In Memoriam: Fr. Alexander Plasker, O.S.B. (1934-2018)
Fr. Alexander Plasker, O.S.B., a monk of Mount Angel Abbey, passed peacefully to the Lord on the 7th day of February, 2018. He was 84 years of age, 60 years professed as a monk, and 55 years ordained as a priest.
Father Alexander was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1934, and there he completed his elementary and high school education before entering Mount Angel Seminary College. He and the future Abbot Bonaventure were among the eight novices in the community in 1956-57, and they were also among those ordained to the priesthood at the Abbey by Archbishop Edward D. Howard of Portland in May 1962. Father Alexander had a brother, Robert, who was a Holy Cross priest.
Among the important facts about Father Alexander, he himself would probably have wanted it noted that he was a loyal Notre Dame football fan, but high on the same list would be the note that he served his monastic community most generously over the years with his exceptional organizational skills, whether as sacristan, guest master, facilities manager, maintenance supervisor, or purchaser.
Whatever Father Alexander did, he aimed at doing well. Together with this work at the Abbey, for over 20 years he served as chaplain of the Mount Angel Towers, a close-by retirement community, and for five years before that, in the early 1970s, Father Alexander had served as assistant to the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Portland. But over-all and above-all it must be said that Father Alexander loved the liturgical prayer life of his monastic community, to which he contributed his faithful presence as long as he could. May he now rest forever in the peace of Christ… Thank you for your prayers for him!
- Abbot Jeremy Driscoll & Community, Mount Angel Abbey
Homily of the Mass of Christian Burial by Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B. — Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Eulogy by Fr. Ralph Recker, O.S.B. — Monday, February 12, 2018
When the Abbot asked me to do Fr. Alexander’s eulogy, I was a little reluctant. I mean, he first came to Mount Angel, years before I was even born. He entered the College Seminary here in 1952. And he was ordained a priest while I was still in diapers. I thought, there must be some monk, more qualified than I am. But someone said, “Maybe it is because you appreciated some of Fr. Alex’s better qualities." To which I responded, “I know he liked his steaks rare, and his scotch single malted.” She said, “There ya go. Start with that.”
One person said they felt Fr. Alexander was one of the giants of the monastery. And I know he didn’t mean it physically, but he was a big guy, and I think he used that to his advantage. I think in some small way he liked instilling terror in people, or at least he did me when I first went to work for him in the wine cellar. And as someone else said, “With Fr. Alex, it was My way, or the Highway.” As an example, when he was the Assistant Dean of the high school, he kept a paddle, and all of the students KNEW he had it. He never used it ... but they KNEW he had it. The truth is, once you got beyond that gruff exterior, he was generous to a fault. Many people have told me stories of his extreme generosity.
Fr. Alex joined the monastery in 1955, and had seven classmates. It was one of the largest classes ever in the novitiate. I remember Alex saying, ”They didn’t really know quite what to do with all of us.” Among his classmates were Fr. Cosmas and Abbot Bonaventure. Alex was assigned to grounds and maintenance, and because of that, he was assigned an old army-surplus jeep. Alex was proud of the fact that for all of his years here in the monastery, he always had “a rig” assigned to him, which is rare for monks. And even now, there is a Jeep Cherokee parked in a space with his name on it.
Fr. Alex had a knack for art and architecture. He designed very clever and functional things, like the bar in the retreat house basement, the dish cart in the refectory, and the big round table at the Milk Ranch to name just a few things.
Fr. Alex was able to laugh at mistakes, even his own. I was told that he would make a buzzer sound, bzzzzzt, when someone made a mistake … even in choir. And no one who has ever played pinochle in the Abbey has not heard about how Fr. Alex once had all eight Aces in his hand, but went set on his modest bid, because he only laid four of them down for 100 points of melt, not realizing he HAD all eight, which is worth 1,000 points.
And of course, everyone knows what a big Notre Dame fan Fr. Alex was. We always knew if the Irish had won or not, by the expression on his face when he lined up for Statio on Saturday evening. One of his final joys was taking Abbot Jeremy to a game in Terre Haute last Fall.
Fr. Alex was also a big fan of my weekday homilies. He would time them. And I always got a thumbs-up, if I kept them under a minute long.
I still remember what was probably one of HIS most famous homilies of the recent past. He preached on the Feast of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The Gospel was from Luke about Martha being busy with the serving, while Mary sat at Jesus’s feet. Fr. Alex took offense at Jesus siding with Mary as having chosen the better thing. As Fr. Alex said, “where would the world be if we all just sat around all day. The world needs Martha’s to do the work!”
And the Lord knows, Fr. Alex did his share. His Works of Obedience list is daunting. He was an instructor and Assistant Dean of the High School. He was Guest Master twice, refectarian twice, kitchen master, Junior master, Procurator for the physical plant and purchasing, oh yeah. Fr. Alex loved to shop. Even if no one needed anything, Fr. Alex and Fr. Edmund would go shopping every week. …..He was Facilities manager, warehouse manager, Chaplain to the Mount Angel Towers for 22 years, Head Sacristan for 31 years, and Wine Cellarar for 42 years. At some point or another over the last 66 years, he’s been head, master, or manager of nearly everything on the hill. He’s been nearly everything but the Abbot.
One job I think that we are all glad he had, and which I think he thoroughly enjoyed, was overseeing the Milk Ranch house and grounds. I’m told that the Milk Ranch wasn’t much more than a shack when Fr. Alex took over. And now it’s an incredible creek-side get away on a spring-fed pond, that is cherished by all of the monks. He even restored the 1895 St. Bernard Chapel on the hill where the original Milk Ranch monks prayed.
Yes, Fr. Alex liked to be in control. But he was also aware of his limits, especially as he grew older, and he very graciously relinquished control as his abilities lessened … although usually to hand-picked successors.
But, he didn’t give up easily in all cases. He and Edmund had planned a cruise to the Orient to celebrate their Golden Jubilees. And even though he was recuperating from a serious head injury, and Edmund couldn’t go too far without help, Fr. Alex, with cane in hand, was willing to push Fr. Edmund around in his wheel chair. What a sight that must have been. I’m sure that got a lot of double-takes on the ship.
But, of course, Fr. Alex was about much more than work. As a true son of St. Benedict, he lived the life of Ora et Labora; work AND prayer. I was edified by the way he was ALWAYS in choir. Even after he had to use the wheel chair to get around, he would still climb into his stall, until I think the Abbot finally ordered him to the triforium. And even there, he was always present for every office, even after he couldn’t wear his habit anymore.
Even though Fr. Alex had relinquished his jobs in theory, he still remained involved and active until the end. Just the week before last, he had his family up at the Milk Ranch, for one of his “deep Spring Cleaning” sessions. It was a blessed time for him to be U.T. (Uncle Tom) – Uncle Monk – for one last time. And when they got back, he was supposed to work with me on the wine tasting event on Tuesday morning. But he was not able to even get to Mass. Even so, when I got to his office, he already had all of the necessary tags and labels printed, and any documents that still needed to be filled in were conveniently on his computer desk top, ready to open… Organized and in control until the end.
But he was failing quickly, and on Wednesday the community gathered at his bedside to give him a final anointing. The Abbot told him to go to the light, and that if Jesus came for him, he should go along with Him. And, like the obedient monk that he was, he died shortly after that. Just 70 minutes shy of his 84th birthday.
Since he died during the night, the death toll was not rung until the Grand Silence ended after breakfast. I was out walking that morning, and the toll began as I passed the Towers, where he had been Chaplain for so long, and I started heading back toward the hill. The tolls went on… and on… I wasn’t counting, so I’m not sure if they rang 83, or 84 times… But at the end, there is a peel of a joyful bunch of bells, to signify the soul’s passage into paradise after the tolling of all of those years. This happened, just as I was coming up the hill and passing the 5th Station, Simon helps Jesus carry his cross. And I thought of how helpful Fr. Alex always was to others, so it seemed appropriate. And the peel ended as I came to the 6th station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, And I thought of Veronica’s veil wiping Alex’s face after his earthly passion, with the same loving caress as his sister, Mary Claire had held his face in his last moments. And this led me to think of the Blessed Mother’s Mantle, which she would have wrapped around Fr. Alex as she assisted the Angels taking his soul off to heaven, to God’s throne, and once there… God would recognize his Son’s body and blood in the Eucharist of which Fr. Alex faithfully partook, and Jesus would recognize the fragrance of his Mother’s Mantle upon him, and they would welcome Fr. Alex into their Kingdom forever.
And so, I leave you with the words which St. Benedict himself uttered, upon seeing the soul of his sister, St. Scholastica flying to heaven.
“God has taken (him) before US, to be our aid and defense against all our enemies… That WE may stand on the evil day and be in all things… Perfect.”