Humble Servant: Abbot Leonard Wangler, a Fort Worth native, returns to regular monastic life
Abbot Leonard Wangler, OSB, mentions his work as dean at Subiaco Academy in the same sentence as his job as bus driver. He has had many jobs, including his tenure as abbot of Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas.
“I [did] whatever else needed to be done,” he told the North Texas Catholic.
Abbot Wangler serves humbly — whether cooking, cleaning, or running an abbey. His childhood and his first priestly assignment in the Diocese of Fort Worth provided the foundation for his vocation. After serving as abbot of Subiaco for seven years, Abbot Wangler will be stepping down from that role in July.
Born John Wangler, he grew up across the street from All Saints Parish and Mount Carmel Academy Catholic grade school in Fort Worth during the ’40s and ’50s. “I was an altar boy,” he said, “and I worked in the rectory. I ran the bulletins, and I helped the cook. I was always seeing these priests around.”
The grade school, Mount Carmel Academy (now All Saints Catholic School), was run by the sisters of the Incarnate Word. Wangler observed the sisters and their way of life. Whenever there was a role-playing assignment at school, the sisters assigned Wangler the role of priest.
After grade school, Wangler attended Laneri Catholic High School (now Cassata Catholic High School), where some of the teachers and administrators were Subiaco Benedictine monks. There, Wangler attended classes and helped clean up the school to assist with his tuition fees. Wangler described an important interaction with the principal, Father Leonard Knoff.
“I had little association with him, you know — you go see the principal if you’re in trouble,” he said. But one day during Wangler’s junior year, as he was cleaning, Fr. Knoff walked up to him. “Out of the blue he said, ‘When are you going up to Subiaco?’ And I hadn’t thought of it,” recalled Wangler.
After Fr. Knoff’s suggestion, Wangler couldn’t get the thought out of his mind. “I guess the Holy Spirit was at work or something,” he said. “It gradually seemed like more of a course that I should at least pursue and explore.”
At the end of his senior year, Wangler arranged to enter Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas, “so [he] spent a summer up there learning Latin and helping around the place,” he said.
Once there, Wangler settled into Benedictine life. He felt called to “the brothers, the work that they do, and how much they seemed to be enjoying themselves and going to prayer.”
During Wangler’s novitiate year, Fr. Knoff became ill with cancer. “Some of the priests that attended him in his last times said that he would be in favor of me taking his name,” said Abbot Wangler. So when Wangler took his simple vows, he took the religious name Brother Leonard Wangler.
After his solemn vows and, a few years later, his ordination to the priesthood, Fr. Wangler was assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Muenster from 1970 to 1973, serving as parish priest and high school teacher. During his final year there, he also took some classes at North Texas State (now University of North Texas) to prepare him for teaching math and science at Subiaco Academy in Arkansas.
Back in Arkansas, Wangler continued to serve in whatever capacities were asked of him. “I was one of the bus drivers, I was a dormitory dean, and after about 30 years I would have some other duties within the academy,” he said. When he was asked to serve as abbot, he said yes.
Describing his current responsibilities, Abbot Wangler spoke plainly. “You’re sort of running the place, keeping things going, offering some advice. There’s also the spiritual thing, trying to give examples of what you should do … right now we’re having a responsibility as far as people’s health.”
After seven years serving as abbot, including during the challenging years of the pandemic, Abbot Wangler started to notice that he couldn’t preach as well without notes. “That was not a major problem,” he said, “but it was an indication.”
It was also time for the abbey to begin a new 10-year strategic plan, so Abbot Wangler felt this would be a good time for the abbey to transition to a new abbot. He will serve until July 7, 2022, at which point he will step down.
Abbot Wangler’s monastic life will continue, as will his service of others. “Instead of giving assignments,” he wrote in his resignation statement on the Subiaco website, “I will be receiving them from the new abbot.”
He will continue to serve the abbey in his humble, understated manner, enjoying the life of prayer and service that began in his childhood.