Benedictine liturgist and educator; b. St. Paul, Minn., June 26, 1890; d. Collegeville, Minn., Nov. 26, 1938. The son of Fred and Mary (Griebler) Michel, he was baptized George. After his education at St. John's Preparatory School and University in Collegeville, he joined the Benedictine Order there in 1909, pronounced his solemn vows on Sept. 26, 1913, and was ordained in 1916. In 1918 he received his doctorate in English and a licentiate in theology at The Catholic University of America. During the next six years (1918–24), he taught at St. John's University and also held various administrative posts, including that of dean of the college. In February 1924 Michel began philosophical studies under Joseph Gredt at Sant' Anselmo in Rome, but, dissatisfied with Gredt's approach, he went to Louvain for the following school term.
Of greatest significance for his future work in America was the knowledge he acquired of the liturgical movement in Europe, which had not yet made an impression upon the English-speaking nations. Having convinced his superior of the need of such a movement for English-speaking Catholics and that St. John's Abbey should undertake its promotion and be its center, Michel, during extensive study trips, consulted European liturgical leaders and scholars. Of these, Lambert beauduin especially influenced him. Back at home in the fall of 1925, Michel, with the support of Abbot Alcuin Deutsch, at once laid plans for founding the movement's organ, Orate Fratres (later renamed Worship ), and established the Liturgical Press. Under his guiding hand as editor of Orate Fratres, the liturgical movement gradually took firm roots in the U.S., though not without considerable misunderstanding and opposition.
Undoubtedly Michel's chief contribution was his influence on the American liturgical movement, particularly his sketching of the implications of the liturgy for all aspects of human life. As a leader in the Catholic social movement in the Depression years of the 1930s, he spoke out boldly for the reconstruction of society on the basis of an adequate philosophy of human and spiritual values. He was a prolific writer, a tireless worker, a strong personal inspiration to others, and a man of wide-ranging interests. He published seven volumes; contributed to many more; and wrote several hundred articles, editorials, and book reviews for more than 35 periodicals. The totality of his writings constitutes a kind of Christian synthesis, embracing the natural and supernatural elements of man's life in an ever-changing world.
Bibliography: p. b. marx, Virgil Michel and the Liturgical Movement (Collegeville, Minn. 1957).