The Missionary Monk, Part 1
Past Pastors: Fr. Clarence Meyer, OSB (1932-1934, 1934-1942)
Published on May 31-June 1, 2014 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
The Right Rev. Bernard Menges, OSB (1866-1933), the second abbot of Saint Bernard Abbey (1904-1933), sent Fr. Clarence Meyer, OSB, in 1932 to replace Fr. Norbert Russwurm, OSB (1893-1963), as the associate pastor at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Danville, Kentucky, after the latter returned to the abbey to teach at the school. Fr. Clarence, OSB, would serve as the associate there for two years, ministering primarily to the two missions here in Mercer County, Saint Nicholas in Rose Hill and Saint Andrew in Harrodsburg. In 1934, he was appointed pastor of these two Churches, becoming our first resident pastor since 1919.
The Rev. Clarence Meyer, OSB, was born on July 25, 1899 in Regensburg (also known historically as Ratisbon), Bavaria, Germany, and received the name Joseph at his baptism. He emigrated at the age of eleven from Bremen, Germany, and arrived in New York City on board the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II on September 27, 1910.
Joseph Meyer professed his vows as a monk of the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB) on July 11, 1918 at Saint Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama, and took the name Clarence in religion. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 3, 1923 by the Right Rev. Edward P. Allen (1853-1926), the fifth Bishop of Mobile (1897-1926).
Fr. Clarence, OSB, started out as a teacher of physics and philosophy at Saint Bernard’s before the abbot sent him to serve in the missions. He would spend the rest of his life as a missionary in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Alabama, building beautiful Churches in these states that were paid off before their dedications.
He was first sent in 1926 to serve under the Rev. Placidus Becker, OSB (1873-1948), who was then the pastor (1922-1936) of Sacred Heart Church in Corbin, Kentucky. He took the place of Fr. Norbert, OSB, as associate pastor in Corbin as he later would in Danville. He served there in Corbin until 1932, when he left to assist the Rev. Sebastian Siemer, OSB (1876-1936), at Saints Peter and Paul Church.
This missionary monk is remembered for his ministry to the first and second generation Italian immigrants at Saint Boniface Church in Jellico, Tennessee, the mission then of Sacred Heart Church that covered the southern portion of Whitley County in Kentucky as well as Campbell County in Tennessee. The people there “did not have the facilities to practice their religion formally,” but “they considered it a must to have their children baptized and to marry and be buried in the Catholic Rite.” Fr. Clarence, OSB, firmly believed that it would be best for the priest to go to the people if the people could not come to the priest. Thus, he was known to hitch a ride on trains, going as far as these would take him, and then he would walk the railroad tracks or ride a mule to a home where he would offer the Sacraments.