St. John's Abbey and University
ST. JOHN'S ABBEY AND UNIVERSITY
St. John's Abbey and University is the oldest Catholic institution of higher education in Minnesota and the oldest institution of higher education in continuous existence in the state. Located in Collegeville, Minn., 80 miles north of Minneapolis, St. John's embraces a campus of 2,000 acres of wooded land with two lakes. This school was chartered by the Territory of Minnesota in 1857, one year after the monks of St. Benedict had come to the area surrounding the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
Early Development. At the request of Rev. Franz Xavier pierz, missionary, Bp. Joseph Cretin, first bishop of St. Paul, had invited the Benedictines to establish a monastery in his expansive frontier diocese to care for the rapidly increasing German immigrant families and to bring permanent spiritual assistance to the Chippewa and Sioux tribes of the region. Cretin had written to Abbot Boniface wimmer, OSB, founder of the American Benedictines, at St. Vincent Abbey, Latrobe, Pa.; and on April 5, 1856, one priest, two clerics, and two brothers departed for Minnesota via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers (see st. vincent archabbey).
This first foundation effort of St. Vincent Abbey was under the charge of Prior Demetrius di Marogna, OSB. Shortly after their arrival in St. Paul, Cretin ordained the clerics, Cornelius Wittmann, OSB, and Bruno Riess, OSB; and the small party moved to St. Cloud in central Minnesota, where more than 200 German immigrants had already staked claims. On Feb. 17, 1857, the territorial legislature of Minnesota authorized by charter the establishment of St. John's Seminary. This school was to be founded as "a scientific, educational and ecclesiastical institution" in order "that the youths of this new but flourishing Territory be not only instructed in the elementary sciences, but, moreover, be educated in sound moral principles." Although St. John's Seminary was its legal title, it was known from the beginning as St. John's College. In 1869 it was authorized to confer academic degrees, and in 1883 its legal title was changed to St. John's University.
St. John's Abbey was originally known as the Abbey of St. Louis on the Lake, in memory of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, patron of the 19th-century Benedictine revival and major supporter of Abbot Boniface Wimmer's endeavors in America. After several initial efforts to establish a monastery, the Minnesota Benedictines in 1866 settled in the "Indianbush" ten miles north of St. Cloud, and in 1881 the names of the abbey and university were fixed under the missionary patronage of John the Baptist.
St. John's developed rapidly with steady support from surrounding Catholic immigrant families who sent their sons to the frontier school. Many of these first-generation Americans joined the original European members of the monastery (raised to the status of an abbey in 1866). The first abbot, Rupert Seidenbusch (1830–95), had been the prior of St. Vincent Abbey. He served as abbot of St. John's from Dec. 12, 1866, until his appointment as vicar apostolic of northern Minnesota on Feb. 12, 1875.
Bishop Seidenbusch's successor was Abbot Alexius Edelbrock, OSB (1843–1908), son of a pioneer St. Cloud family. During the years of St. John's second abbot's administration the institution made major educational and missionary advances in the upper Middle West, and the physical facilities at Collegeville, a name he gave to the institution, were developed on the grand scale typical of American 19th century "brick and mortar" Catholicism. For 14 years he worked at a feverish pace and with an industry that overcame most obstacles. Beginning with a religious community of 52 members, by 1889 he was directing the far-flung activities of 57 priests, ten clerics, 37 brothers, and 32 scholastics. Enrollment in the school had increased from 183 to 350. The monastery was caring for 45 missions, of which he had inaugurated 35. During the first century (1856–1956) of St. John's history, 113 parishes, 146 missions, and 102 stations were developed and served by monks of the abbey. The number of different congregations attended from St. John's totaled 361.
Later Development. Members of the St. John's community became divided over the excessive external activity of the monk missionaries. This division of opinion, together with ecclesiastical political moves under the leadership of Bp. John ireland of St. Paul, who directed the establishment of the Province of St. Paul, combined to bring about the resignations of both Seidenbusch and Edelbrock from their respective offices. During the last years of the 19th and early years of the 20th centuries the development of St. John's was then gradually concentrated more on internal monastic affairs under Abbot Bernard Locnikar, OSB (1848–1894), and on educational matters under Abbot Peter Engel, OSB (1856–1921), In 1891 the monks of St. John's undertook the spiritual care of the Catholics in the Bahama Islands, an apostolate that they continue to exercise to the present time (1965). New abbeys were established as St. Peter's, Muenster, Saskatchewan, Canada (1892), and St. Martin's, Olympia, Wash. (1895).
The advent in 1922 of Abbot Alcuin Deutsch, OSB (1877–1951), to the abbatial office at St. John's began a new era in the maturing of the largest Benedictine religious house in the world. The liturgical movement that had begun in Europe during the 19th century was brought to America by Virgil michel, OSB (1890–1938), and developed at St. John's through the publications of the Liturgical Press, as well as Orate Fratres (now Worship ) magazine, Sponsa Regis magazine for the sisterhoods, the Bible Today and the American Benedictine Review. During the first two quarters of the 20th century Collegeville became a national focus of publications for the liturgical apostolate in the U.S. Educational, social action, and rural life institutes were held regularly; summer institutes in Scripture, seminars on the relation of religion and mental health, and ecumenical dialogues were inaugurated. Under the direction of Marcel Breuer a centennial architectural program was begun in 1954. By 1965 seven buildings had been constructed, including the abbey and university church, consecrated in 1961.
In 1951, Abbot Baldwin Dworschak, OSB, became the sixth abbot of St. John's. He directed the spiritual and temporal activities of a Benedictine community numbering 400 members, and fostered the development of monastic foundations in Nassau, Bahamas; Tokyo, Japan; Mexico City, Mexico; and Humacao, Puerto Rico. Under his direction about 40 parishes and missions continued to be staffed by St. John's monks (1965). St. Maur's Priory, an interracial monastery in South Union, Ky., became an independent priory in 1963.
Following Vatican II, Abbot Dworschak sought to implement the recommendations of the Council by introducing the use of the vernacular into the liturgy, by making changes in the monastic formation program, by integrating the lay brothers more effectively into the community, by modifying lines of authority in the abbey, and by directing individual monks toward the acceptance of greater personal responsibility. Upon the resignation of Abbot Dworschak in 1971, the community elected Father John Eidenschink as his successor. During his eight-year term, the dependent priory in Puerto Rico became an independent abbey and renewed interest was shown in the community's apostolate in Japan.
After Abbot John completed his term in 1979, Father Jerome Theisen was elected abbot. His leadership resulted in marked growth in theological scholarship. In the School of Theology a monastic studies program was inaugurated along with a renewed commitment to the continuing education of diocesan, monastic, and lay pastoral ministers. Abbot Jerome also fostered the development of the Episcopal House of Prayer in 1989 on five acres of abbey land leased to the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota.
When Abbot Jerome was elected Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation in 1992, whereupon he took up residence at the International Sant' Anselmo Benedictine College in Rome, and the Saint John's community elected Father Timothy Kelly as its ninth abbot. He strongly promoted the East-West monastic dialogue and the education of Chinese seminarians in the School of Theology. He also addressed the problem of sexual abuse in American society by establishing the Inter-Faith Sexual Trauma Institute on campus.
Upon the completion of his eight-year term of office in November 2000, the community elected Father John Klassen on Nov. 24, 2000. He leads a community of 196 Benedictine monks who sponsor and work at Saint John's Preparatory School, Saint John's University, and The Liturgical Press, as well as in parishes, hospital chaplaincies, and dependent priories in Nassau, Bahamas and Fujimi, Japan. Both the preparatory school and university are flourishing institutions. The latter collaborates closely with the College of Saint Benedict in Saint Joseph, Minnesota. A number of impressive buildings have recently been added to both campuses; together the institutions educate about 3,800 hundred men and women.
The Liturgical Press celebrated it 75th anniversary in April 2001. Staffed by around 60 monks and lay people, each year it publishes approximately 100 new titles on the liturgy, theology, monastic studies, and Scripture.
Bibliography: c. barry, o.s.b., Worship and Work: Saint John's Abbey and University, 1856–1992 (Collegeville, Minn.1992). v. tegeder, o.s.b., "Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota" and "Saint John's University, Collegeville, Minn.," The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, ed. m. glazier and t. shelley (Collegeville, Minn. 1992).