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OBITUARIES : Father Werner Papeians de Morchoven, 1914
- 2008

Monk helped found St. Andrew's Abbey

October 02, 2008|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Father Werner Papeians de Morchoven, a Benedictine monk from Belgium and a former missionary to China who was one of the founders of St. Andrew's Abbey in Valyermo, Calif., in the mid-1950s, has died. He was 94.

Papeians de Morchoven, who had heart problems and suffered a head injury after falling outside his room at the abbey Aug. 31, died Tuesday at the Citrus Valley Hospice in West Covina, said Brother Dominique Guillen.

Papeians de Morchoven was one of the small group of monks who in 1955 founded what was originally known as St. Andrew's Priory on a several-hundred-acre former turkey ranch in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in northern Los Angeles County.

The monks had been forced out of their monastery in China several years earlier by the Communist government.

St. Andrew's Abbey, which has grown to 1,700 acres and includes retreat centers for adults and for youths, is now home to 24 monks.

During his more than five decades at the abbey, Papeians de Morchoven served as ranch manager from 1957 to 1991, treasurer from 1956 to 1980 and chairman of the fundraising fall festival from 1969 to 1992.

At various times, his other duties included marketing the ceramic angels and saints the abbey produces and managing the gift shop. He also served for many years as auxiliary chaplain at Edwards Air Force Base.

"He was in charge of every building project, of every major repair," said Father Francis Benedict, abbot emeritus, who knew Papeians de Morchoven for 43 years. "He had his finger in every pie; he basically was running the whole place."

He added: "He was a very bright and talented man who was very gracious with other people, and he was a great conversationalist. He was interested in everything from history to politics to religion to just people's lives.

"He was very interested in not the theory but the practice of Christianity. He really appreciated people who lived their faith."

An accomplished artist who worked with pastels and oil, Papeians de Morchoven was known for his mountain and desert landscapes, which he sold year-round at the abbey and at the fall festival.

He also made several pieces in silver and gold, including a monstrance, a ciborium and a chalice, all of which are Eucharistic vessels.

And he used his skill at metalwork to transform re-bar and farm implements into a lectern, a sanctuary lamp and outdoor Stations of the Cross.

The son of a judge and one of nine children, Papeians de Morchoven was born Jan. 28, 1914, in Brugge, Belgium.

He developed an early interest in art. At 5, he began creating watercolor paintings of sites in the city, setting up his small easel on the cobblestone streets next to older artists who offered him their advice. He later sold his work to art collectors and galleries.

At 17, he entered the abbey of Sint Andries in Loppem, where he spent two years in monastic studies and philosophy.

He then spent four years at Louvain University, where he studied theology and was ordained in his third year, in 1938.

By the end of 1939, he had been mobilized into the army as a stretcher bearer but soon went to China as a missionary priest.

Among other things during his 13 years in China, he served as a contract chaplain for the U.S. 7th Air Force and spent two years teaching painting, drawing and art history at the Szechwan Provincial Academy of Fine Arts.

After being expelled from China in 1952, Papeians de Morchoven returned to Belgium, and he was later sent to abbeys in France and Germany.

Father Eleutherius Winance, 99, is the now the sole surviving founding monk of St. Andrew's Abbey.

When asked for a 1980 Times story on the abbey why he became a Benedictine monk, Papeians de Morchoven laughed and looked stumped.

"I don't know; it's very difficult to say," he said, then added: "You've become something. You follow a call that you feel within you. I went naturally into a way of life. I had it [the call] when I was very young. I'm not a psychologist. I don't analyze my feelings or thinking. It just seems to be natural to me."

A list of surviving family members was unavailable.

A vigil and wake will be held after vespers at 6 p.m. Friday at the abbey, 31001 N. Valyermo Road, Valyermo. A funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, followed by burial at the abbey.

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dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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