Monastery History and Tradition
An hour before midnight on a rainy October night, four Portland priests stood on a wharf peering out into the dark, waiting to welcome the first Benedictines to the West Coast of America.
The SS Columbia was headed north from San Francisco, carrying a small band of monks and nuns in search of a new home.
One of its passengers, Fr. Adelhelm Odermatt, OSB, had recently written a nostalgic letter to his abbot at Engelberg Abbey in the mountains of Switzerland, saying, “I hunger and thirst for mountains, for during seven years in America I have not yet seen a decent hill.” But Oregon, he wrote, “is said to be a kind of Paradise, if one can speak of such a thing on this earth.”
The morning after their arrival, Fr. Adelhelm’s sermon created almost as much of a sensation as his black beard. The long-bearded monks were given a blessing by Archbishop Francis Blanchet, who had established the Church in Oregon, and they soon found their new home – at the foot of a fir-clad mountain, a place where Native Americans had worshipped their own Great Spirit. The locals warned that the incessant winter rains turned the valley into a “frog pond,” but Fr. Adelhelm countered, “That does not permit a missionary zealous for souls to be discouraged.”
German Catholics in the nearby town of Fillmore – soon to be renamed Mt. Angel – were so eager to have the monks as neighbors they pledged a cow and $1,200 toward a monastery within the space of two days.
In 1882, Mount Angel Priory was founded, and a mere five years later, the pioneer monks opened Mount Angel College. In 1889, Archbishop William Gross, CSsR, of the Diocese of Oregon City, asked the monks to establish a seminary.
The Abbey and school would go through different metamorphoses, faces and buildings would come and go, and the monks would face hardship and setbacks. And yet they would show remarkable resilience.
Through two devastating fires, two world wars, depressions and recessions, Vatican II, the gradual secularization of society, and the challenges and blessings of a 21st-century, globally connected, highly diverse Church, the Benedictine monks at Mount Angel have kept the faith.
Over the years, much has changed, but much has endured. We invite you to this holy Hilltop, and hope you will take part in our rich tradition, and find peace and blessings.