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Father John S. Kulas, OSB: a personal remembrance

October 16, 2012
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By Matthew Heintzelman
On Monday, October 15, 2012, the staff at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library learned of the passing of a great friend and colleague, Father John Kulas, OSB (1930-2012). Father John (or simply “John” as most of us knew him) demonstrated Benedictine values of simplicity, respect, patience, and care in all he undertook for the Library.


In fact, he was possibly the last of a long line of HMML field directors from Saint John’s Abbey, starting with Father Oliver Kapsner, OSB, and continuing through Father Urban Steiner, OSB, and Father Aelred Tegels, OSB, among others. John conducted some of HMML’s latest work in Germany, and took over for Father Aelred in Sweden in 2002.

My own experience of John started almost exactly 10 years ago, when he and I went to Stockholm, Sweden, to resume onsite work with the microfilming project at the Swedish Royal Library. I was to gather an overview of the collection and cataloging information for Father Aelred (who died only a few months later), while John undertook the preparation of inventory cards for work that was already underway. We stayed at accommodations on the edge of Stockholm, in a more suburban area, and traveled into the city making connections between buses and subway. Although he could not move quickly and the trip took a long time, John never complained about the commute. 

My favorite memory of Stockholm was an evening when John and I attended a performance of Johannes Brahms’ German Requiem in a tiny medieval church in a Stockholm suburb. Being November (the month of remembrances), we both reflected on the appropriateness of attending such a concert as a way to remember family and friends who had died. John especially mentioned his parents, and I thought of my own father who had died in 1988. It was an evening that has never left me, and even now I think of John whenever I hear the Requiem. It is all the more bittersweet that his death has come only a couple weeks before the Feast of All Saints.

John continued to work for HMML for another two years after his 2002 trip, preparing cards and cataloging the manuscripts HMML was filming. Whenever our paths crossed in subsequent years, we spoke of German studies and especially of our experiences in Stockholm.

In the final section of Brahms’ Requiem we hear:

Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herrn sterben von nun an.
Ja, der Geist spricht, dass sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit, denn ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach. 

Blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord from now on. Indeed, the Spirit says, that they may rest from their labor, for their works follow after them. (Book of Revelation 14:13)

John’s good works were many and have borne fruit.

More information on Father John Stanley Kulas can be found on the Saint John’s Abbey website at:

Above: Fr. John Kulas working at the Swedish Royal Library in Stockholm.