Johnson, Bernard

From Biographia Cisterciensis

Bernard Johnson OCSO

Bernard Johnson OCSO

Abbot of New Clairvaux 1968–1970 and Conyers 1990–2000; Procurator General OCSO 1977–1990

* 15 July 1925 Las Animas, Colorado
21 Feb 2017 Vina, California

Henry Albin Johnson, later Dom Bernard, was born on July 15, 1925 (St. Henry’s Day) at Fort Lyon, a military facility in Las Animas, Colorado. His parents were in the military during World War I. His father was in the cavalry; his mother was an army nurse. He grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and upon high school graduation, he joined the United States Navy on July 1, 1943, as an apprentice seaman as part of the US Navy V-12 program. He attended Southeast Missouri State University, where he continued on campus through fall 1944. (In 1970, the university honored Dom Bernard with a distinguished service award.). He was honorably discharged from the Navy in May 1946, eight months after the end of World War II. For his military service, he was awarded the American Area Campaign Medal, Victory Medal, and Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal.

Henry’s step-brother Neal had entered Gethsemani Abbey in September 1937 and was given the religious name Placid. Henry became acquainted with the monastic life during the family’s visits to see Placid. During these visits, Henry became familiar with Dom Frederic Dunne, abbot of Gethsemani Abbey at the time, who encouraged his vocation. After his discharge from the Navy, Henry entered Our Lady of the Holy Ghost Monastery (later renamed Holy Spirit) in Conyers (Georgia) on July 11, 1946 at age 21. He was given the religious name Bernard, professed solemn monastic vows on October 7, 1951 (Feast of the Holy Rosary) and was ordained a priest on November 28, 1954 by Archbishop Gerald P. O’Hara of Savannah.

From 1958 to 1960 Fr. Bernard studied canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he received a Licentiate of Canon Law in 1960. In July 1960, he returned to Conyers and was appointed Dean of Studies and interior cellarer.

In March 1967, Fr. Bernard went to New Clairvaux Abbey in Vina (California) to teach a course on canon law. He was elected second abbot of Vina on February 25, 1968 and served through 1970. He was elected Definitor (representative) for the English-speaking monasteries at the Order’s headquarters (Generalate) in Rome in 1971. Then he was elected Procurator General of the Order in 1977. He was elected the fifth abbot of Conyers on July 12, 1990 (65 monks at that time) where he served until 2000. Dom Bernard returned his stability to Vina where he lived for 17 years until his death.

Highly respected for his knowledge of canon law, Dom Bernard assisted with the updating of the Order’s constitutions. The constitutions were approved by the Holy See in 1990. In the subsequent years as abbot, Dom Bernard would enjoy telling of the many intriguing discussions that went into revising the constitutions. Generous, original and endearing personality, he left many memories in all the communities that he visited.

Dom Bernard died at the Abbey of New Clairvaux, Vina, California on Tuesday, February 21, 2017, 91 years old. The Funeral Mass and the burial took place on Friday, February 24th at the Abbey of New Clairvaux.



Prof.: 7 Okt 1951; Sac.: 28 Nov 1954; Abbas: el. 25 Feb 1968, res. 1970 (Vina), el. 12. July 1990, res. 2000 (Conyers).


Six to be Honored with Distinguished Service Award, · Silver and Golden Jubilees at New Clairvaux, in: Gesta Monastica, News from the Abbey of New Clairvaux, Vol. 5, Issue 1, Winter 2005. · Keiser, Gretchen: Conyers' Abbot Grateful For Monastic Predecessors, in: The Georgia Bulletin, August 2, 1990 · Bulletin OCSO · Death of Dom Bernard Johnson, fifth abbot of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (1925–2017), Necrology, Holy Spirit Abbey, Conyers, February 22, 2017.

Citation: Johnson, Bernard, in: Biographia Cisterciensis (Cistercian Biography), Version vom 25.2.2017, URL:,_Bernard

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