Monk, editor, scholar, pastor. Born March 12, 1940, in Lake Lenore, Sask. Died Feb. 14, 2012, in Saskatoon of a massive heart attack, aged 71.
He was a bear of a man who towered over most who came within his range. But Andrew Britz – monk, scribe, liturgist and editor – possessed a generosity of spirit bigger than his frame.
Born in rural Saskatchewan while the world was at war, he was one of three children of Anton and Frances. He was known by his given name Murray until he entered the Order of St. Benedict at St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Sask., in 1959. From then until his death he was known as Andrew. He made his profession of vows as a Benedictine monk in 1960, and was ordained a priest in 1966.
Both scholarly and gifted with his hands, he earned a BA in philosophy and an MA in theology from St. John’s University/Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., and pursued doctoral studies in Toronto. Andrew taught and served as a chaplain when he returned to St. Peter’s College on the grounds of the abbey, and helped to renovate several campus buildings. He also served as a pastor to several churches in the small communities surrounding Muenster.
But his special genius and lasting legacy were best displayed in his 21 years of work as a writer and editor of the Prairie Messenger, a weekly publication of the Benedictines. Andrew made it a paper of record, a lasting testament to the commanding spiritual and intellectual rigours of contemporary Catholicism.
He was uncommonly fearless for a cleric, speaking the truth as he understood it and believing in fidelity to the institution. No national meeting of the Canadian Church Press, international gathering of the Catholic Press Association, or convocation of liturgists and church scholars could resist his booming laughter, robust questioning or voluble anger when outraged by real or perceived injustice.
In the mid-1990s, I was offered the position of president of St. Peter’s College. The most attractive feature of the role involved its proximity to the Messenger and the opportunity to work with Andrew on several writing projects. It took more than a little courage to tell Andrew my decision not to take the job, and I could read the disappointment in his face. He quietly hugged me – a soothing gesture and unmistakable sign that friendship survives disappointment.
In his more than 2,000 editorials – a selection of which was published as Truth to Power: The Journalism of a Benedictine Monk – Andrew celebrated the diversity in the church, excoriated the abuse of power, proclaimed relentlessly the need for transparency and humility in all church directives, and rejoiced in the gift of good worship.
Diminished physically by his decade-long struggle with Parkinson’s, his voice was suddenly stilled by a heart attack while in hospital. Stilled but not forgotten, and now booming in the corridors of eternity.
By Michael W. Higgins, Andrew’s friend and co-worker.