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History: Saint Louis Abbey PDF Print E-mail

 In 1955 a small team of American financiers joined forces with a group of English Benedictine monks to build a new monastery and school in the heartland of the United States. The Benedictine monks at Ampleforth Abbey in England had been hoping to found a new monastery. Meanwhile, the Americans in St. Louis had been dreaming of a Catholic school for boys that would prepare them for the most elite American universities. They looked to the East Coast for guidance.  At Portsmouth, Rhode Island, English Benedictines had already founded a first-rate boarding school. Two members of the St. Louis group already had sons there. The Prior of Portsmouth, Fr. Aelred Graham, pointed further east, across the Atlantic, to Ampleforth Abbey.

Fred Switzer needed to sell the idea of a school to Abbot Herbert Byrne of Ampleforth, who was not interested in a school per se, let alone one five thousand miles away. Mister Switzer adopted an evangelical, altruistic approach: the Catholic Church in St. Louis needed something that only the f Ampleforth could provide: a  secondary school for of the very highest caliber Catholic boys.  Of course, Saint Louis had a long and rich history of Catholic education: Sisters ran parochial schools, and the Christian Brothers and the Jesuits ran their own schools. But these schools served boys and girls with a broad range of talent. Moreover, they were designed to send boys on to Catholic univerrsities.  This school would cater to boys of exceptional ability, curiosity, and enthusiasm. Although the Jesuits recognized this need and had the expertise to fill it, they lacked the manpower.

Enter the Benedictines.

The monks of Ampleforth were well suited for the project. Since 1802 they had been sending boys to Oxford and Cambridge, and by 1950 they were operating one of the most prestigious boarding schools in England. If Abbot Byrne would provide the manpower for the new Catholic prep school in St. Louis, he Mister Switzer would build the school. Abbot Byrne responded to the invitation generously. He promised the expert manpower – monks who would found a monastery with the school as its apostolate.