Fr. Matthias Zinkan, OSB
A Benedictine monk who helped found Marmion Abbey in Aurora -- as well as an affiliated religious community in Guatemala -- has died at 93.Matthias Zinkan died Sept. 22 at the Priorato San Jos+¬ in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, a religious community he helped found in 1964. Before Zinkan left Marmion in 1959 to work in Guatemala, he literally planted the seeds for Marmion's Christmas tree farm, a program that continues to be a part of the holidays for many local families today. "He started the whole business," said the Rev. Bede Stocker, 91, who spent more than 35 years helping to coordinate the yearly sale. "He was managing the farm. We had cows, corn and beans but it didn't pay that much. We sold the cows and Father Matthias decided to plant Christmas trees after he found out the land wasn't good for timber trees. "He was a wonderful, quiet man, always charitable," Stocker said. "He was very generous and had many friends.Stocker said the first Christmas trees were sold in 1967, as it takes years for the pines and spruce to be ready for harvest. Families can choose their holiday trees from about a thousand available each year at Marmion Abbey. "He was a quiet man who left a profound impression because of his concern for the poor," said Abbot Vincent Bataille of Marmion Abbey. "When he first began working in Guatemala, he distributed donations from the U.S. He was a man of a very few words who did great work.Zinkan was born Feb. 8, 1914 and baptized in Montgomery, Ind. He left home in 1929 at the age of 15 to study for the priesthood at Saint Meinrad Minor Seminary in St. Meinrad, IN. He entered Saint Meinrad Abbey in 1943 and professed his first vows to the new Marmion Abbey, becoming a founding member. He taught there for several years before becoming manager of the farm. In 1959, Zinkan began working part-time in Guatemala. In 1964, he contacted Bishop Angel Melotto, a missionary bishop working in Guatemala, who was looking for a religious community to run his high school seminary.At Melotto's invitation, the Marmion Abbey community assumed the responsibility of Colegio Seminario San Jos+¬ in Solola, Guatemala. Zinkan was a founding member of this new community. He remained in Guatemala for the rest of his life, serving as the business manager for the school and monastic community, as well as pastor of several parishes. He also worked for Caritas, an organization that serves the poor, and began a Christmas tree program similar to the one he started at Marmion. Zinkan was laid to rest in Guatemala beside the other founders of the Colegio-Seminario San Jos+¬.Zinkan is survived by the members of his monastic community, one nephew, two nieces and his sister-in-law, Martha Zinkan. He was preceded in death by his parents and his brothers and sisters.Published in the Daily Herald online, www.dailyherald.com, on 10/1/2007.