The first Benedictine monastery in the United States was founded in 1846. Saint Vincent Archabbey is located in Latrobe, Pennsylvania — about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh. In 1856 — just twelve years after its own founding — Benedictine monks from Saint Vincent’s traveled to the Minnesota territory to establish parishes, missions, and schools for immigrant German Catholics. Six months after they arrived on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Cloud, Minnesota, the monks of Saint John’s Abbey had begun a ministry of education. Saint John’s Preparatory School, University, and Seminary were established in 1857. The preparatory school is Minnesota’s oldest high school; the university is Minnesota’s oldest continuous institution of higher learning. Today, about 140 monks make up the community of Saint John’s Abbey, which is now located on 2,700 acres of forest, lakes, prairie, and wetlands in Collegeville, Minnesota.
Benedictine monks are a community of men who follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. The Rule is a brief and practical work about how human beings can best live in community. It was written in the sixth century (somewhere around the year 530 A.D.) by Benedict of Nursia, who gave up the life of a Roman nobleman to live a life dedicated to God. Because of its balanced approach to monastic life, the Rule of Saint Benedict was adopted by most religious communities founded throughout the Middle Ages. As a result, it became one of the most influential religious rules in Western Christendom. For this reason, Benedict is often called the founder of western Christian monasticism. Besides the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Rule stresses communal living, physical labor, common meals, and the avoidance of unnecessary conversation.