Gethsemani, Abbey of
GETHSEMANI, ABBEY OF
A monastery of Cistercian Monks of the Strict Observance (Trappists) situated about 15 miles south of Bardstown, Ky., and considered one of the historical monuments of the Commonwealth. Unsuccessful attempts had been made in 1805 by Dom Urban Guillet and Trappist refugees from revolutionary France to establish a permanent community in this part of Kentucky. On Dec. 21, 1848, a colony of 44 monks from the Breton Abbey of Melleray, near Nantes, settled on this site which had been purchased from the Sisters of Loretto. Gethsemani was the first monastic community in the U.S. to be raised to abbatial rank (1851). The first abbot, Eutropius Proust, was blessed in Bardstown cathedral on Oct. 26, 1851, by Bp. Benedict Flaget.
During this early period, the strict rule, plus the rigors of the primitive and isolated life of the monks, discouraged postulants from entering or persevering. Under its third abbot, Edward Chaix Bourbon (resigned 1898), the Gethsemani community was on the point of expiring when it was revived by the energetic administration of Edmond obrecht (1898–1935).
Gethsemani's history in the mid–20th century was marked by an extraordinary influx of vocations, reaching a climax in 1952 when the community numbered 279. Although it is often wrongly stated that this unusual growth began suddenly after World War II, in actual fact it had already begun by the late 1930s. Under the fifth abbot, Frederick dunne (1935–48), the first American-born postulant to persevere as a choir monk at Gethsemani, the first two foundations of Gethsemani were made at Conyers, Ga. (1944) and at Huntsville, Utah (1947). The next abbot, James Fox, made foundations on the Luce Plantation at Mepkin, S.C. (1949), at Piffard, N.Y. (1951), and on Vina Ranch in the Sacramento Valley of California (1955). The abbatial church of Gethsemani was elevated to the rank of a minor basilica on May 3, 1949.