Abbey History

The Early years

Engelberg AbbeyBefore Mount Angel Abbey officially began in 1882, it existed in the mind of Father Adelhelm Odermatt, a monk of Engelberg Abbey working in Missouri with the new foundation at Conception Junction.

He lived for several years in close contact with Father, (soon to be Abbot) Frowin Conrad, a fellow monk, who was the founding superior of the new Swiss foundation. But Father Adelhelm did not like some of the changes that Father Frowin made; they were, after all, supposed to found a monastery that would serve as a place of refuge, should their own abbey in Switzerland be suppressed. So, with a companion, Father Nicholas Frei, he began searching for a site to make yet another foundation, this one less influenced by the German Beuronese reform movement. He traveled and explored Omaha, Denver, San Francisco and the valleys around Santa Barbara, as well as the shores of Puget Sound in Washington. He settled on the Butte near the town of Fillmore in western Oregon and renamed the site Mount Angel, which is simply a translation of the name of his Mother-Abbey of Engelberg.

The Hilltop

Establishing Mount Angel Abbey on the HilltopIn 1883 the work of buying the various land tracts that dissected the hilltop began. The young community lived in nearby Gervais until 1884 when the land was purchased, at which time the name of the town was likewise changed to Mount Angel. The following year saw the arrival of the newly appointed third archbishop of Oregon City, Archbishop Gross, who was an educator. At his insistence the community opened a college in 1887 and the Benedictine Press in the following year. Then in 1889, again at the urging of Archbishop Gross, Mount Angel Priory opened a seminary - the second on the west coast, and now the oldest in existence west of the Rockies. Then in 1892 a disastrous fire destroyed the monastery, church and seminary buildings and brought the first great setback to the young community.
Father Adelhelm, the first prior of the community, was now replaced in that office and began to expend himself in soliciting funds, both to pay off the debts incurred in the buying of land and rapid building, and also, now, to be able to rebuild. He was successful, and the cornerstone of the new monastery was laid in 1899, this time on top of the hill, by a new archbishop of Oregon City, Alexander Christie. In 1903 the community was able to move into the first part of the building complex and resume a unified monastic and educational apostolate.

Becoming an Abbey

A photo of the original AbbeyOne year later the Priory came of age and was elevated to an Abbey. The first abbot, Father Thomas Meienhofer, was a native of Switzerland, who had entered the young and struggling American foundation as a result of some of the extensive vocation work done by the founder, Father Adelhelm. The first monks were, of course, sent out from Engelberg Abbey; the first young student monks were members of the College at Engelberg who became inflamed with missionary zeal when they heard Father Adelhelm. But with the establishment of our own college, young students from the locale began to enter the community, and thus the once Swiss-German monastery began to receive Americans of Irish, Italian, Polish as well as German extraction. The Benedictine Press played a large part in this. By its German publications it established contact with many German communities that came to send young men to Mount Angel College, some of whom stayed to be monks of Mount Angel.

The apostolates of the Abbey were diversified. Several parishes were maintained; there was the college and seminary, and there was parish assistance at diocesan parishes on weekends, and the Indian Missions of Vancouver Island.

In 1910, at the resignation of Abbot Thomas, the community elected Father Placidus Fuerst as its second abbot, and he presided over a decade of growth in personnel and consolidation of the various apostolates. Abbot Placidus resigned his office in 1921, and the community elected an Irishman as third abbot, Father Bernard Murphy, a native of nearby Portland.

The first monks were, of course, sent out from Engelberg Abbey; the first young student monks were members of the College at Engelberg who became inflamed with missionary zeal when they heard Father Adelhelm.

The Great Fire

stone-abbey_000In 1926 the fifth archbishop of Oregon City was installed in the person of Archbishop Edward D. Howard, and shortly thereafter the second monastery was totally destroyed in another disastrous fire. The community was dispersed again into private homes and the nearby parish school and rectory. The school was closed briefly until temporary accommodations could be made. Younger monks now began the painful task of begging for funds for rebuilding. In 1928 the first section of the present abbey was dedicated, once more on top of the hill. This was soon followed by the erection of Aquinas Hall in 1930 and the gymnasium in 1936

In 1934 Abbot Bernard, now blind, retired from the office of abbot and the community elected as its fourth abbot, Father Thomas Meier. The age of specialization had also arrived. The community was now blessed with sufficient men to send some away to Europe for higher education and advanced degrees; greater emphasis was placed on the monastic life, the community Mass and private prayer than had been possible in the early days of great activity in the face of great need. In 1939 the community celebrated the centennial of the coming of the first Catholic missionaries to the Oregon Territory and, on its own part, sent off its first group of monks to found a new monastery in British Columbia, where they were needed to staff a seminary and bring the monastic witness to another church just emerging from its missionary period. In 1946 the community closed Mount Angel College and devoted itself full-time to the seminary - theology, college and high school - and to the local Prep school for boys.

In 1950 Abbot Thomas, partially blind and in poor health, in his turn laid down the office of the abbacy and the community chose as its fifth abbot Father Damian Jentges. An extension of the Abbey church was under construction and the explosion of vocations to the priesthood that was a common phenomenon after the Second World War had so crowded the seminary as to make a new residence hall mandatory. The Abbey church was completed and dedicated in 1952; and two years later Anselm Hall was dedicated, and the seminary was now divided into major and minor. The temporary buildings over the side of the hill were used to house the Mount Angel Preparatory School until this was transferred to the archdiocesan and then to the public school system.

New Foundations

Cuernavaca monksIn 1965 two new monasteries were started from Mount Angel Abbey: Ascension Priory in Idaho, and Our Lady of the Angels Priory in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The next few years also saw the full impact of the Second Vatican Council, and the renewal efforts within the Church were epitomized in the renewal of monastic life, seminary life and the priestly apostolates.

The completed construction in 1960 of Benet Hall, the abbey guest and retreat house, made it possible for the community to enlarge its work of traditional Benedictine hospitality and retreats. A library for the Abbey and seminary, designed by the renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, was dedicated in 1970 after one and a half years of meticulous building.

Abbot Damian's long reign ended in 1974, and the monastic community chose Father Anselm Galvin as its sixth abbot. Because of the insufficient number of students, in 1978 the seminary high school department closed. Abbot Anselm guided the monastic Chapter to move its Ascension Priory from Twin Falls, Idaho, to a new site near Jerome, and to construct a new monastery on the property. In 1980 Abbot Anselm resigned, and as its seventh abbot the community elected Father Bonaventure Zerr. He was dedicated to establishing an outstanding collection of library materials in the new library, not only for the monks and the seminarians, but also for those pursuing scholarly research.

To the Present

Abbot Jeremy receives the Abbatial Blessing on April 28, 2016When Abbot Bonaventure died in 1988, the community elected Father Peter Eberle as its eighth abbot. As a teacher in the seminary, he encouraged the enlargement of the seminary college and theology and the initiation of Pre-theology courses for late vocations, as well as the enhancement of its formation program.

With the resignation of Abbot Peter in 1997, the community chose Father Joseph Wood, a member of Ascension Priory in Idaho, as its ninth abbot. In 1998 Abbot Joseph and the monastic Chapter approved that Ascension Priory - now called Monastery of the Ascension - become independent of its mother house, Mount. Angel Abbey. Abbot Joseph would retire from the office of abbot in 2001 for reasons of age and delicate health.

Abbot Nathan Zodrow, OSB, was elected Mount Angel Abbey's tenth abbot in 2001 followed by the eleventh abbot of the community, Abbot Gregory Duerr, OSB who received his Abbatial blessing on February 2010 by the Archbishop Emeritus John Vlazny of the Archdiocese of Portland.

Following the resignation of Abbot Gregory on February 10, 2016, Abbot Jeremy succeeded him as the twelve Abbot of Mount Angel Abbey with his election on March 12, 2016. He received the Abbatial blessing on April 28, 2016 from Archbishop Alexander King Sample. Abbot Jeremy has most recently taught theology at Mount Angel Abbey seminary and at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome. He serves on various Vatican commissions, has published broadly, and often conducts conferences and retreats throughout the United States and beyond.