A Quiet Man’s Remarkable Life
From an interview with William P. Warford of the Antelope Valley Press
reprinted from the
Valyermo Chronicle, no. 183, Fall 1998.

FATHER WERNER  was one of the founders of Saint Andrew’s Abbey: that is to say, he was part of our community in China and he participated in the transfer of our monastery from China to California in 1956.

BORN in Brugge, Belgium, in 1914 Fr. Werner’s family home looked out over a canal and was surrounded by picturesque medieval houses. He recalls the nearby nearby Zwyn-seaport (now sanded in, but famous for its trade in Flemish fabrics), “Was beautiful not only in the sunshine but the mist as well”, At the age  of five he was already doing watercolors of different parts of his boyhood city. He would place his easel next to seasoned artists who would offer him valuable instruction: thus some of his early training in art took place on the streets, Throughout his youth he was constantly occupied with his palette, and sold almost everything he created to art collectors and galleries. Among his favorite customers were two annual visitors to Belgium from Baltimore, “Madames” Bennett and Hamilton, who sought him out every year to buy new paintings and whom he fondly remembers.  They were horrified at his decision to enter the monastery, fearing that this would be the end of his artistic career.

AT the age of 17 he entered the abbey of Sint Andries in Loppem.  His next two years included monastic studies and philosophy. After that he was sent to Louvain University for four years of theology, including ordination to the priesthood after solemn monastic profession in his third year. Both before and after World War II he had the opportunity to study metal sculpture and goldsmithing, first at Münsterschwarzach Abbey in Germany, then later at Maredsous in Belgium.

WHEN Belgium faced war with Germany in 1939, he was a witness to tragedy on the front lines in the Belgian Army Red Cross Service.- Providence interrupted this horror when he was sent to China as’a missionary priest.

A few weeks before his departure for China [in 1934] , Father Raphaël called me to his office: “You are interested in China, you like Chinese art”. ”Yes,” I tell him. He continued, Come join me at Xishan?”  - “Willingly, if Father Abbot consents”. - “Read about China, learn the history of China, the history of Chinese art. I will ask Father Abbot to send you to learn the goldsmith’s work. We will need a silversmith in Xishan “. I learned goldsmithing at Devroye in Brussels and, in 1939, Father Abbot sent me to join the community of monks in China.

IN China he was invited to teach drawing and painting in the State Academy of Fine Arts in Szechwan. He organized painting trips to Buddhist Monasteries, sketching the monks, depicting their way of life and noting architectural features of their various  monastic settings.

THE expulsion of the community from China and resettlement in Valyermo provided Fr.Werner with a new context for his art. 

Sanctuary Lamp Crucifix-Staion of the Cross Lectern and Paschal Candle Stand

His skill at metalwork transformed rebar and farm implements into a lectern, a sanctuary lamp, and outdoor Stations of the Cross.

Chalice with rock-quartz node Gilded Brass Monstrance

The chalice and monstrance he made while studying in Europe are still in regular use.

His pastel renditions of the High Desert and Southwest are often displayed in the monastic refectory and are available for sale.