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History: Saint Louis Abbey PDF Print E-mail

It is interesting how the Lord brings people together, making new things happen. Such an instance is how this monastery came to be. In 1955 a group 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 contemplating a new monastery. Meanwhile, the Americans in St. Louis had been scheming a Catholic school for boys. In seeking the right expertise the Americans looked to the East Coast at the Portsmouth, RI boarding school. (Two members of the St. Louis group had had sons there.) The Prior of Portsmouth, Fr. Aelred Graham, pointed further east, across the Atlantic, all the way to England, and ultimately to Ampleforth Abbey.

Here is where the engagement begins. Mr. Fred Switzer of St. Louis needs to sell the idea of a school to Abbot Herbert Byrne of Ampleforth, who is not interested in a school per se, let alone one flung 4500 miles away. Mr. Switzer adopts an evangelical, altruistic approach: the Catholic Church in St. Louis needs something that only the English Benedictines of Ampleforth can provide. That something is a high caliber secondary school for Catholic boys. At that point in St. Louis Catholic history, there was a dire need to educate the very brightest Catholic boys to enable them to compete with the Protestants at the most prestigious American universities. This would result in Catholics assuming major leadership roles in society. Of course, Catholic education did exist in St. Louis: Sisters ran parochial schools, and the Christian Brothers and the Jesuits ran their own schools. These schools, though, served boys and girls with a broad range of talent. There was an unfilled market niche for a school that 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 Benedictine monks of Ampleforth were ideally suited for the project. Since 1802 they had been educating boys, 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 Mr. Switzer would promise the capital. Abbot Byrne responded to the invitation generously. He promised the expert manpower – monks who would found a monastery with the school as its apostolate.