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World's oldest Benedictine monk turning 108

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By Vince Luecke

ST. MEINRAD - The Rev. Theodore Heck OSB will celebrate a birthday Friday, his 108th!

The oldest Benedictine monk in the world first came to the Spencer County monastery in 1918, arriving by horse and buggy. He taught seminarians for many years,  held leadership positions in the monastery and seminary and served as pastor in New Boston for nearly 20 years.

 Born Jan. 16, 1901, in Chariton, Iowa, and given the name Henry John Heck, he moved with his family to Kirksville, Mo., and then to St. Mary of the Woods near Terre Haute. He expressed a desire to become a priest in high school and enrolled at Saint Meinrad in the fall of 1918.

He finished his final two years of high school there, followed by college. He professed solemn vows Dec. 8, 1926, and was ordained a priest May 21, 1929.

The young priest taught math, religion and Latin for four years and then enrolled in Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He was the first Saint Meinrad monk to obtain an academic doctorate

After receiving his degree, Heck returned to the monastery and school of theology, teaching education courses, mathematics and counseling.

He was rector of Saint Meinrad School of Theology from 1956-66 and in that position oversaw the education and training for hundreds of future priests and other church leaders.

He served as prior, the monastery's second in command, for three years and in 1969, at the age of 68, he became pastor of St. John Chrysostom Catholic Church in New Boston.

Since retiring, Heck has devoted his energy to prayer and reading. In recent birthdays, he has had a seat at the head table and been treated to lunches.

On May 21, Father Theodore will mark his 80th anniversary of priestly ordination.

Interviewed for a 2001 News story as he neared his 100th birthday, the Benedictine monk shared the joy his vocation has brought him.

His amazingly long life, Heck said, has been filled with happiness and he recommends priesthood and religious life to others.

"If they love prayer and want to serve God, it's a good life and a wonderful way to prepare for eternity," he said.

Cards can be sent to Father Theodore Heck OSB, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, 100 Hill Drive, St. Meinrad, IN 47577.