Rudolph Arbesmann was born in Fürth, Germany, on July 25, 1895. After graduation from the Augustinian Gymnasium in Münnerstadt, Germany, he served in World War I from December 1914 to December 1918. He received both the Iron Cross and the Bavarian Military Cross in recognition of his service as a lieutenant in the cavalry.
On February 9, 1919, he was received into the novitiate of the Order and was professed on February 10, 1920. After a short period at the University of Würzburg, he was sent to St. Monica’s House of Studies in Rome, where he was ordained to the priesthood on March 31, 1923. He then studied classical philology at the University of Würzburg, where he obtained a doctorate. Active with youth groups at this time, he brought several young men into the Order. He taught at the Gymnasium in Münnerstadt and for two years served as Provincial Secretary to Father Clement Fuhl. In 1930, he was elected first Definitor of the German Province. Then, in 1933, he was called to be Master of Professed in Rome by Father Fuhl, who had been elected Prior General. In 1934, together with Father Placidus Vollmer and Father Frederick Brossler, he was sent on a special mission to the Province of Chile: to help with the education of the professed and candidates for the Order. While in Chile, he was invited to lecture in Classics at the University of Santiago. After a number of assignments of two year duration in Germany, Italy and Chile, he arrived in New York in 1936. Here, he was to spend the next 46 years of his life.
In 1937, he was invited to become Professor of Classics at Fordham University, an association that lasted until his death. Long after his retirement, revered as the "grand old man of the classics." He continued to keep an office on campus. Later, he was given a special office at the Fordham University Press and was always accorded special privileges by the Fordham University Library staff. During his almost forty years at the University, Father Arbesmann was a most productive scholar. His bibliography includes many books and articles, the last article published in Traditio in 1979 when he was eighty-four years old! Internationally renown, Father Arbesmann was respected for both sound scholarship and genuine insight. In recognition of his erudition, two honorary doctorates were bestowed on him: the degree of Doctor of Laws from Merrimack College and, from Fordham University, the degree of Doctor of Letters. The University also gave him a special bene merenti medal for his service, and the University Press dedicated the 1973 volume of Traditio to him as a festschrift in honor of his golden jubilee of priesthood.
He was concerned with his research right up to the end. One of his final projects was to review the sources of the lives of Augustinian saints which he had written. He suffered a massive stroke on Monday, November 29, 1982. He died at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Yonkers, New York, on the following Saturday, December 4.
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