“The Congregation of the Servants of Christ” is the formal name of the monastic community at St. Augustine’s House in Oxford, Michigan. It was founded by a man everyone called “Father Arthur,” Arthur Carl Kreinheder. He was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on October 1, 1905. His father, Oscar Carl Kreinheder (1877-1946), was a pastor of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church and was best known as the president of Valparaiso University in Indiana from 1930 to 1939. Arthur’s mother, Hannah Coyner (1877-1971), was from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
Arthur grew up in St. Paul and Detroit where his father served parishes. After graduation from the University of Michigan he went to work for Hudson’s, a Detroit department store, in 1930. He joined the navy in 1942 and captained a ship patrolling the U.S. Atlantic coast. At war’s end he returned to Hudson’s and became buyer of furs. In 1950 he gave up the life of a successful businessman to study theology in Lund, Sweden. As early as 1948 he had been in touch with the Protestant monastic community that was forming in Taize, France. During his time of study in Sweden he visited with the founding brothers, Roger Schutz and Max Thurian. Briefly, in 1955, he became a novice in the Community of Taize. He also hosted Brother Roger and Brother Max on a tour of the U.S. that year.
On May 27, 1956, in his fifties, he was ordained a priest in the cathedral of St. Lawrence in Lund, Sweden. The ordaining bishops were the famous theologian-bishops Anders Nygren and Gustaf Aulen. Rather than being assigned to a specific parish or other church post, he was commissioned “for ecumenical work in the United States among Lutherans.”
Arriving back in Detroit in June 1956 he was just in time to attend the Liturgical Institute sponsored by Valparaiso University. During that meeting people interested in monasticism as well as liturgical reform founded the Fellowship of St. Augustine, a prayer and support group to encourage the establishment of a Lutheran monastic community in the U.S. The name derives from the approval given St. Augustine’s monastic community in the 16th century Lutheran confessional writings. Father Arthur’s home near Oxford, Michigan, henceforth to be called “St. Augustine’s House,” was designated the retreat center of the Fellowship.
The Congregation of the Servants of Christ began at St. Augustine’s House in 1958 when some other men joined Father Arthur in observing the monastic life and offices of prayer. These men and others came and went over the years. Many men have tested their vocations to monastic life by living at the house for some time, from a few months to many years, and Fr. Arthur was the gracious host to thousands of visitors. By 1974 his formerly robust health began to fail. At this time there were a few men living at the house hoping to continue as members of the community. Father Arthur decided to escape the cold Michigan winters by spending some months in Florida each year. He returned to Michigan for the months of mild weather, but better health was sporadic; he battled cancer in 1977 and had a heart attack in 1987. At the age of 84 Arthur Carl Kreinheder died on Friday, October 13, 1989, in a Pontiac, Michigan, hospital. He had never recovered fully from a stroke suffered in the preceding July. He is buried in the cemetery at St. Augustine’s House.