Today, July 11th, in the Universal Calendar of the Church, is the feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western Monasticism and of the Religious Community that bears his name as well as his charism. Benedict lived from 480 to either 543 or 547 in Italy. Well educated and called to holiness by God, he at an early age lived as a hermit, yet attracted the attention of others who recognized the gift of his life and who sought his guidance and example in forming small communities of praying and working together. In his life he eventually became a leader and teacher of his followers in the dynamic of communal living, and his "rule" became the standard for those seeking a religious life in a monastic setting. His greatest community was the establishment of the great monastery at Monte Cassino, which, incidentally was destroyed and then rebuilt during World War II. In addition to being recognized as the founder of Western Monasticism, he was declared Patron and Protector of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964 and co-patron of Europe by Pope John Paul II (along with the brothers Saints Cyril & Methodius). The Benedictine Order was one of the primary sources of the saving of knowledge, culture, community and faith during the Dark Ages, through her libraries and educational ministries. The spirit of hospitality that Benedict insisted upon, and the motto of "Ora et Labora" - "Pray and Work" which guided the Rule of Saint Benedict has served the Church well for thousands of years.
I personally have been blessed in my years with a number of relationships with Benedictine Communities in our area. I have spoken often of having my formative high school years placed within the capable hands of the Benedictine Monks of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, from 1961 through 1965, and the subsequent friendships and working relationships that have developed over these many years of priesthood in this Diocese which, by the way, is truly blessed in having this Archabbey within our midst. The history of Saint Vincent, from 1790 when it was established as a parish to 1846 when the Benedictines arrived under the leadership of Boniface Wimmer who established a monastery, prep school, college and seminary, until the present day is remarkable. Saint Vincent has 160 monks and is one of the largest Benedictine monasteries in the world. Check out their history at www.saintvincentarchabbey.org. I am personally very grateful to Archabbot Douglas Nowicki and the monks of Saint Vincent for their friendship and loyalty to the Church in Western Pennsylvania and around the globe.
My life has also been touched by the Benedictine Sisters of Saint Emma Monastery and Retreat House north of the city of Greensburg. These dedicated Sisters arrived from Germany in 1931 to serve as cooks at Saint Vincent's and since 1943 have provided a monastery for their Sisters and run a retreat house on their grounds. Check them out at www.stemma.org. Mother Mary Ann Noll has been the Prioress for over twenty years.
And finally, in my time as pastor in Scottdale I had the honor of working with the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh - www.osbpgh.org. They served in both the parish and the school at Saint John the Baptist until last year. Their numbers are not what they once were, but their dedication and enthusiasm for the work of the Lord has not diminished. They have just elected a new superior (probably the wrong term) to lead them, Sister Karen Brink, who at one time served in Scottdale. Under the leadership of Sister Benita DeMatteis they relocated and built a new, functional monastery in the Pittsburgh area that just opened its doors in 2013. They are a good group.
So, the Church and this author has much to be grateful for on this feast of Saint Benedict in the men and women who live his charism and honor his spirit.