The first Benedictine monastery in the United States, Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania was founded from Bavaria in 1846. Newark Abbey, under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculate, was founded from Saint Vincent as a priory in 1857; in 1884 it was elevated to the rank of an abbey under the title “Saint Mary’s Abbey.” Two other monasteries in the United States were founded from Newark: Saint Anselm Abbey in Manchester, N.H. (1889), and Saint Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, N.J., (as a priory in 1928). In 1956, when the title “Saint Mary’s Abbey” was transferred to the foundation in Morristown, the Newark house was called Saint Mary’s Priory. In 1968 the older monastery was again elevated to abbey status and was re-named Newark Abbey, still under the patronage of the Virgin Mary. Originally founded to serve the German-speaking immigrants of Newark, the abbey is located in what is now the center of New Jersey’s largest city.
While it is true that most Benedictine monasteries are located in rural or even isolated areas, there is also a long-standing tradition of monasteries being located in major cities, especially in Europe. Again, while there is a monastic tradition that stresses an enclosed cloister and strong a contemplative element, there is a second stream of monasticism that is more pastorally oriented, allowing for more contact with the “world,” for example in staffing schools and parishes. Newark Abbey stands in this latter tradition.
We see our location in the center of the city as both a unique privilege and a God-given opportunity to proclaim to our neighbors the good news of God’s constant saving presence in the world. Our life of quiet and silence speaks loudly to a world that is overwhelmed with noise. Our life in community sends a strong message to a city often divided by strife. Our life of simplicity and common ownership speaks directly to a world that is dedicated to the pursuit of material wealth. Our life of obedience and celibacy challenges the basic assumptions of a culture based on egocentrism and selfish pleasure-seeking. Our regular schedule of communal and private prayer is a leaven in the chaos and confusion of a world that has forgotten God.