Retired Benedictine Abbot Patrick Regan dies at 79

(Obituary courtesy St. Joseph Abbey; In 2014, the Clarion Herald interviewed Abbot Patrick about his years in religious life. Scroll to the bottom for Peter Finney Jr.’s column: “Abbot Patrick: Living in community fosters growth.”)

Benedictine Abbot Patrick Regan, retired abbot of St. Joseph Abbey, died peacefully at the abbey in St. Benedict, Louisiana, on Feb. 8. He was 79 years old.

John Regan was born in New Orleans to John E. Regan and Helen Barnes Regan. He had one younger brother, Thomas M. Regan.
“Jack” graduated from Holy Cross High School in 1955 and entered the junior college division of St. Joseph Seminary. In 1958, he was received into the novitiate of St. Joseph Abbey, and he made profession as a Benedictine monk in 1959, when he was given the name Patrick.

He continued studies at Notre Dame Seminary and Loyola University in New Orleans and later at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. After ordination to the priesthood in 1965, he began studies at the Institut Catholique and the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie in Paris, where he earned a doctorate in theology in 1971.

Returning to his home monastery, he began a teaching career at St. Joseph Seminary College that would last until 2001. For many years he also taught in the summer program at St. John’s University and, later, at Notre Dame University. During this period, he also served as chair of the religion department and as director of spiritual formation in the seminary college until he was elected the fourth abbot of St. Joseph Abbey in 1982.

During his tenure as abbot, the monastery celebrated the centennial of its foundation in 1989-90. Shortly thereafter, the abbey and seminary college established a joint development office. This led to the establishment of Pennies for Bread and the Abbey, providing free bread for soup kitchens and other programs for the homeless and needy throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area.

The abbey cemetery was also expanded under Abbot Patrick, responding to countless requests to be buried on the monastery grounds.

The accomplishment for which he is most well-known locally is the renovation of the abbey church, which began in 1996 and culminated in the church’s dedication in 1998.

While abbot of St. Joseph, Abbot Patrick was elected abbot president of the Swiss-American Benedictine Congregation, an office in which he served from 1987-99. He was also a member of the international board and president of the North American board, of Alliance Inter Monastère (A.I.M.), which provides support for Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries in developing countries.

Upon his resignation as abbot in 2001, he accepted a faculty appointment, which lasted until 2013, in the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy at the Pontificio Ateneo Sant’ Anselmo, the Benedictine university in Rome. He also held several positions in the monastic community at the Collegio Sant’ Anselmo.

Abbot Patrick’s scholarly work centered on the paschal liturgy. His doctoral dissertation was on the early Roman sacramentaries’ penitential formularies, which were closely bound up with the celebration of Lent and Easter. He published numerous articles in this area in Worship and other journals, and he spoke on the topic at congresses, conferences and conventions.

His culminating work was his book “Advent to Pentecost”(2012), a comparison of the structure and content of the Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter seasons in the post-Tridentine and post-Vatican II liturgies.

Abbot Patrick was a founding member of the North American Academy of Liturgy and of the Society for Catholic Liturgy and a member of the International Societas Liturgica. He also served on a commission of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, preparing a fifth volume of the Liturgia horarum.

Late in 2013, Abbot Patrick was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and his struggle with the disease dominated the remainder of his life. He spent his last days in the abbey infirmary, cared for by his monastic brothers.

The monks of St. Joseph Abbey will receive Abbot Patrick’s body before Vespers at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 13. A Funeral Vigil will be held at 7:15 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will follow at 11:15 a.m. on Feb. 14.

* * *

September 27, 2014
Abbot Patrick: Living in community fosters growth
By Peter Finney Jr. 

For Jack Regan, who had just graduated from Holy Cross High School in 1955, the world had suddenly changed.

Regan was 17 years old and athletic, curious and gregarious – qualities the former Boy Scout and CYO basketball player from Annunciation Parish in New Orleans knew would be tested at St. Joseph Seminary College as he discerned whether or not he might have a vocation as a Benedictine monk.

The Benedictines were all about prayer, study and community. That communal, spiritual life had been distilled and road-tested over 14 centuries. Students prayed the Divine Office several times each day with the monks and attended daily Mass. They ate their meals in silence.

As a religious family, they were instructed to work out interpersonal problems by looking first at themselves to see what could be done to resolve the issue. That was an important caution for anyone thinking of making the monastery his life’s work. Since Benedictines take a unique vow of “stability of place” – meaning except in special circumstances they stay in the same monastery for their entire lives – they’d better learn to deal with each other’s human foibles.

Jack Regan learned that early on. He was in a study hall room in the seminary with three other classmates, their desks crammed so tightly together not even the incense from a thurible could squeeze through.

“We all had these little, tiny desks, and one day I came in and it was difficult to slide my wooden chair up against my wooden desk,” he said. “There was resistance on the floor. I said to myself, ‘What in the world is going on here?’ I kept pushing and pulling, and finally I looked down and there were four socks stuffed with cotton hooked onto the four feet of my chair with rubber bands. From that, I got the impression that the other people in the room thought I was making too much noise sliding my wooden chair on the wooden floor. I got the point.”

Jack Regan went on to be ordained as a Benedictine monk in 1965 – taking the religious name Patrick – and in 1982, he was elected abbot, serving in that position until 2001. The story about the wooden chair resonates with Abbot Patrick because it speaks to the human condition and also has much to say about the daily path to holiness.

“There were pros and cons to that,” Abbot Patrick said last week, back home at the Covington monastery after having spent 12 years in Rome teaching liturgy and sacramental theology. “Maybe they should have just told me, ‘Look, you’re making too much doggone noise with that chair. Stop it!’”

But living as spiritual brothers in a monastery, monks learn how to accept reality, not flee from it.

“I guess it’s an acceptance of reality that that’s the way a person is and there’s not much you can do to change him, so you’ve just got to come to terms with it and learn how to bear with it,” Abbot Patrick said. “It’s the acceptance of others as they are. Sometimes these things work themselves out with time. Frequently, providence has a way of taking his job in a different direction from you, or your job is going to take you in a different direction. Sometimes, over time, you just learn to see his point of view. This could be over 15 or 20 years! You just have to come to live with that which cannot be changed. Otherwise, life will be a continual flight from the other, and I don’t think that’s healthy.

“The nature of the human condition is that we are all ‘other’ unto each other. You’re never going to find another who is identical to you. But that pain of living with the other brings self-growth, precisely through conflicts with those who are different.”

Among Abbot Patrick’s crowning achievements was the extensive restoration of St. Joseph Abbey Church, which he meticulously planned with the Benedictine community and a board of advisors. None of the renovations came in response to Vatican II liturgical changes. Mostly it was about safety – the pews rested on high platforms and the sanctuary steps were like scaling Mount Olympus.

“When the church was built (in 1932) we were out in the country and no one was living around us,” Abbot Patrick said. “The only people who came to church were the seminarians, and they were high school students. They were as nimble as squirrels.”

The renovation included restoration of the Dom DeWit murals and the installation of a tracker organ that Abbot Patrick says ingeniously was designed to bring the choir, accompanist and congregation together in the same space.

All of that cost millions. Abbot Patrick said by working with experts to get valuable feedback, he was able to make a case for the renovations and accomplished the worthy project.

“You’ve got to do it together,” Abbot Patrick said. “There’s no way individuals, including the abbot, can go it alone. That’s the strength of it; it’s also the aggravation, but that’s the source of spiritual growth. It’s the acceptance of the reality of the other and that the individual cannot live on his own. There are some people who make their fame and fortunes on their own, but that’s not the Benedictine way.”

Abbot Patrick is back once again with his Benedictine family – which next week will celebrate its 125th anniversary as a monastery. He is researching and writing. In 2012, he authored a well-regarded book, “Advent to Pentecost,” a commentary on the liturgical year, published by Liturgical Press.

The last year has been a time of faith and acceptance. Abbot Patrick was diagnosed last December with leukemia, and he spent a month receiving treatment at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital.

“Everybody was telling me, ‘Oh, that’s where Pope John Paul II was,’ and I was telling them, ‘Yeah, he was another friend of mine over there,’” Abbot Patrick said.

He has spent the last 10 months undergoing chemotherapy, and the initial results have been very positive, knocking back the percentage of cancer cells in his bone marrow.

“Maybe it will end in remission, who knows?” Abbot Patrick said. “I feel fine. I’ve got energy. I’m studying and writing and organizing digital photos. I have had no after-effects. No nausea, no headaches, no bleeding. I’ve really been blessed.

“When you get into this way of life, little by little, you begin to see things that you are attached to that you had to give up. Without being too pious, it’s not only growth in holiness and closeness to the Lord and other people in the community through the sharing of common goods, but it’s also humanly fruitful. It’s coming down to the inner core, self-knowledge of who you really are as opposed to what you would like to be, and, above all, what people told w were or hoped you would be.”

The Benedictine life fits Jack Regan, just like a pair of comfortable socks.

“Every day has been an invitation to growth,” Abbot Patrick said.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at

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