Photo courtesy of Abtei Schäftlarn

“Our homeland is in heaven. From there we also await Jesus Christ, the Lord, as Savior, who will transform our lowly body.”
— Philippians 3:20

On March 15, 2024, our dear fellow brother Abbot emeritus Dr. Gregor Zasche OSB passed away in Munich.

He served as the ruling abbot of Schäftlarn from 1976 to 2008. Last October, we were able to celebrate his 85th birthday among his fellow brothers, just as he had wished. Shortly thereafter, in November, serious symptoms of an incurable cancer manifested, leading him first to the hospital in Wolfratshausen, then to the palliative care unit in Tutzing, and finally to the Johannes Hospice of the Brothers of Mercy in Munich. There, after consciously receiving the sacrament of the anointing of the sick and viaticum, he peacefully passed away. Abbot Gregor’s life was rich and full, marked by a sense of responsibility, work, savoir-vivre, wise foresight, and the search for God until the end.

Michael, Abbot Gregor’s baptismal name, was born as the only child of Rudolf and Herta Zasche on October 31, 1938, in Berlin-Pankow. His father was a Slavist who worked at Humboldt University and went missing in the chaos of World War II. His mother had to leave Berlin with her son and eventually found refuge in Zangberg, where they settled in the shadow of the monastery. There, young Michael attended elementary school. In 1949, he entered the Benedictine Progymnasium in Schäftlarn and completed his school education with the Abitur at Max-Gymnasium in Munich in 1958. At the age of 20, he requested admission to Schäftlarn Abbey from Abbot Sigisbert Mitterer, where he underwent the prescribed stages of Benedictine formation and, upon taking his temporary vows in 1959, received St. Gregory the Great as his patron saint. In the following years, Brother Gregor dedicated himself to comprehensive studies in various locations: he studied philosophy at S. Anselmo in Rome and theology in Innsbruck, where he also met his teacher and lifelong friend Karl Rahner. In 1965, he was ordained a priest by Cardinal Döpfner, completed his doctoral thesis in the following two years (“Extra nos. The Concept of the Supernatural in Contemporary Protestant Theologians”), and then pursued studies in Neophilology (English and French) at LMU Munich, Oxford, and Besançon. He successfully completed his education with the first and second state examinations, qualifying him for his teaching position in Schäftlarn. Since 1974, he had been working as a teacher at the gymnasium.

During this time, the congregation leadership in Rome sought to recruit Fr. Gregor as a professor of fundamental theology at the Benedictine University of S. Anselmo. The then administrator of Schäftlarn, Fr. Paulus Rieger, strongly rejected this, pointing out that Fr. Gregor was needed in their own house and was not dispensable. This decision proved to be almost prophetic, as after Abbot Ambros Rueß resigned in 1973 and his successor, Abbot Otmar Kranz, unexpectedly passed away after only two years in office, the convent of Schäftlarn elected Fr. Gregor as the 5th abbot following the re-establishment of the monastery in November 1976. He was blessed by Auxiliary Bishop Ernst Tewes on May 7, 1977.

In the following years, Abbot Gregor faced numerous challenges. He approached them with great energy and enthusiasm, never shying away from taking full responsibility for the many tasks at hand and tackling them vigorously. The school, including the day care and boarding facilities, held the highest priority for him. It was no coincidence that he often jokingly referred to himself as the “old schoolmaster”. Teaching and running the school were not just duties for him but a vocation. He was always highly esteemed by his students. In addition to his teaching duties, he served as the cantor and magister in the convent, regularly undertook numerous confirmation trips on behalf of the bishop, served for decades as the Archbishop’s delegate for the Venio community, held the office of abbot-president of the Bavarian Benedictine Congregation twice (1993 to 2005 and 2006 to 2009), thereby also fulfilling the responsible task of a visitor. He also oversaw renovations and repairs within the monastery, such as the extensive restoration of the exterior facade, the construction of a modern double gymnasium for the school, and the preparation for the comprehensive renovation of the Schäftlarn monastery church. Additionally, during his tenure, he initiated the foundation for the benefit of the community. Abbot Gregor not only greatly appreciated the Schäftlarn Concerts, a highly acclaimed series of classical music performances well-known and beloved throughout the Munich area, but also actively promoted and supported them out of conviction. The beautiful Prälatengarten (Prelate’s Garden) of our monastery, maintained by the “Verein schönes Schäftlarn e.V.”, owes much to Abbot Gregor’s sense of beauty, openness, and human warmth. The external initiatives undertaken by Abbot Gregor to make his monastery future-proof were mirrored in the inner life of the community. He broke through entrenched and outdated patterns and granted many freedoms to serve and accommodate the individual characteristics of each fellow brother, as mandated by St. Benedict in his Rule (RB, 2, 31). He was unconventional and witty, sober-minded and deliberate. One of the most beautiful compliments paid to him on the occasion of his Silver Abbot’s Jubilee was when one of his companions said that Abbot Sigisbert Mitterer had undoubtedly been the last baroque prince in Schäftlarn, whereas Gregor had always embodied and expressed the humane aspect of the abbatial office. However, it should be noted that during his tenure as abbot, Abbot Gregor also faced setbacks, disappointments, and experiences of crisis. During his more than 30 years of leadership, he navigated the monastery through various difficult and precarious situations with optimism and good nerves, albeit with several wounds and scars. But complaining or bitterness were never an option for him; he loved life too much for that. His abbatial motto, “Joyful in shared hope”, was and remained his guiding principle. After his resignation in 2008, he fully reintegrated into the community. He participated in Sunday preaching and the pastoral tasks that arose, continued teaching at the gymnasium for several more years, devoted himself to his preferred philosophical and scientific readings, listened to classical music, followed world events with a keen and critical mind, improved his (contemporary) Greek, went jogging and hiking as far as his health allowed, and faithfully maintained his long-standing friendships.

In his very last phase of life, although he became physically weaker and thinner, his spirit, his interest, and his joy in friendly exchange remained unaffected. Even in the hospice, he received many visitors, regularly talked to friends on the phone, and read newspapers and books. His religious life and his approach to God were less emotional than intellectually oriented, curious, exploratory, critical, and searching. Abbot Gregor’s serenity at the end of his life was astonishing. After initial difficulties, he accepted his death and consciously prepared for it. He often spoke about it: “I am curious to see how the transition from here to the other world will be.” His teacher and friend Karl Rahner once wrote, “Faith means enduring the incomprehensibility of God throughout one’s life.” And elsewhere: “God is the final word before our silence.” Abbot Gregor lost consciousness a day before his death. On Friday, March 15, he peacefully passed away in the early hours of the morning. We laid him to rest on March 20, on the eve of the feast of “The Passing of our Holy Father Benedict,” with great participation in the abbey crypt. It became visible and palpable how much Abbot Gregor meant to many people. Here, the circle of life closes. We may now confidently entrust him to God’s good hands. We are grateful for all that he has been to us and for what he has given us.

We thank everyone for their loving care and attention during his illness and for all the sympathy shown at the funeral.


Abbot and Community of the Benedictine Abbey Schäftlarn