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The Archabbey

When I was a young girl, I remember listening to stories told by my uncle, Fr. Jim, about a place he called “The Archabbey.”
In my mind, I tried to imagine what this particular place looked like. He described it as “a grand, holy, old church building with twin steeples rising to the sky.” As a priest, my uncle often traveled from St. Louis, Missouri through the heat of the summer and the long, narrow stretch of two-lane winding roads flanked by miles of cornfields on either side to reach the Archabbey in Indiana. He also traveled through the dead of winter on snow-packed roads, and on one occasion, he spent the night in his frozen car that had slid off the road. I was intrigued by his stories, but I never really thought much more about “The Archabbey” since those days during my youth.

Fast forward over forty years later when I heard the word again – “Archabbey”.

Yet this time I was surprised to hear it from my seminarian son Stephen. In the fall of 2015, after completing 2 years at Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas, Texas and 3 years at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., he would begin his Theological studies at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Saint Meinrad, Indiana. I was amazed to think that this was the same place my uncle had talked about many years ago. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to make a trip there to see for myself why this place was considered so grand and holy.
It is evident upon entering the small town of Saint Meinrad that the fast pace of city life is nowhere to be found. The lake and rural grounds of the monastery are beautiful and filled with a tranquil feeling of peace spread throughout 250 acres. The archabbey with its unique architecture of steeples, stained glass windows, huge sandstone blocks, and marble steps that lead to the main entrance was founded on March 21, 1857 by monks from the Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland.

Saint Meinrad was chosen as the name of the archabbey in honor of the Benedictine monk and priest.

The Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology is located on the grounds with dorm rooms, staircases, and “secret hallways and niches” reminiscent of a Harry Potter movie (my younger children loved the adventure of getting lost in the maze of buildings and hallways on their way to different parts of the seminary). Roman Catholic Theology is taught to young men in priestly formation as well as to men seeking to be permanent deacons and lay people desiring to earn advanced theology degrees. Currently, the seminary houses over 170 students, including men in priestly formation from different parts of the country and around the world.
Located throughout each of the seminary wings are various religious paintings, sculptures, statues, and icons of Christ, His Blessed Mother, and the saints. My favorite place to visit and admire such beautiful artwork is the Marian Hallway located on the third floor of Newman Hall. Different artists’ renditions of early and modern paintings, portraits, statues, and images of our Blessed Mother are lined on either side of the hallway. These images of Mary depict the different cultures of the students and faculty, who come from all over the world. The images are stunning, rich in history, and a beautiful reminder that Our Blessed Mother is not only Mother to Christ, but to each of us and the church.

While visiting Saint Meinrad Seminary, I never missed a chance to join my son and the other seminarians and priests for daily Mass and morning/evening prayer. The full sound of their male voices chanting each line of the prayers would flood the high vaulted ceiling in the seminary chapel. They knew every note, every word, every music dynamic, and every melody to give praise to God in song – a simply gorgeous sound.

I would think, “These men are the future of the Catholic Church, and what a blessing it is to be in their midst!”

Today, over 85 monks live, work, and pray at the monastery. They follow the “Rule of Saint Benedict,” which serves as a guideline to Christian community living involving the simplicity of wisdom while studying, praying, living, and learning. The gardens they tend have a serene, landscaped beauty of fountains adorned with various flowering plants. Hidden behind the lake and situated among the trees are several Marian grottos, each with small bouquets of flowers placed by a previous visitor. One afternoon, my children and I hiked deeper into the woods and to our delight found the remnants of the 14 Stations of the Cross embedded in the ground. We gently uncovered them and made them more visible for the next person to find. Also on the grounds is a small plot of land reserved as a cemetery where the Benedictine monks who have dedicated their lives to serving our Lord are buried. The area is encased in black wrought iron fencing and is hauntingly beautiful as the sun sets casting shadows of the tombstones on the barren ground beneath the huge oak trees.
Saint Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary and School of Theology is truly holy ground where monks continue to live, work, pray, and die; where seminarians continue their journey to the altar in formation to the priesthood; where men can learn the Roman Catholic faith as they continue their path to permanent deacons; and where lay people can visit for retreats, learning, or solitude. Every person who lives, studies, or visits the Saint Meinrad Archabbey finds a sense of tranquility and peace while growing closer to our loving God.
Although tucked in my memory from many years ago, I’m humbled and grateful to say I’ve not only been to “The Archabbey” and experienced its beauty and holiness, but I’ve also been incredibly blessed to have a son study and complete his journey to the priesthood there. With his “yes” to God, “The Archabbey” – once a distant memory – has become a place that I will cherish forever.
Thank you, Fr. Jim and Fr. Stephen!

St. Meinrad, pray for us!

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Angie Elser

Angie writes from Little Rock, Arkansas. She is the mother of six children and co-founder of the MOMMS (Mothers of Major and Minor Seminarians) Prayer watch for the Diocese of Little Rock.

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