Would you like to help support the growth of Mount Angel Abbey? There are currently about 54 monks in the community and almost half are in religious life for less than 10 years. In other words, a good portion of their days are spent studying the Benedictine Rule of Life, learning the works of the Abbey, or in seminary preparing for ordination. We appreciate the support of your prayers and any size gift you feel inspired to contribute.
Mount Angel Abbey
It began with Benedict of Nursia (Norcia) …
Saint Benedict was born of a Roman noble family around 480 A.D. He was schooled at Rome, but eventually turned away from the declining culture and worldly life of the Roman schools and took spiritual refuge in a cave at Subiaco. There he lived an ascetical life of prayerful solitude. Saint Gregory the Great tells us in Book II of his Dialogues that a group of monks convinced him, with much reluctance, to be their abbot. Soon they tired of Benedict’s discipline and wanted him to leave. He wouldn’t go, so they attempted to poison him. After this unfortunate affair, the holy man founded a monastery at Monte Casino, which would become the “mother” of the entire Benedictine confederation of monks. Saint Benedict died around 547 A.D.
Mount Angel Abbey inherited Saint Benedict’s Rule of life with its 1,500-year-old tradition of prayer and work. Founded from the Swiss Abbey of Engelberg in 1882, Mount Angel Abbey strives to be a place where all can “seek things above” in peace and solitude. The Abbey keeps vital the ancient traditions of Divine Office, love of learning, and hospitality.
The Early Years
Before 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 there 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, Conception Priory. But Father Adelhelm did not like some of the changes that Father Frowin made to the monastic practice; 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. 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 a translation of the Swiss “Engelberg.”
In 1883 the work of buying the various parcels that transected the Hilltop began. The young community lived in nearby Gervais until 1884 when the present buttes were purchased. The following year saw the arrival of the newly appointed third archbishop of Oregon City, Archbishop William Gross, CSsR, 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 he began to expend himself raising funds, both to pay off the debts incurred for the land and for the cost of buildings. And now, it was urgent 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 on Christmas Eve and quickly resume a unified monastic and educational apostolate.
Becoming an Abbey
One year later the Priory came of age and was elevated to an Abbey (March 24, 1904) by Pope Pius X. The first abbot, Father Thomas Meienhofer, O.S.B. (1904-1910), a native of Switzerland had entered the struggling American foundation as a result of vocation work done by the founder, Father Adelhelm. The first monks were sent from Engelberg Abbey; the first student monks were members of the College at Engelberg who were filled with missionary zeal after hearing Father Adelhelm. But with the establishment of Mount Angel College, young students from the locale began to enter the community; thus, the once completely Swiss-German monastery slowly began to receive Americans. Through the Abbey’s German publications, contacts were established with many German communities who began to send their sons to Mount Angel College, some of whom became monks of the Abbey.
In 1910, with the resignation of Abbot Thomas, the community elected Father Placidus Fuerst, O.S.B. (1910 – 1921), as its second abbot. He presided over a decade of growth in monastic personnel and the consolidation of the various apostolates. He also reigned during the time of the great influenza epidemic which took lives of both monks and students. Abbot Placidus resigned in 1921, after which the community elected an Irishman as third abbot, Father Bernard Murphy, O.S.B., a native of nearby Portland.
The Great Fire
In 1934 Abbot Bernard, now blind, retired as abbot and the community elected as its fourth abbot, Father Thomas Meier, O.S.B. (1934-1950). In 1936 the gymnasium was completed. The age of specialization had also arrived. The community was now blessed with sufficient men to send some away to Europe American Universities for higher education and advanced degrees. At home, greater emphasis was placed on the monastic life, the community High 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, New Westminster. There they staffed a seminary and brought 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, resigned. In turn, the community chose as its fifth abbot Father Damian Jentges, O.S.B., (1950-1974). The completion of the Abbey church was underway, and the explosion of priestly vocations, common 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; Anselm Hall was dedicated in 1954. The temporary buildings on the South side of the hill were used to house Mount Angel Preparatory School until this was transferred to the Portland Archdiocese and finally to the public school system.