On the front cover of the current issue of MonksOK! magazine there is a striking black and white photo of the crucifix that looks over the Abbey Cemetery. The caption on the cover repeats the verse that invites us to gather to pray when one of our monks dies: Come let us worship the Lord, all things live for him. Inside the magazine one can read about our Catholic belief in the Mystical Body of Christ, that bond that exists between all who have received new life in Christ and which does not end with death and which transcends the limits of space and time. One can also read about our customs of commending our deceased monks to the Lord, and remembering them long after they have passed into eternal life.
The publication of this issue of MonksOK! is rather timely as today we have gathered to pray for and honor the memory of our deceased brother, Father Daniel. Fr. Dan entered eternal life on Monday, October 12, which happens to have been the 134th anniversary of the arrival of the first monks of our community in Indian Territory. In this Mass, and in our celebration of the Divine Office today, we come to worship the Lord, from whom and for whom all life exists. We come to perform final corporeal works of mercy for Father Daniel. We affirm our faith in the power of Christ who conquers sin and death. And we express our belief in the reality of the Mystical Body of Christ, knowing that the bonds of love and friendship that unite us in this life do not end with death, but continue for all eternity.
How gratifying it is to see such a large and diverse congregation gathered in this Abbey Church to give thanks for the life and ministry of Fr. Daniel. On behalf of the monastic community, I express our gratitude that you are here, and we share your sense of loss as you already miss your beloved brother, brother in law, uncle, pastor, teacher, coach, mentor, colleague, supervisor, source of encouragement and friend. I also extend the prayers and sympathy of Archbishop Eusebius Beltran who wishes that he could be here today, but is prevented by a previous commitment.
It is well known that Father Dan suffered from several chronic health issues for many years. These limitations of body and mind intensified in recent years, and through them he bore the cross of Christ in a unique way for us all – especially in the most recent weeks. Even though this was very frustrating for him, and caused him from time to time no small amount of aggravation, he nonetheless made effort to reach out to others as best he could – exercising the concern and affection for others which exemplified his earlier years of his life and ministry when he was in good health. It is important for us to remember all the periods of his life, recognizing that he represents much more than the effects of infirmity and advancing age.
Fr. Daniel was blessed to be born into a strong Catholic family in the equally strong Catholic community of Colwich, KS, and Sacred Heart Parish, where he went to school. His loving parents, John and Cathryn, name him Mark – evoking the example of St. Mark, the first evangelist whose symbol is the lion. This image of the lion was evoked this week by St. Gregory’s alumnus Pat Donnelly who said that Fr. Dan was one of the “last lions” who had so much influence on the lives the high school students here at St. Gregory’s.
Young Mark Suellentrop arrived at St. Gregory’s High School in the fall of 1940, the same semester when Fr. Matthew arrived for college. An excellent athlete, he was courted by the St. Louis Cardinals with the temptation of a career in baseball. Instead, he chose to begin studies for the priesthood, and he attended Conception Seminary in MO for two years. In February 1945, he returned to St. Gregory’s to petition Abbot Mark Braun for admittance as a novice. Abbot Mark accepted his petition, and admitted him to the novitiate along with Fr. Charles Massoth. That is when Fr. Daniel received his monastic name, a name which again evoked the image of a lion. This time his name evoked faith of a young Daniel, a faith which tamed ferocious and hungry lions when had been thrown into their den.
He and Fr. Charles made their first profession of vows on Feb. 25, 1946. They continued their studies of philosophy and then theology at St. Gregory’s Abbey and were ordained to the priesthood on April 7, 1951. That is when Fr. Dan began in earnest to fulfill the wide variety assignments that came to him during his 63 years as a monk.
A first focus of his work as a monk and priest was in the high school at St. Gregory’s. This role was a significant influence on the rest of his life. He served as a prefect, coach, teacher, disciplinarian, source of encouragement, “big brother,” and priest for the boys and young men placed under his care. Recently, Mike Moxley and I were praying the rosary with Fr. Dan in his room at St. Ann Nursing Home and Mike shared with me that he remembers well how Fr. Dan prayed the rosary each night with the students in the big open dormitory. That image will stick with me. I suppose he was both teaching these students the importance and power of prayer, and helping them to calm down a bit so that they get to sleep more quickly and be rested for that early wake-up call.
Fr. Dan was extremely proud of the achievements of the students under his care – achievements while they were students and their achievements later in life in their faith, their families, their careers, and their service to others. Their friendship, frequent visits and correspondence helped sustain him later in life. And, as he once so famously remarked at an alumni event a few years ago – and I will paraphrase his manner of expression in this mixed company – in the end it was not trophies and plaques that were important to him, because the alumni themselves were all the trophies he desired.
A second important phase of Fr. Daniel Mark was his zeal for pastoral ministry. Already while he was assigned to the high school, Fr. Dan took to the roads on the weekend to celebrate the sacraments in parishes that needed a substitute priest. After the high school closed, he entered into pastoral ministry away from the monastery for many years. Among his full-time pastoral assignments were St. Francis Xavier in Sulphur; St. Mary’s in Wanette, St. Patrick Mission and Holy Family Parish in Anadarko, and St. Benedict Parish in Shawnee. His last full time assignment as a pastor was at the National Shrine of the Infant of Prague and St. Wenceslaus Parish in Prague. He excelled in giving compassionate and attentive care in each of these assignments, and was remembered fondly by parishioners in each of these communities long after he was moved to other assignments. In fact, one of his former parishioners, Debbie Carlile, showed me a rosary the other day which he had given her at St. Benedict’s when she was about eight years old. He had given each member of her third-grade class a rosary when they sang at Midnight Mass. I will not give the exact year when the gift was made, but she obviously still treasures – and uses – this thoughtful gift that he gave to each of these children.
Another important phase of his life as a monk of St. Gregory’s began in 1967, when he was given permission to enter the Chaplain’s Corps of the US Army. He once told me the story of what motivated him to request this assignment – it came out of his ministry to a young mother of several children at St. Benedict’s in Shawnee. He had been called upon to share with her the news that her husband had been killed in action in Vietnam. That experience motivated him to give himself over full-time to pastoral care of men and women in uniform and their families. He served with distinction in this capacity for twenty years, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel after serving in posts in six states, as well as assignments in Vietnam, Korea and Germany. As was the case with his work in the high school and parishes, Fr. Dan maintained contact with many of his colleagues and parishioners through the military. For instance, Dr. Bob Iveny, president of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, and his wife were in touch with me twice this week, expressing their desire to be here today as an expression of their appreciation for the pastoral care their family received from Fr. Dan while they were in the military. They also were not able to rearrange their schedule to be here. I note also the presence of Mgsr. Jim Sanner, who trained as a chaplain with Fr. Dan. He has come from San Antonio to be present for these services. Fr. Dan’s received numerous citations and service medals while in the military, including the Cross of Gallantry with Palm, the Meritorious Service Medal and the high honor of the Bronze Star. I am sure that those recognitions meant a great deal to him. More than that, however, I am equally sure that as with his former students, he was most proud of the families he served while in the Army. One of his evaluations includes the statement: “Of all the chaplains in the C22 course, the clergy most asked for by the chaplains in the field is Chaplain Suellentrop.” This assessment is confirmed by testimonials from parishioners he served in various assignments.
Finally, it is important to remember that Fr. Dan was passionate about the future of our monastic community. While the manner in which he expressed it in later years was not always understood, he was always concerned about vocations, about the care of the infirm and elders, about our facilities, and about promoting awareness of our community at St. Gregory’s. In my visits with him since becoming abbot, he would often ask me about what we were doing to address these areas. He would give me suggestions with his usual passion about what he believed to be our top priorities as a community, and he offered strategies to address them. Many of these strategies were indeed very good, and have actually been implemented.
Later in life, Fr. Dan often expressed awareness of his own weaknesses and growing infirmity, and sincerely did not want to be a burden to the community. Yes, at times he would let his passions get the best of him, but he would also be quick to ask for forgiveness when he realized he might have made life difficult for others and to express appreciation and say “thank you” when he realized that others were trying to assist him. He was very grateful to all who visited him, and especially to the abbey health care staff and the staff at St. Ann Assisted Living and St. Ann Nursing home where he lived the last five months of his life. On behalf of Fr. Dan and the rest of our community, I do want to thank in particular Br. Isidore, Br. Dominic, Br. George and our Abbey health care staff, the staffs at St. Ann Assisted Living and Nursing Home, Joe & Jeanne King and Mike & Linda Moxley for the many ways in which you all supported Fr. Dan in his infirmity.
In our second reading, St. Paul writes to the Corinthians that he was not discouraged by the difficulties that he faced in his life, but looked beyond suffering to the promise of salvation given by Jesus Christ. The faith and sentiments of St. Paul were also those of Father Daniel in his later stages in life. He did not become discouraged because he believed that his “momentary light affliction [was] producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as [he] looked not to what is seen but to what is unseen.” Fr. Dan trusted that “…if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven.” Indeed, returning to the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, his “hope was full of immortality” and we can trust that “chastised a little, he shall be greatly blessed, because God tried him and found him worthy of himself.” Aware of his faith, knowing that he received the final sacraments of the Church, having witnessed his care and love for others in this life and the way in which he invested the goods, talents, education, and vocation entrusted to him, we trust that his soul is “in the hand of God,” and that “no torment shall touch” him.
In his life of faith and ministry, Fr. Daniel Mark Suellentrop had the passion and strength of a lion – at times he might even have had the roar of a lion. He did his best to used this passion and strength in service to the mission of the Church and shared his life with countless others – his brother monks, his family, his parishioners, his students, the soldiers and their families in his care, the infirm, and many others. Remembering this, we entrust Fr. Daniel to the Lord, and we find comfort in the promise of Jesus in today’s gospel: “I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I cam down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me…. That I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise in on the last day.” Indeed, having shared in the ministry and the sufferings of Christ, may Fr. Dan experience the fulfillment of the promise made by Jesus Christ and have a share in the glory of God’s Kingdom! Amen.