Benedictine abbots elect head of Conception Abbey abbot primate

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Abbot Polan
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ROME — A room with a view of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica from a monastery atop the Aventine Hill is very nice, but Abbot Gregory Polan knows he will miss his brother monks at Conception Abbey in Missouri very, very much.

The new room at the Rome monastery of St. Anselm comes with Abbot Polan's election Sept. 10 as abbot primate of the worldwide Benedictine Confederation, a network of men's monasteries.

The abbot primate is not the superior general of the Benedictine order because the monasteries are independent. Instead, the abbot primate is called to represent the monks at international gatherings, promote the unity of the abbeys and priories around the world and serve as a liaison to the Vatican.

As abbot primate, he also becomes the abbot of St. Anselm in Rome and chancellor of the Benedictine's Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm and its Pontifical Liturgical Institute.

All of that means resigning as Conception Abbey's abbot, a position he has held for almost 20 years.

The community life with its prayer times, liturgy, work, silence, communal meals and communal recreation drew him to the Missouri abbey surrounded by corn and soy fields. As a Benedictine, he vowed stability to that community and will remain a member of the 58-member Conception community even as he serves his term as abbot primate.

"This is tough," he said. "I'm going to miss my community very much. I love them very much. I've worked with them for 20 years and we've accomplished many things together. It's a very talented group of men and very generous, prayerful, sacrificial and good-hearted men."

Abbot Polan, 66, expects to serve only a single eight-year term as abbot primate. He will be 74 when his term is up and the Benedictine Confederation rules do not allow monks to choose a man over 75 as abbot primate.

A Scripture scholar and translator, he was studying Italian in 1996 and preparing to move to St. Anselm as a professor. Instead, he was elected abbot of Conception Abbey. Although he describes his Italian as simply "fair," he has been using it once a year when he has come to Rome to help with the Benedictines' annual 10-day course for those involved in formation.

He has done translations for the New American Bible and led the effort to complete a new translation of the Psalms, known as the Revised Grail Psalter, which the U.S. bishops' have approved for use in the liturgy.

Abbot Polan was born Jan. 2, 1950, in Berwyn, Ill. He entered the Benedictine novitiate at Conception Abbey in 1970 and professed his vows a year later. He studied at St. John's Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., and was ordained to the priesthood in 1977. 

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