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234 U.S.

Opinion of the Court.

ment between an ecclesiastical order and one of its members, are stated in the opinion.

Mr. Morgan J. O'Brien, with whom Mr. Otto Kueffner, Mr. Albert Schaller, Mr. Frederick C. Gladden, Mr. J. Warren Greene and Mr. Frank W. Arnold were on the brief, for plaintiff in error.

Mr. William H. Pitzer and Mr. William Hayward for defendant in error.

MR. JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the court.

This suit was brought by The Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey, a corporation of that State, to establish its title to personal property left by Augustin Wirth, deceased, a member of the Order who died at Springfield, Minnesota, in December, 1901. The defendant, Albert Steinhauser, as administrator of the estate of the decedent, holding letters from the Probate Court of Brown County, Minnesota, filed a cross-bill asserting ownership in his representative capacity and praying discovery and account with respect to whatever part of the estate had come into the complainant's possession. The Circuit Court entered a decree dismissing the cross-bill and granting the relief sought by the complainant's bill. 179 Fed. Rep. 137. The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed this decree, directing the dismissal of the original bill and the granting of the prayer of the cross-bill. 194 Fed. Rep. 289. Certiorari was allowed.

The monastic brotherhood known as the Order of St. Benedict was established by St. Benedict in the early part of the sixth century at Subiaco, Italy, whence it spread over western Europe. It was brought to the United States in 1846. The members of the brotherhood follow what is known as 'The Rule of St. Benedict,' a collection VOL. CCXXXIV 41

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of mandates essentially unchanged from the beginning. The vows are those of obedience, stability, chastity and poverty.

We are not concerned in the present case with any question of ecclesiastical requirement or monastic discipline. The question is solely one of civil rights. The claim in suit rests upon the constitution of the complainant corporation, and the obligations inherent in membership.

The Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey was incorporated in 1868 by special act of the legislature of that State. The incorporators were described as 'being a society of religious men living in community and devoted to charitable works and the education of youth.' The corporation was empowered to hold property and to make by-laws for the government of the Order, provided that these should not be repugnant to the Constitution of the United States or of the State of New Jersey, that the clear yearly income of the real estate should not exceed a sum stated, and that no one should remain an incorporator 'except regular members of said religious society, living in community and governed by the laws thereof.' Under this charter the Order adopted a constitution, among the provisions of which are the following:

"Section XI. Membership is lost at once:

"1. By being dismissed according to the disciplinary statutes of the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey approved of by Pope Pius IX for the American Cassiness Congregation of Benedictines.

"2. By voluntarily leaving the Order for any purpose whatsoever.

"3. By joining any other order or secret society or any other religious denominations.

"Section XII. Since the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey is solely a charitable institution, the real estate of said Order and the individual earnings of its members, are and must be considered as common property of the

Opinion of the Court.

Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey from which the members of said Order derive their support and the balance of which income and property should serve for following up and carrying out the charitable objects of the Order.

"It is therefore agreed upon by all the members of the said Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey that no member can or will claim at any time or under any circumstances more than their decent support for the time for which they are members of the Charter of the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey, and no further.

"And, moreover, that each member individually pledges himself to have all property, which he now holds or hereafter may hold, in his own name conveyed as soon as possible, to the legal title of the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey."

234 U. S.

Augustin Wirth was born in Bavaria in 1828. He came to this country in 1851; and, in the next year, he took the solemn vows of the Order at St. Vincent's Abbey in Pennsylvania and was ordained to the priesthood. For a few years he had charge of a church at Greenburgh, Pennsylvania, near St. Vincent's, and in 1857 he went to Kansas where he established a college and a church which afterwards became an abbey. He continued his work in Kansas until 1868 and then was sent to Minnesota where he remained until 1875. He then resumed his pastorate at Greenburgh, Pennsylvania, and later had charge of a parish at Elizabeth, New Jersey, until 1887. It is evident that while in Kansas he had joined the monastery of St. Benedict there established and in 1887, with the permission of both Abbots, he transferred his stability to St. Mary's Abbey in Newark, New Jersey, the home of the complainant, the New Jersey Order, of which he thus became a member. He remained continuously at this Abbey for about two years, until 1889; he was in ill-health and was taken care of by the Order. He was then sent to a church in Wilmington, Delaware, and after a few

Opinion of the Court.

months he returned to his pastorate in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in which he continued until 1897. After traveling for some time in Europe for his health, visiting Rome and various monasteries, he took a parish, in 1898, at Springfield, Minnesota, with the requisite permission ad tempus from the Abbot of St. Mary's; and there he remained until his death. At the request of the New Jersey Abbot he was buried in the cemetery of the Benedictine Order in Minnesota. The Circuit Court found that his membership in the complainant Order continued to the last, and this finding was not disturbed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. We regard the fact as satisfactorily established. His absence from the Abbey when engaged in pastoral work was upon the consent of the Abbot and he was subject to recall at any time.

Father Wirth published many works on religious subjects. He obtained copyrights for his books, and made his contract with the publishers, in the name of "Augustine Wirth, O. S. B." The property here in question consists chiefly of the proceeds received from sales of these books (including notes and mortgages in which they had been invested), credits on account of sales made before and after his death, and the copyrights. He received the royalties personally during his lifetime; and after his death, until October 17, 1906 (when suit was brought against the publishers by the administrator), the accruing royalties were paid to the complainant. The New Jersey Order also, through the Abbot of St. John's Abbey in Minnesota, collected certain sums on outstanding notes held by the decedent and paid therefrom the decedent's debts.

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It is clear that, according to the principles of the complainant's organization, Father Wirth was not entitled to retain for his own benefit either the moneys which he received for his services in the various churches with which he was connected or those which he derived from

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Opinion of the Court.

the sale of his books. By the explicit provision of the constitution of the complainant (§ XII), it was a necessary consequence of his continued membership, that his gains from whatever source-belonged to it, and that as against the complainant he could not assert title to the property which he received. The claim of the Order, based upon this conception of its rights, is resisted upon the grounds, (1) that the decedent had the permission of the Abbot to retain, as his own property, the proceeds of the sales of his books, and (2) that the obligation sought to be enforced by the complainant is void as being against public policy.

1. While there was evidence that Father Wirth was required to account to the Abbot for the salary and perquisites received in his church work, it appeared that the income from his books was treated in a different manner. This income he was allowed to retain and use. When he joined the complainant, in 1887, he did not make a transfer of any property to the Order although already he had some property as a result of his literary labors. The evidence showed that he made loans and investments; and from the moneys in his hands, he paid his personal expenses including his outlays on his visit to Europe. Because of his going to Rome without leave and his expenditures on this trip, he was admonished by the Abbot Primate, O. S. B., who had already written to the Abbot of St. Mary's that Father Wirth should be required to account. But no such account was given, and it would seem that such disagreements as arose between the decedent and his ecclesiastical superiors in this country related to church moneys and not to the proceeds of book sales. The Circuit Court of Appeals, disagreeing with the finding of the Circuit Court, concluded that Father Wirth was permitted by the Abbot of St. Vincent's, and by the complainant's Abbot, to retain these proceeds as his own property.

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