William Wolf

RT. REV. INNOCENT WOLF, D. D., has been Abbot of St. Benedict's at Atchison forty years. He was chosen to that office upon the creation of the Abbey of the Benedictine Order, and with remarkable devotion to its welfare, and with exceptional qualifications of spiritual and intellectual leadership, has developed the establishment until the Abbey now attends to seventeen parishes, nine missions, besides St. Benedict's College, from which hundreds of well educated men have gone into the secular as well as the religious affairs of the world. Father Abbot now has under his supervision fifty-five priests, besides a number of clerics, novices and brothers.

Except for a period of his childhood and the years he spent abroad in his theological studies, Father Abbot has been a resident of the United States since 1851. He was born in Schmidheim, Rhenish Prussia, April 13, 1843. His parents were John and Gertrude (Molitor) Wolf. He was given the name William at his christening. He was the youngest of nine children, seven sons and two daughters. John Wolf was a school teacher who taught the parish children at Schmidheim. Desiring better opportunities for himself and his children, he finally sent his oldest son John, in company with his uncle Molitor to select a location in America. John bought a farm in Brighton Parish in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. In 1851 the family joined him there and the father besides teaching the parochial school at Brighton looked after the development of his farm, in which he was assisted by his sons. Two of these sons entered the service of the church. The first was Ferdinand, who at the age of eighteen was rejected as an applicant for admission to St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee and subsequently entered the newly established Benedictine Monastery at Beatty, Pennsylvania, known as St. Vincent's. Father Ferdinand, who died at the ripe age of eighty in 1914, was a pioneer missionary in Southwestern Kansas during the early '80s. The son Peter also attended St. Vincent's for a time and subsequently was a prominent lawyer in Chicago.

As a schoolboy William Wolf showed those talents well fitting him for a vocation in the priesthood. He was offered admission to the St. Francis Seminary at Milwaukee, but his mother desired that he should join his brothers at St. Vincent's. Therefore in 1854 he went to St. Vincent's in compauy with his brother Peter. He was then eleven years of age and he applied himself with all diligence to his studies until he had finished the classical course. On being admitted to the Benedictine Order he took the name Innocent from his godfather in confirmation. He was admitted to vows July 11, 1861, at the age of eighteen, and for the next five years pursued his studies of philosophy and theology. During the last year of his clericate he was appointed socius or companion of the novices. He was ordained priest May 26, 1866, and said his first holy mass at St. Joseph's Church in Chicago. His father had died in 1856 and the mother and her family moved to Kenosha and later to Chicago.

The head of St. Vincent's, desiring to keep the ecclesiastical studies on a high standard, sent some of his most talented monks for a post-graduate course to Rome. Father Innocent was one of the first three students selected to attend this post-graduate course in the Eternal City. There he attended the Papal University known as the Sapienza, and studied theology four years. He was awarded a number of medals and at the end received the degree Doctor of Divinity.

After his return to America in the summer of 1870 Father Innocent for six years taught theology at St. Vincent's, and at the same time served first as Master of Novices and then as Prior and Procurator. In 1876, due to a severe cold, he became affected with throat trouble and after the end of the school year he was sent to Colorado for his health. He was on his way back East and, visiting at Topeka was informed of his election as the first Abbot of the newly erected Abbey at Atchison. He was elected September 29, 1876, and the election was confirmed by the Pope October 20, and his installation occurred on St. Benedict's Day March 21, 1877.

When he became Superior of St. Benedict's the community consisted of nine priests, three clerics and seven brothers. The college was then attended by twenty-six boarders and twenty-seven day scholars. The church was burdened with a heavy debt and there were other complications with which the Abbot had to deal. He entered upon his new duties with energy and zeal, and besides acting as superior was also the Procurator, the College director, professor of theology, frequently substituted for the professors assisted in hearing confessions, and at times shared in the manual labor of carrying wood, working in the vineyard, and assisting in the ordinary repair work. He was an earnest but whole souled man, a strict disciplinarian, and yet combined strictness with an unselfish interest in the welfare of the individual students which made him greatly beloved in the college and gave him a strong hold upon the affections of students long after they had graduated.

In the forty years since he became Abbot the college and the monastery have had a continuous and healthy growth. Additions were made to the buildings from time to time, playgrounds were enlarged, and St. Benedict's is now one of the most flourishing institutions of the Catholic Church in Kansas. The students of St. Benedict's College have had the reputation of being thorough in their studies and knowing how to study. Father Abbot has constantly worked to keep up this high standard. He has sent professors to the best universities in this country and some of them to the Roman University Sant Anselmo. He has been generous in supplying instruments required for the pursuit of science, and has given particular encouragement to music. He himself played the flute and the piccolo while in college, and has made it a point that the college should maintain a band and orchestra. His influence and work have been no less beneficial among the various parishes and missions attended by the Abbey. He has kept himself in close touch with the pastors and his generosity has enabled some of the smallest and poorest of the missions to maintain regular services. Many aspirants for the priesthood have received definite encouragement in their studies and owe much of the success of their careers to Father Abbot.

He has now been a priest fifty years and Abbot of St. Benedict's forty years. This service was acknowledged by Pope Benedict XV in conferring upon him the Cappa Magna. This distinction is an honorary decoration, and permits Father Abbot to wear the Cappa Magna, a large mantle with a long train which ordinarily only bishops have the privilege of wearing.


A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918; transcribed 1997.
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