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New abbot once a diocesan priest, Southern Baptist

Father Elijah Owens becomes the 8th abbot to lead Subiaco's Benedictine monastary

Published: July 18, 2022   
Christina Stengel
Abbot Elijah Owens, OSB, is flanked by the seventh abbot, Father Leonard Wangler, (left) who served from 2015-2022, and Father Jerome Kodell, the sixth abbot, who served from 1989-2015. They are seen here July 7 in the abbey’s inner courtyard.

Father Elijah Owens, OSB, who recently graduated with a doctorate in liturgy and monastic studies at Rome’s Pontifical University of St. Anselm, was elected the eighth abbot of Subiaco Abbey July 7.

He will succeed Abbot Leonard Wangler, who served for seven years and is returning to his status as a monk. The new abbot took the oath of office July 7, but a blessing ceremony with Bishop Anthony B. Taylor will take place July 16.. 

Abbot Owens also recently earned a certificate in religious formation from the Congregation of Consecrated Life and a diploma in safeguarding of minors from the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University. 

The abbot is the spiritual head and father of 35 men living the Benedictine monastic way of life at Subiaco Abbey.

“I am in love with the monastic community and this place. I would never in my wildest dreams have thought I would be living as a monk in Arkansas.”

Abbot Owens, son of Jerry and Brenda Owens, was born in 1965 and raised as a Southern Baptist in Mount Airy, N.C. He has one sister, Shelli Owens, and is the uncle to Nevan Owens. He converted to Catholicism while in college. After working for the U.S. government, he followed his calling to become a diocesan priest. He was ordained in 1995 for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.V., taking on parish and diocesan assignments.

While discerning a call to monastic life, Abbot Owens visited monasteries throughout the world before happening upon Subiaco Abbey. Even though he loved being a parish priest, he still felt a constant call to the monastic life. His spiritual director invited him to begin an intense nine-day novena to call upon the Holy Spirit and St. Benedict to lead him to the right abbey. 

The last phrase of that prayer was “Show me the place!” At the end of his novena on the ninth day, he was in Middleburg, Va., getting ready to enter a used bookstore. He finished the prayer asking God to show him the place to live as a monk. As he opened the door to the bookstore, his eyes went immediately to a book laying on top of a bin titled “A Place called Subiaco” by Father Hugh Assenmacher, OSB. At first Abbot Owens thought God was calling him to Subiaco, Italy, until he realized that it was actually Arkansas. 

He contacted Subiaco and spoke with the vocation director, Brother Francis Kirchner, and a few days later arranged a visit. He then applied to his bishop for release, which came a few years later. After undergoing a period of monastic formation, Abbot Owens was granted permission to transition to a monastic priest at Subiaco Abbey. 

He professed his vows as a monk of Subiaco on Sept. 8, 2011, and was given the name Elijah. 

“I am in love with the monastic community and this place. I would never in my wildest dreams have thought I would be living as a monk in Arkansas,” he said. “Still, I also realized that growing up I never believed I would be a Catholic, much less a priest. I have come to deeply appreciate that as long as we follow God’s will in prayer, then he will take care of the rest.”

Before his election, the abbot worked in vocations, social media outreach, teaching at Subiaco Academy, formation work for new monks, custos (house manager), director of the abbey museum, the Office of Child Protection and as the abbey beekeeper.

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