Mount Angel Abbey photo
Illuminated manuscript from Mount Angel Abbey Library.
Mount Angel Abbey photo
Illuminated manuscript from Mount Angel Abbey Library.
Educational outreach at Mount Angel Seminary goes back to 1887, when Mount Angel’s early monks established a college. But the Benedictine affiliation with learning goes back to the sixth century, when St. Benedict himself encountered monks who couldn’t read the psalms or take part in the offices. He taught his monks to read, and soon, local nobility began sending their children to the monasteries for lessons in literacy.

The first Benedictine monasteries were established against a bloody backdrop. As the Roman Empire disintegrated, barbarians ravaged their way across the European continent and everyday people lived on the edge of survival. In stark opposition to the social and political chaos, Benedictine monasteries, following the Rule of St. Benedict, became centers of order and stability.

During the Middle Ages, monks nurtured a love of reading, writing and contemplative study, and their monasteries became beacons of learning. One could often find a rich liturgical life and intelligent conversation, and as time went on, Benedictine monasteries accumulated illuminated manuscripts and works of sacred art.

That love of learning continues at Mount Angel Abbey. Five years after the first monks arrived in 1882, they followed the example of their motherhouse in Switzerland, whose school traced its roots to the 12th century, and founded Mount Angel College. Two years later, at the request of Archbishop Gross of Oregon City, they founded the seminary, which has continued until today. The Benedictine charism influences the entire process of priestly formation.

“Love of learning and the search for God are almost synonymous,” said Father Odo Recker, subprior of Mount Angel Abbey.

Mount Angel’s school, he said, was one of the first colleges to be accredited by what is now the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Mount Angel Seminary now comprises a college of liberal arts and a graduate school of theology whose primary purpose is the formation of men for the Roman Catholic priesthood.

The school of theology also welcomes qualified laymen and women who are interested in pursuing a theological education.

In this year’s inaugural address at the seminary, Mount Angel Professor Shawn Keough said the Rule of St. Benedict called for monks to establish “a school for the service of the Lord,” founded on the idea of sacred learning and fired by the love of God. “That is exactly what Mount Angel Seminary is,” said Monsignor Joseph Betschart, who serves as president-rector of the seminary.

In true Benedictine fashion, the abbey monks also established a library, which houses thousands of rare volumes, and a guest house for those interested in spiritual retreats.