One thousand five-hundred years – precious little in this world has that kind of longevity.
A short 450 years after Christ walked the Earth, one man started a revolution. He saw a need for the culture to turn its eyes back – back toward Christ. Watching the culture seemingly devolve around him, he established the first Benedictine monastery as a place of deep prayer – a place to focus on glorifying the Lord.
As the centuries crept by, monasticism spread across Europe. Both men and women dedicated themselves to living according to the Rule of St. Benedict. Monasteries became great bastions not only of prayer, but of education, study and missionary endeavor.
As monasticism grew, many saw it as an affront to progress and a threat to government. Martin Luther, once an Augustinian friar himself, declared that the monastic life had no scriptural basis, was pointless, and was not compatible with the true spirit of Christianity. Napoleon believed that monasteries represented an existential threat to his rule, ordering that they be stripped of any possessions and their land be auctioned off.
Despite these attempts at halting the spread of monasticism, St. Benedict’s Rule persisted like a force of nature. Sprouting back up in Europe and eventually spreading to America; monasteries now dot the country and seek to continue to be that same home to prayer and work that St. Benedict established one thousand five-hundred years ago.
For the past 160 years, St. Benedict’s Abbey has served as a city on a hill, seeking to be a light of Christ to the world. We will attempt to tell you the story of 160 years of Ora et Labora – Prayer and Work – offering you a glimpse into the journey from St. Benedict’s cave in Italy to the Bluffs on the Missouri River.
480 A.D. ••••••••••••• ST. BENEDICT
The great Roman empire was disintegrating. Disillusioned by the decadent life around him, the son of a Roman noble left the city to live as a hermit in a cave near Subiaco, thirty miles east of Rome. He soon attracted admirers and the young man began to pursue and educate disciples whom he gathered into a cluster of small monasteries. Our “family tree” is rooted in sixth century Italy – planted by the young man who would become St. Benedict of Nursia. At Monte Cassino, he wrote his Rule which still serves as the guiding text for Benedictine communities today.
716 A.D. ••••••••••••• ST. BONIFACE
In 716 St. Boniface traveled from his Abbey in England to spread the Catholic faith to the people of Germany. As he led the faithful as the Archbishop of Mainz, abbeys were founded in and around Germany, spreading Benedictine monasticism.
766 A.D. ••••••••••••• ST. MICHAEL ABBEY
Under the guidance of Charlemagne (left), in 766, Blessed Gamelbert of Michaelsbuch, in association with monks from the Archcenobium of Monte Cassino, established St. Michael Abbey in Metten, Bavaria. For the next 1,000 years the monks of Metten served the people of their region as pastors and educators, establishing the tradition that is carried on today by the American-Cassinese Monks.
1803 A.D. ••••••••••••• NAPOLEON
As Napoleon rose to power he began suppressing and ultimately secularizing monasteries throughout France, Italy, and beyond. Feeling that the monks held too much power with their land holdings, abbeys were forced to give away their possessions and sell off their land. In 1803 St. Michael Abbey’s property was confiscated, the monastery was shuttered and by 1815 all of their property was auctioned off.
1830 A.D. •••••••••••• KING LUDWIG I
During the suppression of the monasteries their property was available for purchase. Johann von Pronath, a Bavarian politician, acquired a great deal of land in Metten. By 1830 he convinced King Ludwig I to re-establish St. Michael Abbey. In 1837 the monks opened a school that is still in operation today, renewing their dedication to education.
1834 A.D. •••••••••••• PRINCE GALLITZIN
In 1833, after hearing that the German Catholics in America were in desperate need of priests, Fr. Henry Lemke resolved to travel to America. Upon his arrival in 1834 he was assigned to a parish and learned English from, while teaching German to, Bishop Francis Kenrick (Philedelphia), and his brother, Bishop Peter Kenrick (St. Louis.) He went on to serve Reverend Prince Gallitzin, who was a renowned servant to the Catholics of Pennsylvania. Later, when Benedictine monks first arrived in America, Fr. Henry invited them to establish the first monastery on Gallitzin’s land.
1842 A.D. •••••••••••• BONIFACE WIMMER
Boniface Wimmer, monk of St. Michael Abbey, requests of his abbot permission to travel to the New World to minister to the German immigrants. Wimmer considered the Benedictine order ideal for this mission, especially equipped to build up Church infrastructure in a frontier setting because of the vow of stability and the order's strong tradition of manual labor and self-sufficiency. He hoped that a wave of monasteries could transform the complexion of pastoral care for immigrants in mid 19th-century America.
1846 A.D. •••••••••••• MONKS COME TO AMERICA
Granted permission from his Abbot, in 1846 Fr. Boniface Wimmer, with 18 other monks, traveled to America. Upon their arrival they were invited to Carrolltown by Fr. Henry Lemke. Finding the conditions there unfavorable, Fr. Boniface accepted an invitation to serve as pastor of St. Vincent Parish in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. On October 24, 1846, he established St. Vincent as the first monastery in the United States. By 1855 there were more than 200 monks, among them Fr. Henry who joined in 1852. Pope Pius IX elevated St. Vincent to Abbey status and Fr. Boniface was named its first abbot.
1855 A.D. •••••••••••• FR. HENRY LEMKE
At the urging of a friend, Fr. Henry Lemke traveled to Kansas in 1855. Seeing the desperate need for priests in the area, he urged Archabbot Boniface Wimmer to send more monks and establish a monastery in Kansas.
1857 A.D. •••••••••••• A NEW FOUNDATION
In 1857 Archabbot Boniface sent Fr. Augustine Wirth and Br. Casimir Seitz (right) to Kansas. Upon their arrival, Br. Casimir was ordained by Bishop Jean Baptiste Miège, S.J. He was the first man to be ordained in the Kansas Territory.
On April 27, 1857, Fr. Augustine, the first prior, and Fr. Casimir arrived in Doniphan, Kansas, and established St. Benedict’s, the third monastery in the United States. Fr. Henry Lemke had fallen ill and was called back to St. Vincent.