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 | Courtesy of St. Bernard Abbey

Monks of St. Bernard Abbey mourn the loss of Abbot Victor Clark, O.S.B.

With heavy hearts, Abbot Marcus Voss, O.S.B., and the monks of St. Bernard Abbey announced the death of their confrere, the Right Rev. Victor Joseph Clark, O.S.B., Eighth Abbot of St. Bernard Abbey, who went to God on Jan. 27.

Baptized Joseph Jude Clark, Abbot Victor was born in Cullman on Jan. 7, 1930, the eighth of nine children, to Rene Marcus Clark and Anna Marie Schwann. Raised in Cullman, Abbot Victor grew up in the “shadow of St. Bernard,” as he liked to say, attending Sacred Heart Elementary School. After graduating from grammar school in 1943, Abbot Victor took a summer job delivering groceries at White Star Market in Cullman. During that summer, Benedictine Father Philip Niedermeier called him into the rectory of Sacred Heart Parish Church and advised Abbot Victor to enter the seminary at St. Bernard. That he did, beginning his studies in St. Bernard’s high school seminary the following September at the age of 13. In 1948, he entered the novitiate at St. Bernard Abbey, receiving the religious name “Victor.” He professed Simple Vows on June 18, 1949, and Solemn Vows in 1952. Meanwhile his older sister, Frances, entered Sacred Heart Convent in Cullman, receiving the name Sister Mary Jude, after the middle name of her Benedictine brother.

During his early years in vows, Abbot Victor studied at the abbey’s college and at St. Benedict’s College in Atchison, Kansas, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. He then studied theology at St. Bernard, after which he was ordained to the priesthood on June 5, 1954, by the Bishop of Mobile, Bishop T. J. Toolen, at Sacred Heart Church in Cullman. Abbot Victor celebrated his Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving the next day, the Solemnity of Pentecost, with his nephew of ten years, Marcus Voss, serving at his First Mass. Little did those present know that his nephew would one day follow him as monk, priest, and abbot of St. Bernard!

Completing his Master of Science degree in Botany in 1956 from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), Abbot Victor took on increasing responsibility in the abbey and schools. Through the years, he served as prefect in the high school seminary, the major seminary, as well as in many dormitories on the campus. He was appointed Dean of Students in 1965, all the while teaching biology in St. Bernard’s high school and college from 1952 to 1979. In the summer, he supplied pastoral service to many parishes in the South. In 1976, Abbot Victor was appointed procurator of the abbey, a position which he held until his appointment as pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Elberta in 1982. He was recalled to St. Bernard to serve as prior of the monastery in 1986. He held this position for only a year, after which time he was elected the Eighth Abbot of St. Bernard Abbey.

Holding the office of abbot for eight years, Abbot Victor’s abbacy was defined by his quiet strength. After the 1988 tornadoes which devastated Cullman and did significant damage to St. Bernard’s campus, Abbot Victor oversaw the restoration of the administration building to its historic appearance, an outward expression of his deep appreciation for St. Bernard’s history and its patrimony. He was thus well suited to preside over the centennial jubilee of the abbey in 1991. It was for this occasion that he researched, prepared, and published a large format booklet of the hundred-year history of St. Bernard Abbey.

A fine athlete and excellent baseball player, Abbot Victor had a lifelong appreciation for sports. Thus, during his abbacy, he made preparations for a new gymnasium to be built, the Fasi-Richard Athletic Center. Though this project was finished after his reign, he laid the groundwork for the future project.

After resigning from the office of abbot at the age of 65, he assumed responsibility as pastor animarum at St. Michael Catholic Church in St. Florian for the next 13 years. Returning home to the abbey at the age of 78, Abbot Victor often could be found in the Abbey Church. A man of deep prayer and profound quiet, he was a sought-after confessor by many of the brethren and guests alike. Always a man of physical activity, Abbot Victor continued his monastic labora even as he aged. In the afternoons, he could be seen mowing grass and working on other outdoor projects.

Suffering from dementia for many years, Abbot Victor’s mind and body increasingly declined. In 2020, at the age of 90, he entered the monastic infirmary where he could receive more personalized care. Cared for by monks and coworkers alike, his strong and independent spirit remained with him even as his body and mind failed. As he gradually lost his faculties, one thing remained: his deep and abiding faith in God. In times of distress, he would often call upon the name of Jesus. And in his dying days, when he was beyond the point of conversation, he was heard repeating, “Hear my voice. Hear my prayer. Save my soul.” On the early morning hours of Saturday, Jan. 27, Abbot Marcus and the monks kept vigil at Abbot Victor’s bedside. Having received the Anointing of the Sick and the Apostolic Pardon, Abbot Victor died peacefully at 7:30 a.m. that morning. At the time of his death, he was the senior monk and priest of the abbey, celebrating his seventy-fifth jubilee of monastic profession and seventieth jubilee of priestly ordination.

Abbot Victor’s life was one marked by dedication to God and faithful service to St. Bernard. From the time he was a young monk, he shouldered significant responsibility for the community. Firm but kind, Abbot Victor was a humble man who did not readily complain or shirk responsibility. Instead, he gave himself to God and to the place of St. Bernard which he loved so much.