Benjamin Wren, 75, Loyola's Zen Expert
Times Picayune, via usgwarchives.net
July 21, 2006
Benjamin Wren -- 'Zen Ben Wren' to thousands of Loyola University students who knew him as a teacher of Zen practice
and Asian history as a Jesuit priest, then as a layman -- died Thursday morning of lung cancer at Canon Healthcare
Hospice, his wife said. He was 75. Mr. Wren spent 35 years on the Loyola faculty, recently concluding a summer course
on Zen and Japanese history, said his wife, Patricia Wren. For almost all his career he was a Jesuit priest. He left
the order in 1996 after 48 years as a Jesuit, married and remained at Loyola. He taught Zen in a spare, fifth- floor
zendo, or meditation hall, in Marquette Hall where the center of focus was a metal figure of the crucified Christ hanging
on a barbed wire.
Mr. Wren was fascinated his entire life by Eastern philosophy, which he believed could be successfully
integrated into Catholic spirituality, despite some reservations from the Vatican. He used Zen as a form of nondirected
meditation, believing it opened the practitioner to the experience of God.
'God is not found by adding, but by subtracting,' he said in a 1990 Times-Picayune interview. In the stillness of Zen,
'we find the present moment is pregnant with God. Most of us are guilty of abortion.'
He explored much of that territory in a 1999 book, 'Zen Among the Magnolias.'
Loyola spokeswoman Kristine Lelong said Mr. Wren's Zen classes were among the most popular on campus, and returning
alumni would frequently ask about him.
Yet his Zen classes were not open to all. He screened applicants. 'Some people's consciousness is best left undisturbed,'
he told an interviewer in 1999.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Wren's background was multicultural. His mother was born in Hong Kong; his father was an American Marine.
Mr. Wren was raised in Georgia.
'I said my grandmother on my mother's side is buried in Singapore. And my grandmother on my father's side is buried in
Georgia. So East meets West, and here I is,' he once said.
Mr. Wren entered the Jesuit order at 17. He earned advanced degrees in Eastern studies from the University of Arizona, taught high school
in Texas and arrived at Loyola in 1970. Except for a one-year stint teaching in Tokyo, he remained continuously on the Loyola faculty.
Thirty-five years after his ordination, Mr. Wren left the Jesuits and at 65 married a former student. Although his ministry was no longer
recognized by the Catholic Church, he considered himself a priest even in his new life, his wife said. He affiliated with CORPUS, an
organization of men who had left the priesthood to marry, his wife said.
Besides his wife, Mr. Wren is survived by four stepchildren, Sarah, Melissa, Christy and Andrew Voelkel, and a sister, Paula McKelvy of Sun
City West, Ariz.
A memorial service will be held Aug. 19 from 12:30 to 3 p.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church, 100 Rex Drive in River Ridge. Bagnell and
Son Funeral Home in Covington is in charge of arrangements.