Josef Sprug

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Given that quote, it is no surprise that this was Josef Sprug’s favorite book. So much about him was invisible to the eye.

Josef was born April 9th, 1922 in Fort Smith, Arkansas and passed away in Seattle, WA on November 28, 2021 at the age of 99. His father, an immigrant from Austria, survived the Great Depression by painting Catholic churches throughout the area. Josef often said that he survived by reading and that led him to a bachelor’s degree from St. Meinrad College, a B.S.L.S from Catholic University, and a master’s degree in philosophy from Catholic U. He worked as a librarian, author, indexer, and lecturer in various educational and government institutions across the nation, including Catholic University in DC, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and St. Edward’s University in Austin. He made indexes for more than 600 books and wrote hundreds of book reviews.

Upon retiring, Josef moved to St. Benedict, Oregon and proceeded to volunteer 40-60 hours a week at the Mount Angel Abbey Library, cataloging books for the seminary well into his 90’s. He quietly cataloged more than 24,000 books during his years of service.

That’s the visible part of Josef.

What a lot of people don’t know is that, while he was volunteering at the library, he was also volunteering at the Benedictine Sisters nursing home. He read to people in the last stages of life so they wouldn’t be alone.

Not everyone knows that he was an oblate, a lay person living according to the regulations of the monastery. One of the rules of the Benedictine order is to “serve others with consistent patience and care.” Josef left note after note describing how to take care of Joan, his wife, if he were to pass. He left funds to give his four grandchildren Christmas gifts every year, even after his death.

He remembered the names of his co-workers’ children and grandchildren, as well as all the names of all the women working in the university cafeteria. His colleagues described him as “wickedly funny” and he clipped comics out of the paper to keep laughing.

He listened to classical music in the car but also loved Loretta Lynn and Nanci Griffith. He was a huge fan of Gary Cooper.

Even though he was always on the search for the perfect cinnamon roll, he focused on nutrition and health, walking up the hill to work well into his eighties and playing tennis into his sixties. It might surprise you to know that he could hit a softball out of the park in his youth.

The main theme of The Little Prince is the importance of looking beneath the surface to find the real truth, the real meaning. So much about Josef was invisible to the eye, but obvious to anyone who looked with the heart.

Josef is survived by his wife, Joan; children Barbara (Brian) Lewis, Stephen (Lisa) Sprug, Thomas (Marla) Sprug, David Sprug, Margaret Sprug, and Kate (Bert) Wells; and grandchildren Nadine, Morgan, Sky, and Lucas. Josef asked that these verses be read at his service.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to:

Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary

P.O. Box 497

Saint Benedict, OR 97373-0497

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Join our growing community working to bring human composting to the world.

Land Acknowledgement

Recompose acknowledges we make our lives and livelihoods on the lands of the Coast Salish People, specifically the Duwamish People. We honor with gratitude the Duwamish People past and present, the land itself, and the Duwamish Tribe.

Colonization is an active, persistent process. Indigenous communities continue to be resilient in protecting their ecological and cultural lifeways and deathways despite ongoing oppression. Recompose respects, shares, and supports this commitment to climate healing and environmental justice. Join Recompose in contributing to Real Rent Duwamish.