PERU — The Rt. Rev. Claude (John) Peifer, O.S.B., monk, priest and abbot emeritus of St. Bede Abbey in Peru, died Thursday, May 1, 2014, of apparent heart failure at the abbey.
He was born Sept. 20, 1927, the son of John and Armella Peifer of Lincoln, Ill., where he attended St. Mary’s School. He then was a boarding student at St. Bede Academy and College, entering the abbey in 1946. After completing his undergraduate studies at St. John’s Collegeville, Minn., he studied theology at St. Bede from 1949 to 1953, then traveled to Rome where he received an S.T.L. from Collegio di Sant’Anselmo in 1954 and an S.S.L. from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in 1956. He did additional studies at L’Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem.
Fr. Claude taught scripture and theology in the abbey’s academy, college and seminary from 1957 to 1969. From 1972 to 1994 he was CFO and treasurer for both abbey and academy, serving as acquisitions librarian during roughly the same period and returning to this latter work after his retirement. From 1968 onward he held a variety of positions in monastic formation, serving for many years as novice and junior master and teaching classes to monks preparing for vows.
In 2003 he was elected seventh abbot of Saint Bede, a position he held until June 6, 2011, when the current abbot, Rt. Rev. Philip Davey, O.S.B., was elected. Fr. Claude was very active in the American Cassinese Congregation of the Benedictine order, attending and speaking at numerous General Chapters and serving on the Abbot President‘s Council from 1974 to 1980 and again from 1989 to 2010. He was in great demand to give retreats, lectures and workshops at monasteries and convents throughout the order.
Although it was not well known in the Illinois Valley, he was an internationally recognized scholar in scripture, having served on the editorial board for the New American Bible as well as an associate editor and contributor to The Bible Today. He also wrote a popular commentary on First and Second Corinthians, as well as numerous articles for The New Catholic Encyclopedia, The Catholic Youth Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, and The Dictionary of the Middle Ages.
Fr. Claude’s literary influence in monastic circles was also widespread, having contributed regularly to The American Benedictine Review, and his book Monastic Spirituality is a standard text for monks in formation. An excellent Latinist, he served on the editorial board for the 1981 translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict, and wrote one of the appendices for the edition.
Abbot Hugh Anderson, the abbot president of the American Cassinese Congregation, remarked: “The work he did for the congregation and the order is immeasurable. Abbot Claude served the Congregation for many, many years as author, consultant, visitator, advisor, historian, formator, friend and confrere to all. When Abbot Claude spoke everyone listened because we all knew the wisdom he possessed; he will be terribly missed.”
He is survived by a sister, Rose Mary Meyers of Mercer Island, Wash.
His body will be received at the St. Bede Abbey Church on Monday, May 5, at 4 p.m. Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. with a prayer vigil at 5:15 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Tuesday, May 6, at 3:30 p.m. at the church, followed by interment in the abbey cemetery. The Mueller Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.