Photo courtesy of Erzabtei Sankt Ottilien

Father Claudius (Franz) Bals OSB
Missionary Benedictine of Sankt Ottilien
24 May 1942 – 8 January 2024

With great serenity and joyful anticipation, at midday on 8 January Father Claudius Bals entered the heavenly home, which he had often and fondly preached about. Despite being weak, he remained fully conscious and quick-witted to the end. As an energetic prior, a cheerful friend, and an empathetic pastor, he became an important contact for many people and his confreres.

Franz Bals was born on 24 May 1942 in Heinrichshofen, Landsberg District, as the eighth child of Melchior and Magdalena Bals, née Kreuzer, who ran a farm. He attended the primary school in Egling and then in 1953 transferred to the mission seminary of St. Ottilien. After graduating he entered the monastery in 1962, professed his temporary vows on 23 September 1963 and solemn vows on 25 September 1966. After studies at the philosophical college at St. Ottilien, he studied theology in Munich and was ordained to the priesthood on 1 September 1968. The conciliar changes of this time were to have a profound impact on his theological thinking. From 1968 to 1978, he served as a formator at a missionary seminary and taught religion in the gymnasium. During these years, the transition from a missionary seminary forming young candidates for the monastery to an open Catholic gymnasium took place. In this context, Fr. Claudius promoted the transformation of the Stillerhof at Wessobrunn into a youth hostel where he organized religious retreats with groups. At the same time, he founded a scout group with boarding students at the school and was a chaplain of the local scout district from 1970 until 1986.

He ran the retreat house from 1978. This was to become his life’s work and thanks to a well-coordinated team he gave it a special family character. Fundamental renovation of the retreat house and the Ottilienheim, but also the closure of the agricultural school and apprentices’ home, as well as significant changes to the form of the retreats took place during this time. In addition to programs on site, Fr. Claudius was particularly keen to offer cultural and pilgrimage trips, which included Israel as well as European destinations such as the Camino de Santiago. In his varied and extensive pastoral work, the care of orphaned parents who had lost a child was of particular importance to him. He wrote the meditation booklet Vom Himmel lasst uns träumen (Let us Dream of Heaven) for them.

In 1991 he was appointed prior in succession to Fr. Paulus Hörger. A year before, Fr. Claudius had already begun a large-scale renovation of the monastery church with a building commission and the architects Professor Dr. Franz Bernhard Weisshaar and Erwin Frey; this was to occupy him for the next few years. In addition, there were other complex plans for construction work such as the renovation of the old monastery building, the Ottilienkapelle, and the redesigning of external facilities. For Fr. Claudius there was always a spiritual dimension in all building projects, which was reflected in the monastery guide Missionarisches Mönchtum (Missionary Monasticism) and many other publications. A beautiful legacy of his concern for the spiritual design of the place is the peace path around the monastery.

Fr. Claudius was no friend of committees and meetings. He therefore somewhat reluctantly served on the municipal council in Eresing (1978–1984) and on the priests’ council of the Diocese of Augsburg (1987–1994) and finally decided not to run for office again. On the other hand, he took great pleasure in leading the Oblate community of St. Ottilien that he took over in 1992. He visited existing and former Benedictine monasteries in Europe with this community, as well as Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, and wrote his own Oblate booklet for them in which he was particularly interested in conveying the character of a Benedictine community. With the oblation of Dr. Veronika Hashimoto, the director of the Church Music Institute in Tokyo, an Oblate group also grew up there looked after by Father Claudius until 2018. Between 2015 and 2018, he took on the role of president of this institute.

After passing the age of 70, the symptoms of old age increased. Thus, he relinquished the office of prior in 2014 and the management of the retreat center in 2015. As long as he was still able to do pastoral ministry, he was happy to do so, especially in the small village of Hausen near Geltendorf. He enjoyed writing the widely read column Ridicula claudicula in the Ottilien Missionsblätter in which he reported cheerful incidents of fellow confreres. In October 2023, his move to the monastery infirmary became necessary. There he concentrated on preparing himself for his farewell and was always cheerful and conciliatory when asked about his condition: “Things are looking up!”

— Archabbot Wolfgang Öxler and the Community of Sankt Ottilien Archabbey