georgenberg

b. 20 July 1938
d. 15 August 2023

Our confrere came into the world in Kaiserslautern in 1938 and grew up there with five siblings in a family with a very eventful history: his father was an Old Catholic priest and later a pastor of German Catholics. The parents and younger siblings eventually returned to the Catholic Church. An older brother became a Lutheran pastor. The mother, often left to her own devices, had to raise the children in the difficult years of the war and post-war period and had a very strong influence on Manfred, who was called Ekkehard in the family circle. She imparted to him the joy of music and art and a deep religiosity.

From the distant Palatinate, Ekkehard was sent to the mission seminary in St. Ottilien that decisively set the course of his life. The slight but bright boy— “Zeller, always last in the alphabet”—graduated from there in 1958 and entered the novitiate of the archabbey where he was given the monastic name of Anselm. After his profession, he studied philosophy at the in-house college at St. Ottilien and theology and catechetics in Munich. He was ordained priest in 1965 and immediately afterwards sent to Jakobsberg, a newly founded priory of St. Ottilien on the Rhine. He served in Bingen as a religion teacher and school chaplain until 1978. He then became the prior of Jakobsberg. During this time, the monastery was rebuilt and a retreat center for adults and young people was established in cooperation with the diocese of Mainz. In 1991, Father Anselm made himself available for the mission in Africa and became novice master for the priory in Tigoni, Kenya. While he was preparing to take over a remote mission station in the Kerio Valley in late 1996, news reached him from Fiecht in Tyrol that the community there had elected him their 66th abbot.

The old abbey of St. Georgenberg-Fiecht had joined the Congregation of Sankt Ottilien in 1967 and was subsequently reinforced by a number of monks from Germany. At the beginning of the 90s, the community was shaken by internal conflicts. As an outsider Abbot Anselm was to calm the situation and lead the monastery into the future. Under the motto Mundo Lux– Light of the World, he opened the monastery to adult and youth guests and established programs in spirituality. With the support of public and private donors, he was able to renovate the abbey church, the Linden Church and the Great Bridge. He updated the museum, created a missionary exhibition and had the Weng parking lot built. The old monastery farm building was converted into a multi-generation house. In 2004 he received the Province of Tyrol medal of honor. In 2013 he was able to celebrate the 875th anniversary of the abbey.

With all his heart Abbot Anselm was a Missionary Benedictine. This was evident in the energy with which he edited the magazine Christus Verkünden (Proclaiming Christ) and in the operation of the mission procura of Fiecht. He was a member of the council of the Congregation from 1996 to 2008. During this time he undertook 13 canonical visitations. This also suited his love of travel, as he commented self-deprecatingly. As the first assistant to the abbot president, he presided over the entire Congregation at a time of transition in 2000.

After eighteen years he resigned as abbot in 2014 for reasons of health. He continued to serve the Fiecht community, initially as the priest caring for pilgrims at St. Georgenberg and later in the pastoral cluster of Fiecht-Vomp-Stans, as well as mission procurator, archivist and librarian until 2022.

When the question of the future of the community had to be addressed under his successor, which finally resulted in the decision to give up Fiecht and move to St. Georgenberg in 2017, he actively participated. His pain was noticeable but so was his willingness to loyally share in the decisions of the community. At first, he and Br. Fidelis remained in Fiecht. At Christmas 2021 he then transferred up to St. Georgenberg. Pulmonary disease and covid had left him chronically debilitated. Nevertheless, he participated in the community life until the end and took part in caring for the guests, in the pastoral work and in domestic tasks.

Like most people, Abbot Anselm had to practice letting go in the last years of his life. Leaving Fiecht and the closure of the monastery at Jakobsberg were painful wounds. This was not easy for him as he had invested many years of his life in building up these houses. But he managed to process these events spiritually following the one who once said, “Whoever loses his life will find it.” When he told us a few months ago that he wanted to be buried near the Linden Church, the new burial place of our community on St. Georgenberg, this was a testimony that the last abbot of Fiecht was at peace.

Throughout his life he cultivated relationships: with his family, with former students and companions on life’s journey. Many of these came together again for his 85th birthday. Shortly afterwards he moved to the infirmary of St. Ottilien. There he enjoyed being with confreres from his Ottilien and Jakobsberg years. At first he regained his strength, but on 12 August he began to rapidly decline. He passed away peacefully on the afternoon of 15 August.

Abbot Anselm took pleasure in looking back on his own life and often put some things on paper about it, critically but also self-confidently. In a spiritual retrospective he once wrote: “The path was right. I am one of those people who have been blessed with an abundance of gifts. The most valuable gifts of my life are optimism, perseverance, humor, the ability to communicate and an enterprising spirit. Add to that the desire for God.” And he concluded, “I am deeply grateful for everything.” We join in this gratitude.

St. Georgenberg, 19 August 2023

Abbot Administrator Jeremias Schröder OSB
In the name of the monastic community of St. Georgenberg

Rüdiger Zeller and relatives