Priest continues longtime leadership - Catholic Courier

Priest continues longtime leadership

Father Martin Boler observed that regular visitors to Mount Saviour Monastery are inspired by the example of its monks — “the continuity, finding the same people there persevering.”

As a resident of Mount Saviour for approximately half a century — and its prior, or head, for 37 years — Father Boler himself has taken that perseverance to a remarkable level.

Mount Saviour was founded in 1951 by Father Damasus Winzen, who logged 18 years as the monastery’s first prior. Father Boler has now more than doubled that span of time: the Benedictine priest, 82, took over from Father Winzen in 1969 and remains only the second prior in Mount Saviour’s 55-year history.

A native of Omaha, Neb., Father Boler had begun a thriving career in medicine as a young adult. After serving military stints in both World War II and the Korean War, he was working as a pathologist and urologist in St. Louis, Mo., when a longtime call to a religious vocation began growing stronger. Upon the advice of a local priest, Msgr. Martin Hellriegel, he explored the Benedictine life of Mount Saviour, which had just been established in 1951.

He journeyed to Chemung County in August 1954 to check out the monastery, and joined the community there the following January. In fact, one photo in a recently released book on Mount Saviour (see above story) shows a young Dr. Thomas Boler Jr. and two resident priests inspecting a cow in 1955.

Father Boler said his choice to leave the medical profession was not that difficult, explaining that he had once pursued joining the Society of Jesus.

“Even in high school, my desire was to get into religious life,” he said.

Father Boler attended Catholic University of America and was ordained in 1960. He took the name Martin as a tribute to the St. Louis priest who had guided him toward Mount Saviour.

Today Father Boler oversees a community that contains 12 residents as well as three monks assigned to duties outside Mount Saviour. Resident monks hold regular prayer throughout the day, in keeping with the Rule of St. Benedict; engage in study and discussion; and tend to the on-site farm — now a sheep farm rather than a dairy farm — that has involved considerable labor over the years.

“I was very happy to be in a smaller community and to have gone through these times. We have a deeper appreciation of God’s love for us,” Father Boler said, remarking that Mount Saviour has been typified by “monks throwing themselves into this with real perseverance and dedication.”

The priest noted Mount Saviour has served as an important site for visitors during key developments in recent history. He cited the monastery’s emphasis on ecumenism, as evidenced by the symposium of religious leaders that gathered in Pine City in 1972. That conference, “Word Out of Silence,” was attended by leaders of Protestant, Buddhist, Jewish, Sufi and other worldwide faiths.

Father Boler added that many who came to Mount Saviour in the 1960s were active in the often-turbulent civil-rights movement.

“This was a place where people came to reorient themselves and how best to deal with it,” he said.

These days, Mount Saviour hosts approximately 1,000 people per year for retreats and other programs. Father Boler emphasized that Mount Saviour is not an escape from the secular world, but a place for prayer and reflection on how to better cope with that world.

“It’s a real oasis in the desert, so to speak — which is necessary to go across the desert,” he remarked.

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