St. Vincent Archabbey
ST. VINCENT ARCHABBEY
The first Benedictine monastery in the U.S.; founded at Latrobe, PA, in 1846 by Boniface wimmer, monk of St. Michael Abbey in Metten, Bavaria. Concern for the spiritual needs of German immigrants in the U.S. led Wimmer, with four candidates for the priesthood and 14 for the brotherhood, to initiate the monastic, educational, and missionary activities that have remained characteristic of his foundation. Bishop Michael O'Connor of Pittsburgh, PA, donated the chapel and farm at St. Vincent parish to the young community, and on Oct. 24, 1846, Wimmer invested his candidates with the Benedictine habit. The superior assumed charge of the local parish and ministered to the Catholics of Westmoreland County and other parts of Pennsylvania.
The monastery became St. Vincent Priory in 1852; it was raised to an abbey three years later, with Wimmer as abbot of the growing community of 150 members. By 1900, beginning with a foundation in Minnesota in 1856 (now st. john's abbey, Collegeville, MN), small bands of St. Vincent monks had founded priories in 15 states. After the Holy See established the American Cassinese Congregation of the Benedictine Order (1855), Wimmer was named its first president.
For 41 years Wimmer guided the community at St. Vincent and directed the national expansion of the order. At Latrobe his monks increased their parish activities and developed a major and minor seminary for the education of diocesan and Benedictine priests. Rome honored this pioneer of American Benedictinism with the personal title of archabbot and the privilege of wearing the cappa magna.
Since Wimmer's death (Dec. 8, 1887), St. Vincent Archabbey has consolidated and expanded its work in education and the parish missionary apostolate. The second archabbot, Andrew Hintenach (1844–1927), resigned his office in 1892. Leander Schnerr (1836–1920), who ruled for 25 years, coordinated the parish apostolate and improved the major seminary. Archabbot Aurelius Stehle (1877–1930), educator and author, developed St. Vincent College as a department separate from the seminary and led the American Cassinese Congregation in founding the Catholic University of Beijing, China (now the Fu Jen Catholic University of Taipei, Nationalist China). Archabbot Alfred Koch (1879–1950) directed the monastery for two decades, expanded the college department, and advanced the graduate training program for faculty members. After his election as coadjutor archabbot in 1949, Rt. Rev. Denis Strittmatter began a complete abbey renovation and building program, extended parochial activity, and broadened the scope of graduate studies for priest faculty members. As president of the American Cassinese Congregation Strittmatter was a voting member of Vatican Council II.
In 1963, a devastating fire destroyed a quadrangle of buildings which included the historic St. Vincent parish chapel (built in 1836), the abbey choir chapel, and a major part of the monks' cells. In the decades that followed, new buildings were erected. Expansion of the archabbey outside of the United States have led to the foundation of the Wimmer Priory of St. Boniface, at Taipei, Taiwan. and the adoption of St. Benedict Priory in Vinhedo, near São Paulo, Brazil.
Bibliography: o. moosmÜller, St. Vincenz in Pennsylvanien (New York 1873). f. fellner, Abbot Boniface and His Monks (privately published and available only at St. Vincent Archabbey).
[r. j. murtha/eds.]