The third person to be honored this year, and last to be presented the Crimson Cross posthumously is the mighty monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Bardstown, Kentucky. No, it is not the apostate Thomas Merton who helped pave the way for ecumenism becoming acceptable, but the man who worked and prayed alongside Merton and who is remembered in the heavenly regions as the one who remained faithful to the Faith - Father Urban John Francis Snyder, a Cistercian Monk who served in every capacity at the world famous monastery in what has become Trappist, Kentucky save heading up the Abbey. He was a Retreat Master, a Novice Master, a molder of young minds who did all he could to stave off the flood of novelty cascading into the monastery thanks to Vatican II. In the manner of the dauntless statesman and pioneer Daniel Boone from his native state two centuries earlier, Father Snyder forged the frontier for faithful Catholics in rejecting the radical reforms that produced the heresies of humanism, ecumenism, religious liberty and modernism. With Abbe Dom Prosper Louis Pascal Gueranger and His Excellency Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngo-dinh-Thuc we were able to find a plethora of information to provide a thorough biography. For Father Snyder, were it not for the eulogy written on February 1, 1995 by Bishop Richard Williamson, we would have very little to go on. As it is there are parts of Father Snyder's life that are sketchy, but we shall endeavor to fill in as best we can taking most from Bishop Williamson's words.
He is buried on the grounds of the Monastery in upstate New York (above). His Excellency Bishop Williamson wraps up this tribute with the first words he wrote of Father Snyder's eulogy:
Next to His Excellency Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Bishop Williamson knew Father Snyder best for Father Urban was in on the ground floor in forming the Society of St. Pius X in the United States, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. John Francis Snyder was born on April 7, 1912 in Louisville, Kentucky to a pious Catholic family as Bishop Williamson wrote. He came up through the ranks of Catholic prep and matriculated to Xavier University in Cincinnati, under the tutelage of the Society of Jesus, where he obtained a Master's Degree in History in 1934 as the Great Depression was finally receding and hope seemed on the American horizon. It was with hope and faith that Urban John Francis Snyder went forth to find his vocation. We now provide parts of his eulogy to Fr. Snyder in a chronological order:
"Fr. Snyder was actually a late vocation to the priesthood...he may have thought his career lay in the law because through his middle twenties he studied at Jefferson School of Law, being admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1940. However, he never practised as a lawyer but worked instead as a lay secretary of the Louisville Catholic School board under Monsignor Pitt for a few years.
So the first thirty years of his life were spent in the world, giving him a knowledge of life and an experience of men which those same years spent in the Church would not have given him in the same way. Not that he ever strayed far from the Church. It was the Jesuits who had formed his mind, and in early manhood an annual retreat at the Cistercian Monastery in Gethsemani, NY, had maintained this spiritual life.
Later in life the contrast was striking between the slightness and apparent frailty of the outer man, and the firmness of faith and solidity of reasoning of the inner man, so it is easy to imagine the unassuming exterior of these early years behind which God was preparing his future servant."
The Second World War had just broken out a few months earlier with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Not sure what God wanted of him in life, he took the opportunity to attend a retreat in his native state at the Cistercian Abbey of Gethsemani. The Bishop picks up from here:
"The hour of God struck in the spring of 1942 when John Francis Snyder met the famous Apostle of the Sacred Heart, Father Mateo Crowley, at a retreat at Gethsemani. It was the priest who first mentioned a religious vocation. The young man did not hesitate. He entered the Monastery as a postulant in the autumn.
He took naturally to the Cistercian monk's life, which is proof of his providential preparation. Ordained a priest on December 20, 1947, in his 36th year, he was immediately appointed Retreat Master for visitors coming to the Monastery from outside, and then Novice Master for a horde of novices flocking to the Monastery in the wake of the World War. He would in fact over the next few years hold every office in the Monastery except that of Abbot."
Quite an accomplishment for anyone, but for Father Snyder it was part and parcel of his calling and the talent he had been blessed with. As Bishop Williamson relates, the aftermath of the War was a bonanza for America as each sought the "American Dream" and the Church was in, in a manner of speaking, it's "golden age" in the United States. Vocations were up for the priesthood and religious life and, through the grace of the Holy Ghost many were attracted to strive for greater holiness in the monastic life. Thus the quiet, rolling hills of Kentucky teemed with monks and aspirants. The Rule of Saint Benedict was the norm and all seemed copecetic, but, as the Bishop explained, the calm and fruits would be short-lived:
"But in the 1950's storm-clouds were gathering over the Church, and it might be said the Devil began with the monasteries. For example, Getsemane's most famous monk of that time, Father Louis (Thomas Merton), had undergone a conversion in the 1940's to the quality of which his early books, and their fruits of many vocations, seem to testify, but in the swing to modernism of the 1950's the self-seeking emotionalism of his Protestant origins regained the upper hand, and worse, he continued to draw a large part of the monastery after him. What was a true monk to do?
Here began for Father Snyder tens of years of wandering, again, not outwardly impressive to relate, but revealing to the inner eye a steady fidelity and coherence: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways My ways, saith the Lord" (Isaias 55: 8). The monk might be driven out of the unfaithful monastery, but the monastery could not be taken out of the faithful monk. He remained the monk, say friends, to the end of his days."
While so many were mesmerized by the novelties introduced by Merton whose The Seven Storey Mountain had gone to his head vanity-wise and the monastery, in papolotry-fashion, turned Gethsemani into a spin museum for Merton and his works, enthusiastically embracing all the innovations so brazenly introduced at Vatican II and adopted afterwards with nary a clue or regard for Tradition. For Father Snyder this was too much. Yet, his love for monastic life prompted him to request a transfer. From the bluegrass of his old Kentucky home he sought the quiet of the fields just outside the small towns of Piffard and Geneseo, New York and the Monastery of Genesee situated 35 miles south of Rochester and 55 miles east of Buffalo, 350 miles northwest of New York City. Here, surely he could rekindle the peace he had sought and taught, but, as Bishop Williamson relates, few refuges remained in the wreckovation of the Faith thanks to the liberalism pervading society:
"Firstly, he requested and obtained a transfer to the Cistercian monastery in Genesee, NY, and then, probably harried by the monks' modernism burgeoning there too, obtained a sabbatical year to study in Rome. Here he remained for a good part of the time of the Second Vatican Council, but instead of letting himself be confused or swept away by that collective madness possessing numberless priests from the heart of the Church, he returned to the USA, to work as a chaplain for the Sisters of Charity in Nazareth, Kentucky. This time one would guess the modernism of the nuns drove him to ask for and obtain leave to work in the diocese of Covington, Kentucky, under Bishop Richard Ackerman
, which is where he met in 1970 Archbishop Lefebvre who was just at that time looking for priests to help him found the Society of St. Pius X, in particular for an English-speaking priest to help look after the several American seminarians then entering the new seminary at Ecône.
Father Snyder obviously found in the Archbishop a defender of his own faith, so he agreed to help in forming faithful priests with him, and he followed the Archbishop back to Europe, this time settling in Switzerland. Father Snyder's official incardination or entry into the new Society in 1971 is a part of Society history, because it was (and remains) a proof of Rome's recognition at that time of the Society's canonical standing within the Church, denied by many. For a few years, crucial years for the Society, Father Snyder helped form the English-speaking seminarians at Ecône. Few priests saw at that time the need to stand by the Archbishop, and still fewer had the courage to do so, but Father Snyder was one of them. His mild and quiet exterior belied his strong faith and clear mind.
However, about 1975 he left Ecône, at least in part over a practical disagreement with the Archbishop. The Archbishop had his reasons, needing men to found his Society in the U.S.A., but Father Snyder was not incorrect in his assessment of some of those men, who, at least objectively speaking, would betray the Archbishop a few years later. On the contrary, if Father Snyder did not stay at the Archbishop's side, he nevertheless remained faithful to his cause and sympathetic to the Society.
For several years more he stayed in Europe, serving as private chaplain amongst Catholics of the rising Traditional movement, this time in Germany. From now on, souls from numerous countries in several languages were contacting him to obtain spiritual counsel and solid advice in a more and more confusing situation of Church and world. Surely his spiritual wisdom and balance never failed them."
In 1978 he wrote a powerful piece that was reprinted in the Remnant entitled "Get behind Me, Satan" in which Father Snyder so magnificently laid out the crisis in the Church to those who had conceded to the devil by lowering their guard against the flesh and the world:
"Is it possible to have peace of mind and heart in the present crisis of the Church? Yes, provided we are fortified with the deep realization that, (1) Nothing happens which God does not will, or (if an evil) permits, for the sake of a greater good; (2) that those who trust in God are 'guarded by His power unto salvation' (Cf. St. Peter 1: 5) and (3) that during the present life it is necessary for us, both individually and collectively, to pass in some sense through the divine mysteries of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Redeemer, in order to be saved and sanctified. He, the Light of the world, says, 'He who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.' (St. John 12: 35) Jesus is the Head of the Mystical Body of which we are the members. Our Head (who alone has the 'eyes' by which we 'see' supernaturally) enjoys eternally the Beatific Vision in Heaven, and in His light we 'see the light.' (Cf. Psalm 35.10)
It is by the Holy Spirit, in Whom the 'whole Body is closely joined and knit together through every joint of the system' (Ephesians 4: 6), that the divine light from our Head is communicated to His individual members according to their function, and their capacity to receive; that is, according to the degree of supernatural health which they enjoy, their degree of union with God through faith and love. In proportion as we receive light from our Head, we see and understand all things with 'the mind of Christ'. 'The sensual man does not perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God, for it is foolishness to him and he cannot understand, because it is examined spiritually. But the spiritual man judges all things…who have the mind of Christ' (1 Corinthians 2.14-16)"
With that kind of solid foundation, few wavered under his tutelage and spiritual direction. Yet, in life differences crop up and in total charity, Father Snyder expressed them to the Archbishop to always remain friends though he was going back to his home turf. Bishop Williamson resumes his eulogy:
"In 1982 he returned permanently to the United States, based on his beloved home state of Kentucky. From here he continued to travel, to lecture, to administer sacraments to the scattered remnant flock, to study, to pray, always the monk, but his main apostolate was perhaps by mail: 'His mail was unreal,' says a friend who knew him well during this time, 'his secret was his spirituality. He drew people. He always had the right words to say. He answered any question spiritually. People wrote to him from everywhere.'"
When the friend writes "He drew people" that was because he taught everyone to entreat Jesus to draw them nearer to Him. He encouraged all to go to Saint Joseph for the holy Foster-father would draw them nearer to Jesus. He also wrote a beautiful essay "O Jesus, Draw Me" in which he spoke of the holy Joseph: "God had come into Joseph's life in a most marvelous and intimate way, but notice that for him the first herald of this event was not an angel of light, but a terribly dark night of torment and anguish. God, Who is infinite wisdom and love and knows what is best for us, very often acts precisely in this way with all of us. I think I can say that it is His usual way. For do not the lives of the saints teach that the greatest graces are preceded by the greatest trials? And so, if our understanding is properly illuminated by Faith and the Holy Spirit, we will see that trials and tribulations are a blessing, they are God's messengers, informing us that He is drawing near to us. 'The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.' That is why we should never be too cast down or upset when unexpected blows of any kind fall upon us. They are angels in disguise, so to speak, and their message is 'Fear not, soul, Jesus the Savior is drawing near to you. Make way for Him in your heart, for that which is happening to you is of the Holy Ghost."
It was those kind of encouraging words that endeared so many to him for he was a beacon in the murky swamp that had become American Catholicism. While peace and justice was the new battle cry of the progressivists, Father Snyder continued on the steady course where the Barque of Peter had always sailed. Never mind that there had been a Mutiny on Holy See, Father Snyder remained a loyal first mate on the ship while all others, including the skippers, were abandoning the S.S. Holy Mother Church. Because he was so low key and, in reality a simple, pious monk, he garnered very little publicity and is therefore today not as well known as others, but on Heaven's shore he is lauded for his navigating souls safely in grace. The Bishop picks up where we left off with Father Snyder returning from Europe permanently to drop anchor, if you will, in his native United States.
"He visited the Seminary here in Winona a few times in his late 70's, and he was always a welcome and interesting visitor, with useful tales to tell to whoever could stop and listen."
One such account was when Archbishop Lefebvre asked Father Snyder to give the Annual Retreat for the American Clergy of the SSPX in Armada, Michigan in May 1985 at, where else, St. Joseph's Shrine. There he preached encouragement to the priests, entreating them to stay the course and the way to stay afloat was by increasing their prayer life and devotion, centering their lives on the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. That week, as The Angeles in its June 1985 issue related, also corresponded to Archbishop Lefebvre personally attending as well and joining Father Snyder in assuring the priests "Stand firm for the traditions of our Faith" in light of "the continuing crisis in the Church."
The picture to the left, as grainy as it is, was a group photo which we cropped to show Archbishop Lefebvre on the left and Father Snyder second from the right. At the far right is Father Carl Pulvermacher who died in May this year. Between the Archbishop and Father Urban was Father Hunter. Though we do not have all the facts, many believe this was the last time the Archbishop and Father Urban Snyder were ever together again for Father Urban retired to the Cistercian Monastery of Genesee for the last years of his life as the Bishop related:
"But as he reached 80 his strength was giving out, so he finally returned to the monastery in Genesee which was where he could be looked after and where he died and was buried. In fairness, the monastery had always been kind to him. May his soul rest in peace.
His had not been a great public career, but only God knows how many souls are grateful to him for his priceless help in private, at a time when true priests were becoming harder and harder to find. Amongst men, no doubt he could easily be overlooked or passed over, but before God it was surely a faithful servant who hung back from the polluted public arena and quietly did the Good Shepherd's work amongst the scattered sheep. We shall not however assume that he is already in Heaven, we shall pray for him and beg prayers for him, because we are grateful for his counsel and his example on our darkening scene. Fidelity is possible, his example proves."
He died on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul with the monks all praying at his bedside. The picture to the right shows him praying with the other monks at Gethsemani where he remained a Cistercian, loyal to the rule of St. Benedict even though the majority were not loyal to the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church. Because of the wreckovation, he was not afforded the kind of Requiem Mass he requested at the Monastery, but it was said for him in all the Society houses the world over for he played a significant role in the growth of the Society, a man behind the scenes who, while preaching with perseverance, let his example of being on his knees speak the loudest as to his sincerity and devoutness to the True Faith. Whether in Bardstown, Covington, Genesee, Rome or Econe or elsewhere, he was always "Urban et orbi to all - whether in the city or world - he stood firm to Tradition. Father Urban Snyder was truly the Kentucky-bred Monk who resisted the heresies promulgated at and after Vatican II. He stood firm for the Truths and Traditions of the Faith.
"Another old and faithful American priest, known to many of you, and an ally of the Society of St. Pius X in its earliest days, died...at 9:30 pm on January 25 in the infirmary of the Cistercian Monastery of Genesee, in upstate New York in his 82nd year. 'He had been for a month in the infirmary,' said those who were with him, 'and for the last two weeks he was unable to talk, but he was serene, and appreciated with a smile anything done for him. It was a very edifying death.'
As the faithful veterans of the Catholic priesthood disappear one by one who handed down their Faith to the youngsters of the Society of St. Pius X, enabling or helping the Society to start and to take up where they left off, it is fitting to pay tribute to their generation –
"Their shoulders held the sky suspended, They stood, and earth's foundations stay ..."
In wrapping up this tribute, one of Father's students wrote the following that was included on the Society's web site for the U.S:
"Epikeia is a Greek word we learn in the seminary. Father would have it on his lips anytime he had to justify his so-called 'disobedience' to the Bishop or he had to discuss ecclesiastical matters like jurisdiction with his fellow priests or inquisitive lay-folk. Epikeia means departing from the letter of the law when the letter of the law involves injury to the common utility or something against justice. This kind of thing happens because the letter of the law can't foresee every case, especially in difficult circumstances such as the crisis of the Church presents. In such cases, the letter of the law is defective and one must act according to the virtue of Epikeia that guides a man according to the necessity of the common good. One can easily appreciate the extent of the God-given wisdom Father had by considering how he was able to apply this virtue though all his best friends and diocesan experts were following the so-called path of obedience to the detriment of the Church and countless souls."
We wish there had been more information available to pay tribute to this unsung hero of the Traditional Movement in the United States. But the reader gets the picture for his true feats are recorded in the good book and that is sufficient for Father Snyder. He died as he lived, quietly and at total peace because he truly practiced what he preached. For his dauntless perseverance and dedication to standing firm to the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church we proudly present the Crimson Cross in his honor and enshrine posthumously Father Urban Snyder into the Tower of Trent Hall of Honor and proclaim today, the Feast of the holy Bishop and Doctor of the Church Saint Alphonsus Liguori, and throughout the upcoming week through August 8th as Father Urban Snyder Week.
For those inducted so far into the Tower of Trent Hall of Honor see HALL OF HONOR