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Monte Cassino medal winds up at Ferdinand monastery
- 1 of 3Sister Jackie Kissel holds a Benedictine medal from Monte Cassino in Italy that was given to her by Hans Bauer (right) of Evansville. Bauer’s uncle, a German WWII soldier, was given the medal after helping a monk receive medical attention during the war.
- 2 of 3This medal formerly belonging to a monk from Italy’s Monte Cassino, is now on display at the Benedictine monastery in Ferdinand, Indiana. It is the monastery’s only artifact from Monte Cassino the home base of the world’s Benedictines.
- 3 of 3The “Rose Window of St. Benedict” in Monastery Immaculate Conception Church in Ferdinand depicts the same scene of St. Benedict as the monastery’s recently-acquired medal from Monte Cassino.
Amid World War II’s death and destruction, a kind act on the Benedictine monastery grounds of Monte Cassino in Italy began an unlikely series of events to bring a rare artifact recently to another Benedictine monastery, in Ferdinand, Indiana, 68 years later and halfway around the world.
During the Battle of Monte Cassino in early 1944, the Allies bombed the monastery, which was held by German and Italian soldiers for its strategic location atop a rocky hill 81 miles southeast of Rome.
The historic monastery, the source of the worldwide Benedictine religious order, was established by St. Benedict in 529. It’s where he wrote The Rule of St. Benedict, the founding principle for western monasticism.
One of the monastery’s Benedictine monks was seriously injured during the Allied bombing. He needed medical attention, but was unable to walk down the hill to a first aid station. A further complication was the field of mines installed around the monastery by German troops.
At first, no one moved to help the monk. Finally, Ernst Schatz, a German soldier who helped design and lay out the mine field, volunteered to carry the monk down to the first aid station. After safely arriving there, the monk removed the Benedictine medal from around his neck and gave it to Schatz.
Schatz somehow survived the entire duration of WWII. The Monte Cassino medal was meaningful enough to him that he kept it the rest of his life. Its acquisition was one of the rare war stories he shared with his nephew, Hans Bauer, born in Germany in 1942.
Bauer, who moved to America in 1962, served in the U.S. military, then settled in Evansville in 1966, was always impressed by the story of the medal. But he learned early not to seek any further information about the medal, or the war, beyond what his uncle offered.
“Those things were not talked about, so you didn’t ask questions,” said Bauer, who retired after working as an electrician at St. Mary’s Hospital in Evansville for 41 years. “It’s not like in this country, where kids can ask questions, and where people like to tell war stories.”
Schatz visited Bauer three times in Evansville, telling him the story about the Monte Cassino medal sometime in the 1980s. After Schatz died, Bauer asked his aunt if he could have the medal. She mailed it to him from Germany.
Bauer wore the medal for years “to remind myself.” He replaced the thinning chain, then decided to store the medal in a dresser drawer when the replacement chain also became worn.
Recently, thinking that his children would not appreciate the medal as much as a Benedictine would, Bauer decided to give it to a 12-year acquaintance, Sister Jackie Kissel, a Sister of St. Benedict of Ferdinand. She is a pastoral associate in Evansville’s St. Anthony Parish, where Bauer is a Eucharistic minister, a mass lector, and Bible study teacher. His wife, Phyllis, an Evansville native, also volunteers at the parish.
“I gave the medal to Sister Jackie because it’s Benedictine, so that’s a natural connection,” said Bauer.
“It’s a treasure, I was so grateful to receive it, I felt honored that he gave it to me,” said Sister Jackie, 75, who in turn gave the medal to the area Benedictine sisters’ motherhouse in Ferdinand. “I knew they would be thrilled to have it. I thought that would be the best place, where everybody could share in the story.”
Sister Mary Dominic Frederick, archivist at Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, says the medal is their first-ever artifact from Monte Cassino. The sisters have been in Ferdinand since 1867.
Sister Jackie at first couldn’t figure out what the illustration on the medal was, but knew she had seen it somewhere before. On a subsequent trip to Ferdinand, while sitting in the monastery church and reflecting on the Rose Window of St. Benedict in the chapel’s upper reaches, she realized the window illustration and the medal illustration were of the same scene – St. Benedict, seated in the middle, is talking about the Rule, while Sts. Maurice and Placid, two young monks, are listening at his sides.
Bauer can only guess as to why his uncle decided to help the wounded monk during the Battle of Monte Cassino.
“War is a horrible business,” he said. “Maybe he saw those very pious men there, in their devotion, and he saw another side of life. He had to respect them, because he wouldn’t carry just anybody on his back through a mine field. One mistake and you’re blown up.
“War is all about killing people, so to do something humanitarian, like carrying a monk down a mountain, helps keep you human.
“And he probably told me about it because it was one of the few positive stories of his war experience.”
The Benedictine medal from Monte Cassino, after its long and winding journey from the whirling fury of WWII Italy, is now on display in the lobby of the Benedictine sisters’ monastery in Ferdinand.
Comments? Questions? I welcome your feedback, and ideas for stories on how the sisters touch lives. Contact Greg Eckerle at email@example.com, or at 812-367-1411, ext. 2636.