Damasus Winzen, OSB
Dom Damasus Winzen, OSB, was a Benedictine monk of Maria Laach Abbey in Germany. He was sent to the United States by the monks of Maria Laach to secure a location for them to move in order to escape from Nazi Germany. As it turned out, this was not necessary. Instead, he found himself preaching about the liturgical reform to packed ballrooms in New York City, a novel concept in America, but one that had been developing in Germany since 1913.
In 1951, he founded Mount Savior Monastery in Elmira, New York. It was a beautiful location for a monastery, but know as “Poverty Hill” by the villagers since the farmland soil was extremely poor. His intent was to one day erect a large basilica on the hill that had sweeping views of the valley and river below. The monastery was founded on principles of simplicity and equality, without traditional divisions between choir monks and lay brothers, all sharing in the raising of sheep.
Winzen developed and cultivated many supporters downstate. Having run out of gas while on a trip in France, he called upon a friend who later left him a bequest that enabled him to hire one of the top church architects of the day. Winzen had also befriended a cardinal who later became Pope when the liturgical reforms were put into place in the 1960’s.
All of these convergences enabled Winzen to build an octagonal chapel with an altar in the center and permission from Pope Paul VI to experiment with the new liturgy. Simultaneously Maria Laach received this same permission and experimented with the first dialogue masses in Germany. These masses where held in a small crypt below the grand basilica of Maria Laach.
A monk and scholar, Winzen served as associate editor of Orate Fratres and editor of Pathways in Holy Scripture. He was a prime mover in the organization of the Benedictine Liturgical Conference (later known as the National Liturgical Conference).