Death of Fr. David Wechter
Fr. David Wechter, a past abbot of the community of New Melleray, died on December 4th of this year. He had currently been serving as chaplain to a group of Carmelites hermits in Houston, MN and it is there that he died after complications of a pulmonary illness. He had served as chaplain there from 1981-2022, while also serving on the local diocesan marriage tribunal. He had studied Canon Law in Rome after entering the monastery. He was also well known as a spiritual director and confessor in the area. His funeral mass was celebrated on Saturday, December 10th in the cathedral of the Winona diocese, with Bishop Robert Barron presiding. Fr. Brendan and Fr. Ephrem represented the community at this mass, and then drove the body back to New Melleray for burial in our cemetery that afternoon. The community gathered for a simple service of commendation and burial. We will celebrate a memorial mass at a later date.
At our community chapter meeting on the following Sunday, we were able to share our memories of Fr. David. After studying Canon Law in Rome, he was asked to stay and serve as a socius to help guide and direct the many Cistercian monks who were coming to study in Rome at that time. He served as superior of our daughter house in Ava, Missouri (Assumption Abbey) and from there was elected abbot of New Melleray from 1967-1976. That was a time of enormous change in our Order, our community, and the Church. Fr. David shepherded the community as it responded to the call to renewal from the Second Vatican Council. Our liturgy moved from Latin and Gregorian chant to the vernacular (English). The Order had allowed transitioning from common dormitories to the use of private cells, and this meant not only reconstruction of physical spaces, but also a reconstruction of the way we lived together and the opportunity for more personal solitude. In the process of reexamining our financial support and work, we found it necessary to engage in a more fundamental discernment of the bases of our life together. This resulted in a two-year and multi-layered Self-Study Program which involved the community in intensive dialogue. And as if all that were not enough, the renovation of our church was carried out from 1974 to 1976 with its dedication in July of 1976.
Fr. David had felt called to a more hermetical form of life for some time, and the community reluctantly allowed him to resign as abbot to follow this movement of the Spirit in his heart. He was chaplain for some time at Mississippi Abbey, our neighboring Cistercian sisters. In 1981, he moved further north to be chaplain to a small group of Carmelite nuns living as hermits, first in Wisconsin but later moving to Minnesota. He returned annually to visit the community and remained a member of the community in good standing under the official category of a Hermit Living Off the Property.