Detailed History of the Abbey
- Chapter One: Saint Mary's Priory
- Chapter Two : Saint Mary's Abbey
- Chapter three : Saint Mary's Priory "Again"
- Chapter Four : Newark Abbey
These are the milestone years. In 1992 and 1993 the monks of Newark Abbey will be commemorating so many important anniversaries. The 150th of the establishment of Saint Mary's Parish. The 135th of the building of the present Abbey Church. The 125th of the opening of Saint Benedict's College. The 25th of the creation of Newark Abbey. The 20th of the re-opening of Saint Benedict's Prep. And the 20th of the election of Abbot Melvin Valvano as second Abbot of Newark Abbey. The dedication of the Radel Library seems a good time to take a backward look at where we've come from.
The present Abbey, with its two parishes (Saint Mary's and Saint Joseph's, Maplewood), its two schools (Saint Mary's and Saint Benedict's), and its dependent monastery (Saint Maur, Indianapolis), is the result of the labors of many people over the last century and a half. We hope to show through these pages the continuum of which we are ever so gratefully a part. To our heroes-those women and men who have gone before us and those whose work makes our life possible today-this booklet is our Thank You.
Much of the research was done by Father Augustine Curley. Father Albert Holtz kindly contributed his personal journals for the events since 1972. Father Boniface Treanor proofread the text. Abbot Martin Burne's compilation of the biographies of deceased monks of Saint Mary's Abbey was very helpful. Father Alfred Meister of Saint Mary's and Prior Malachy McCarthy of Saint Anselm, Manchester, were generous with photographs.
Our cover consists of a page from the earliest baptismal register of Saint Mary's Parish juxtaposed with an aerial view of our present buildings. It was executed by Media Concepts. Our printer is Wall Street Group.
Malachy McPadden, O.S.B.
March 21, 1992
No one of Newark's early residents could have foreseen that it would one day provide a home for German Catholics. Robert Treat and a small group of Puritans, in search of a place where they could practice their religion without interference, had sailed from Connecticut in 1666 and settled in the wilderness on the west bank of the Passaic River, calling their new town Newark. They were determined that their community would be open only to those who shared their religious beliefs. Outsiders, particularly "any of the Romish religion" were not welcome. Religious tolerance came slowly, but by the beginning of the nineteenth century even Catholics were being welcomed, albeit grudgingly, so as to provide affordable labor for the city's factories.
From its earliest days Newark had been a manufacturing city, its industry chiefly home-centered. During the early nineteenth century the city's own industrial revolution witnessed the change-over from home industry to factory production. By the eighteen-fifties it would rank first among the nation's manufacturing centers. Workers were needed for these factories, and the manufacturers, ignoring Newark's sizable population of black freedmen, looked for cheap labor among the waves of immigrants coming principally from Ireland and Germany and eager for work.
Newark's first Catholic parish, Saint John's on Mulberry Street, was organized in 1826. It was there that the Benedictine presence in Newark began. Starting in 1838, German Catholic immigrants would gather in the church basement for Mass in their own language, celebrated by Father John Raffeiner, a former Redemptorist, or by his assistant, Father Nicholas Balleis, O.S.B.
Balleis, a Benedictine from Saint Peter's Abbey in Salzburg, Austria, had come to the United States as a missionary. Northern New Jersey at the time was part of the Diocese of New York. Both priests lived in New York City and would take turns making the weekly trip to Newark. In time, though, Father Balleis assumed full responsibility for the congregation and came to live in Newark permanently. The congregation, now numbering sixty families, needed its own place of worship and the Pastor set out to build them a church.
The group purchased a plot of land at the corner of Court and Howard Streets, and built a little wooden church, fifty by thirty feet, with a school and rectory in the basement. Father Balleis conducted the first services in the new church on Sunday, January 31, 1842. It was not until the Fall of that year that the Bishop of New York, John Hughes, solemnly dedicated the church to the Immaculate Conception. In 1846 the growing congregation bought property at the northeast corner of High and William Streets for their church, leaving the parish cemetery at the original site. Rather than immediately build a new church, however, Balleis decided to have the old wooden church moved to the new site. He found a company that was willing to do the job. On the appointed day, they prepared the old church for the move, and began the slow trek to the new site. Before the move was completed, however, the contractor decided that the pay wasn't worth the effort it was taking, and abandoned the church. For three weeks, while the church sat in the middle of High Street, services continued. Eventually another company was found to finish the job.
After the church had been moved, Balleis appealed for an assistant both to his own Abbot in Salzburg and to Father Boniface Wimmer, who had come that same year from the Archabbey of Metten in Bavaria and was establishing a foundation in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Wimmer responded by sending Father Placidus Doettl, who served in Newark for three years.
Newark was on its way to becoming the premier manufacturing center in the country and the possibility of employment drew ever increasing numbers of skilled and semi-skilled immigrants, principally from Ireland and Germany. As the German population continued to increase through the 1840's and 1850's, Balleis found that he was serving one of the largest congregations in the State. After Doettl's departure in November, 1849, Balleis was assisted by various Redemptorist priests until another Benedictine came from Saint Vincent in the person of Father Charles Geyerstanger.
The great influx of immigrants did not sit well with everyone. There was slowly developing a movement of resentment against these newly arrived Irish and German Catholics on the part of the Protestants who made up the majority of the population at this time. Political movements arose that fed on this xenophobia. There had been quite a bit of violence against Catholic churches throughout the East, and Newark was no exception.
In 1854, Saint Mary's Church was attacked and nearly destroyed when a group from the Newark Lodge of Orangemen, who were affiliated with the American Protestant Association, decided to have a parade. They had connections with the Know-Nothing Party, a group of Nativists who resented the recent influx of immigrants. On the morning of September fifth Orangemen from as far away as New York City, Paterson, and Brooklyn joined forces with their Newark counterparts and began their parade. Then, after breaking for lunch, they regrouped about half past three to continue the march. They left Broad Street and headed up William Street. Tradition suggests that their ultimate object was Saint Patrick's on Washington Street, which had been designated the cathedral of the new Diocese of Newark less than a year before. They never made it there. On the way, they passed Saint Mary's. Whether it was premeditated or merely a result of the passions of the moment, the marchers attacked the little church.
The pastor's study was in a room behind the altar. Upon hearing the commotion, Father Charles entered the church to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament. The priests then went out the back to escape the marauders. Only the housekeeper, a widow whose grandson, James Zilliox, would later become the first Abbot of Saint Mary's Abbey, was left in the rooms when the crowd broke in.
In the meantime, people from the neighborhood answered the alarm that had been sounded, and the rioters left without achieving their goal of burning the church to the ground. But they left their mark. The New York Times of September seventh described the destruction: "The fences are torn down, the windows and doors shattered, the shrubs about the door crushed and broken; and, in the interior, the altar overturned, the sacred utensils and sacerdotal robes strewed around and trampled upon--the organ broken to pieces. The images, consisting of a costly Munich figure of the Madonna, and crucifix corresponding, together with the pictures, altar piece, and a splendid holy water font were also destroyed."
(The monks in Newark preserved that statue of the Blessed Virgin, even though it was now headless. Several years after the attack Abbot Hilary Pfraengle decided to give it an honored place in the church, and he began to search for the head. It was located, finally, at Saint Vincent Archabbey. Brought back to Newark, the head was re-attached to the mutilated statue. A glass display case housing the statue held a place of honor for many years in Saint Mary's Church as a reminder of the trials that the German Catholics had endured. Today it stands in the entryway of the Fred and Alice Radel Library.)
Father Nicholas immediately began the repair of the church, but soon afterward became enmeshed in disagreements with his parishioners over his handling of parish affairs.
In 1855, Bishop Bayley asked Father Nicholas to go to Elizabeth to care for the German Catholics there. His place at Saint Mary's was taken by Father Martin Hasslinger, a Redemptorist recently arrived from Germany. It was under Father Hasslinger that the present abbey church was begun.
A Benedictine Foundation
For quite some time, Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley had been trying to get Boniface Wimmer to supply Benedictine priests to serve the needs of the Germans in Newark. In 1855, the community in Latrobe was made an independent Abbey, and Boniface Wimmer was named to a three-year term as the first Abbot of Saint Vincent. In the spring of 1856, Bishop Bayley again wrote to Wimmer for a priest for Saint Mary's. This time, Wimmer acquiesced, appointing Father Valentine Felder as Pastor of the Church and Rector of the Priory that was to be established. Soon after his arrival, Father Valentine appointed a committee to consider the building of a larger church, since the frame church could no longer hold the growing congregation.
On May 18, 1857, Eberhard Gahr, a deacon who had been sent by Wimmer in April to assist Father Valentine, was ordained to the priesthood. Wimmer then appointed Father Eberhard Pastor of the parish and named Father Valentine to the position of Prior of the new priory. The Community suffered a terrible jolt when, ten days later, Father Valentine was killed in New York City by a horse-drawn streetcar.
Wimmer sent Father Rupert Seidenbusch to replace Father Valentine. (Father Rupert would later become the first Abbot of Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. In 1875 he was ordained bishop and appointed Vicar Apostolic of Northern Minnesota.)
Father Rupert saw the need to properly staff the parish school and asked Mother Benedicta Riepp of Saint Joseph's Convent, Saint Mary's, Elk County, Pennsylvania, to send some sisters. Six sisters, with Sister Emmerana Bader as their superior, arrived in Newark on July 27, 1857. The Sisters not only took over Saint Mary's School, but also opened Saint Scholastica Academy, a private school that would train the daughters of the well-to-do and serve, it was hoped, as a source of vocations for the convent. From the Newark convent the nuns went out to serve in other areas as well.
The group in Elizabeth soon separated from the Newark convent and became the independent Saint Walburga's Monastery. (In 1887 the Newark Sisters, looking for a country place to serve as an infirmary and rest home, bought the Bourne estate, "The Plains", at Ridgely, Maryland. Eventually, with the consent of Bishop Winand Wigger, the motherhouse was transferred from Newark to Ridgely. The Ridgely Community, with great good grace, and with the Sisters' living conditions far from luxurious, continued to operate the kitchen and laundry and to staff Saint Mary's School for many years. No longer able to supply personnel, they were forced to withdraw from Newark in 1968.)
Father Rupert also saw to the completion of Saint Mary's Church, which was dedicated by Bishop Bayley on December 20, 1857.
In 1858 three houses along High Street became available. Acting through Mr. John Radel, the pastor purchased all three houses for $8,000. The two made of brick were used as residences for the monks. The Sisters were given the wooden house for their convent.
Saint Mary's Cemetery
In 1860 all cemeteries within the city limits were condemned and had to be moved, in order to make room for housing. The Priory purchased land in East Orange and moved to that site the bodies that had been buried at the original cemetery. Newark Abbey continues to bury its dead in Saint Mary's Cemetery, East Orange. Father Utho Huber succeeded Father Rupert as prior in 1862. Father Utho saw the need for a new grammar school, and appointed a committee to see to its construction. The result was a three-story brick school on William and Shipman Streets, the building that at present is called Saint Mary's Hall.
In 1863, Father Oswald Moosmueller came to Newark to replace Father Utho. With him came Brother Cosmas Wolf, who set about building the high altar and two side altars. (The carvings from the high altar, now dismantled, are incorporated into the mandorla that hangs in the apse of the church.)
Saint Benedict's College
In 1866, Father Roman Hell arrived as Father Oswald's replacement. (At some point, Father Roman seems to have, temporarily at least, changed his surname to Heil.) It was under Father Roman's leadership that Saint Benedict's College was founded. The old frame house was designated as the first college building. (The Sisters, who had been using it as their convent, were forced to move once again, this time to the top floor of the new grammar school. They remained in that cramped area until a convent was built for them on Shipman Street in 1870.) In 1867 Bishop Bayley had asked Abbot Boniface to open a college in Newark. The Catholic population had been growing at such a rate that Seton Hall College was no longer sufficient to serve all those who sought a Catholic education. The eagerness of Wimmer to comply is shown by the fact that Saint Benedict's College opened its door only one year later, in 1868, with 20 students, a faculty of four, and Father William Walter as Headmaster.
The objectives of the new college were summarized at the first meeting of the Board of Trustees of Saint Benedict's Corporation; “The objects of this corporation are divided between the spiritual guidance of souls and the educational training of each conducted in conformity with the principles and general discipline of the Roman Catholic Church and in accordance with the disciplinary statutes of the Order of Saint Benedict, well known throughout the Catholic Church.”
Life at Saint Benedict's during its first three years was largely experimental. The school day went from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., with half an hour for lunch. The school year ran from the first Tuesday of September to the beginning of July. The curriculum offered the first students a choice of Classical, Commercial, or Preparatory courses. The Classical course consisted of Latin, English grammar, reading, defining, history, geography and penmanship; the Commercial course was composed of law, bookkeeping, arithmetic, algebra and history and appealed to those interested in a business education. The Preparatory was offered to those students who were not advanced enough to undertake the higher studies. Electives in music and drawing were also available to those who wished to avail themselves of the opportunity. Tuition for the first year was about forty dollars.
The school remained in the original frame building in which it had been established until 1871 when it was proposed by the Board of Trustees "either to close Saint Benedict's College altogether or to erect a more suitable and commodious edifice on the site of the old building." Ten days later, on July 6th, Father William, Vice-President of the Board, reported to the President, Abbot Boniface, the proposal of the Board. This resulted in the Abbot's full consent to erect a new college building. On July 10, 1871 the old frame building was removed and ground was broken for the new college building. The students had their classes in a house adjacent to the church while the three-story building was being erected.
The first annual commencement of Saint Benedict's College was held on July 1, 1872 in Saint Mary's Hall. It chiefly consisted of recitations and poems delivered by the graduates along with addresses by the Abbot and prominent businessmen. The first graduation class which consisted of four students was led by J.J. McKeever who captured seven of the prizes which were awarded. Degrees were conferred in the Classical and Commercial divisions, the Commercial graduates receiving the title “Masters of Accounts” which was recognized by most of the business houses in New Jersey.
The new college building, which was capable of accommodating 200 students, was completed in the late winter of 1872 and was dedicated on February 2 by Bishop Bayley. It now comprises the portion of the monastery which immediately adjoins the present “old building”.
Following the completion of the new building and the first graduation, the school settled down to a more regular scholastic life, opening in September of each year and closing the following June with commencement. The faculty consisted of seven college-trained professors, four of them priests and three laymen, who quickly gained recognition in the press for providing a fine, inexpensive higher education for the sons of immigrants. During this period extracurricular activities began to flourish under the guidance of the energetic priests of the faculty. The most notable of these activities was the Elocution Class under the direction of Father Charles Reilly, a diocesan priest who served on the faculty. In 1874 the class presented several public performances of their talents. Proceeds from these exhibitions went into a fund to defray the cost of erecting a new assembly hall.
In 1874 Father William Walter resigned due to failing health and Father Alphonse Heimler, the former president of Saint Vincent College, became the second Headmaster of Saint Benedict's. Father Alphonse's term, however, was short lived. After a little over one year he was assigned to teach Theology at Saint Vincent.
On September 23, 1876, Abbot Wimmer appointed Father Mellitus Tritz to the vacant post of Headmaster.
The school progressed steadily for the next three years. In 1879 the first full-fledged debating society was formed under the direction of Father Aloysius Gorman. This society differed from Father Reilly's Elocution Class, in that it was organized as a forensic league to furnish the students' minds with historical facts and arguments drawn from literary and other useful sources.
A long desired wish of the Benedictines was fulfilled on March 21, 1881, when the State Legislature passed Bill Number 345, legally raising Saint Benedict's to the rank of a college. The bill reads in part: "... the corporation created by the act ... shall have and possess the right and power of conferring the usual academic and other degrees granted by any other college in this State.
In July of 1882 Father Mellitus developed heart trouble and resigned as Headmaster, moving to Pennsylvania for a rest. He was succeeded by Father Frederick Hoesl.
Ready for Independence
During the 1882-1883 school year extensive additions were made to the school and monastery. Abbot Boniface, deeming the Newark enterprise successful and financially self-supporting, set in motion plans to raise it to the dignity of an independent abbey. First, however, he ordered that a larger monastery building be constructed, charging Father Gerard Pilz, Prior of the Newark community, with this responsibility. Father Gerard had the frame house removed. In December of 1882 construction work began on a three-story brick building connected to Saint Mary's Monastery. Work was completed five months later. On April 16, 1883, this new, larger monastery was blessed by Bishop Wigger of Newark. Among the decorations of the new monastery was William Lamprecht's painting of the Last Supper, which still graces the refectory. Two months later, Saint Benedict's proper was enlarged by adding a fourth floor and incorporating physics and chemistry departments. Shortly thereafter, Prior Gerard bought a farm in Denville, the purchase of a farm being another of Boniface Wimmer's requirements granting the Newark house independent status. (The Denville property, which the monks held title to for only a few years, is now called the Saint Francis Health Resort, a retirement facility conducted by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother.)
On December 29, 1883, in recognition of his accomplishments, the Holy See granted Boniface Wimmer the title of Archabbot for Life, along with the privilege of wearing the cappa magna.
From Priory to Abbey
By 1884 Archabbot Boniface was satisfied that the Newark house could be self-sustaining. In that same year he requested from Rome abbatial status for Saint Mary's and for another of his foundations, Mary, Help of Christians, in Belmont, North Carolina.
The brief raising Saint Mary's Priory to the canonical status of abbey was dated December 19, 1884, but, the mails being what they were at the time, did not arrive in the United States until almost a month later, January 14, 1885. Archabbot Boniface convened a meeting of the American-Cassinese Congregation at Saint Vincent and on February 11 the capitulars elected Father James Zilliox the first Abbot of Saint Mary's.
A Newarker Elected
The new Abbot, son of Jacob Zilliox and Mary Dietrich, was born in Newark on October 14, 1849, and baptized in Saint Mary's Church. He attended Saint Mary's Grammar School and at the age of twelve traveled to Saint Vincent with the intention of becoming a Benedictine priest. He made his simple profession of vows on September 8, 1866, a few weeks before his 17th birthday. Archabbot Boniface sent the newly professed cleric to Rome for his education in philosophy and theology. In 1875, two years after his ordination, Father James returned to Saint Vincent, where he taught Theology in the Seminary and served as Master of Novices in the monastery. In 1881 he was appointed Prior of Saint Vincent, but resigned after less than two years because of ill health.
Word reached Saint Vincent in June that Rome had confirmed the election and Abbot James left for Newark, where he was blessed and installed by Bishop Wigger on July 22, 1885 in Saint Mary's Church.
Twelve priests chose to make their stability to the new Abbey in Newark: Aloysius Gorman, Theodosius Goth, Cornelius Eckl, Frederick Hoesl, Bonaventure Ostendarp, Leonard Walter, Alexander Reger, Ernest Helmstetter, Hugo Paff, Ephrem Hetzinger, Polycarp Scherer, and Florian Widman. They would be joined later by Fathers Ambrose Huebner and Sylvester Joerg. That there were lay brothers in the new Abbey there is no doubt, but the only ones of whom there is any record are Brother Bernard Ohlheiser and Brother John Winkler.
Under Abbot James, technically the Pastor, Father Cornelius Eckl served as Rector of Saint Mary's Parish.
The extensive building program and the status Saint Mary's gained by becoming an abbey enhanced St. Benedict's College as a scholastic institution in New Jersey. An evening school was established and the total enrollment came to 126 with 78 day students and 48 evening students. The evening school was short-lived for it proved unsuccessful and was abandoned after only two years.
The presence of the Governor of New Jersey and several city dignitaries at the commencement of 1885 is an indication of the growing reputation of Saint Benedict's.
Abbot James' health could be described at best as delicate. The heavy burdens of the abbatial office produced such emotional and physical strain that he requested permission from Archabbot Boniface to submit his resignation, after only a little more than twenty months in office. Word was received that Rome had accepted the resignation, effective November 2, 1886, and the Archabbot called for a new election.
Arrangements were made for an abbatial election to be held in Newark, with Archabbot Boniface presiding. On November 16, the fourteen capitulars chose Father Hilary Pfraengle, Director of Saint Vincent College. At first he demurred, but changed his mind upon hearing directly from the Archabbot.
John Pfraengle was born in Butler, Pennsylvania on May 9, 1843. He had all his schooling at Saint Vincent College. He entered the novitiate at Saint Vincent and pronounced vows on November 13, 1862. He was ordained on May 26, 1866. After studies in Rome, where he completed a Doctor of Divinity degree, he returned to Saint Vincent in 1870 and occupied the chair of Dogmatic Theology and Sacred Scripture at the seminary.
The election was confirmed on December 17, 1886, and Bishop Phelan of Pittsburgh conferred the abbatial blessing on Abbot Hilary in the presence of his family and confreres at Saint Vincent on February 17, 1887. The new Abbot left immediately to take up residence in Newark.
One of Abbot Hilary's first official actions was to re-appoint Father Frederick Hoesl to the post of Director of Saint Benedict's. Two years later failing health cost Saint Benedict's its third administrator when Father Frederick was forced to resign his post. He was succeeded by Father Hugo Paff.
An African-American Monk
On June 24, 1904, Brother Robert Bodee, a native of Freehold, became the first African-American to profess vows as a member of Saint Mary's Abbey. He had his formation at Saint Anselm, but was transferred early on back to Newark. Being one of the first in the Community to learn how to drive, he became the Abbot's chauffeur after the monastery acquired its first automobile. (When Brother Robert came to the monastery many of the parish and monastic communities, including most of the Lay Brothers, were German-speaking; the Brothers for many years recited their daily prayers in German. So, as a young man Brother Robert developed a passable knowledge of the language, which he retained until his death at the age of 87. He was a cheerful man and a tireless worker, always willing to pitch in whenever an extra hand was needed. One day, seeing a brewery delivery man single-handedly unloading his wagon, Brother went out to help. At one point he lost his hold on a barrel, at which the impatient driver grunted, “Verdammter Schwarzer!” Robert was deeply hurt by this, but tried not to show it. Later in the day, Prior Anselm Kienle sensed that something was wrong. His confrere was not his usual lighthearted self. He wrested the full story from Brother Robert and lodged a complaint with the brewery authorities, who summoned the man and fired him. A few days later the tearful gentleman, accompanied by his wife and children, visited Brother Robert, hat in hand, and apologized. Brother Robert appealed on his behalf and got him re-instated.)
Abbot Hilary also appointed Father Polycarp Scherer as pastor of Saint Mary's, replacing Father Cornelius Eckl. Father Polycarp would continue in this position until his death in 1924.
Although the Preparatory course was originally introduced as a minor portion of the curriculum, it gradually took on greater importance, necessitated as it was by the large number of students applying for admission to the college without the prerequisites. The preparatory course was ultimately destined to become the only course of studies. In 1888 at a faculty meeting discussing academic standards for the students it was decided that henceforth the standard which would be necessary for graduation would be: "an average of 90% (at least) in Bookkeeping, Arithmetic, Penmanship and English; and an average of 75% (at least) in History, Geography, Algebra and Geometry." This standard was followed for several years until the curriculum was again revised. Following the great spurt of activity of the 1880's, Saint Benedict's settled down into a regular schedule while continuing to progress in all fields.
During the period just before the turn of the century many of the traditions of Saint Benedict's were established. The program for the commencement exercises which was established then is still being followed to great extent today. In addition, the great sports traditions of Saint Benedict's had their humble beginnings at this time. The Saint Benedict's Athletic Association was formed with the purpose of supporting school teams both for interscholastic and intramural competition. The athletic teams were not always the well-organized teams they are today but were largely unorganized with no particular coach and no set schedule of games. Competitions with other schools were often spontaneously scheduled as a result of a challenge.
By 1901 there were several teams, among which were football, basketball, baseball and track, all competing on the Junior and Senior levels. A very popular activity was the annual Field Day Games which were held for the first time in June of 1901. These games were chiefly composed of track and field events in which competition was restricted to Saint Benedict's students. The appeal of the Field Days lay in the fact that every boy, regardless of skill, got a chance to participate.
Through the years, priests from Saint Mary's served in various parishes around the State. Locally, the monks staffed Saint Benedict's in the "Dutch Neck" section of Newark. Abbey priests also assumed responsibility for parishes in Elizabeth, Paterson, Irvington, and Rahway. One of the earliest missions was at Stony Hill (present-day Watchung) in Somerset County. At first priests were supplied there directly from Saint Vincent, but starting in the late 1850's the priests came from Saint Mary's. They served not only Stony Hill but also Plainfield, Basking Ridge, Stirling, Westfield and Summit. The monks served at Stony Hill until the late 1870's. Saint Mary's also provided priestly help for the Catholics at Bound Brook. Outside the state, the Benedictines founded Sacred Heart Church in Wilmington, Delaware. That parish is still staffed by the Morristown Community.
A Foundation in New Hampshire
The establishment of Saint Raphael's Parish in Manchester, New Hampshire by the Newark Benedictines, marked not only the introduction of Benedictines into that diocese, but the beginning of Saint Anselm Abbey. Soon after his election, Abbot Hilary had received a letter from Bishop Denis M. Bradley, requesting that the Benedictines re-consider making a foundation in the Manchester diocese. Bradley was interested in starting a college and seminary and had previously requested help from Abbot James. Abbot James was against the Community getting more deeply involved in the active apostolate and would consider a foundation in New Hampshire only if the contemplative form of monastic life were to be emphasized. Bishop Bradley held out for a Catholic college and a parish to cater to the needs of German-speaking Catholics. There matters stood until early 1887, when Abbot Hilary paid a visit to Bishop Bradley and returned to Newark convinced of the worth of a Manchester foundation. He faced the perennial problem of adequately staffing Saint Benedict's while meeting the Abbey's other current commitments. Many of his men feared spreading themselves too thin. Determined that Newark have a house of formation away from the city, Abbot Hilary went ahead with plans for the opening of Saint Raphael's Parish in Manchester and the establishment of a college in 1889.
The solemn consecration of the Saint Mary's Church took place on August 17, 1890, with the ceremony performed by Bishop Wigger.
In 1906 an additional story, which included new science laboratories, was built upon the main College building.
Coming of Age
The following year a Silver Jubilee was celebrated honoring the contributions of Saint Mary's Abbey to the city of Newark in the fields of education and dramatics.
But the grandest celebration in the community's history was to come in 1907, when the church, under its charismatic “Rector”, Father Polycarp Scherer, was renovated in preparation for its golden jubilee.
It was at this time that the circular paintings that adorn the ceiling of the side aisles were added, as well as the vestibule.
Joining Abbot Hilary and Bishop O'Connor of Newark for this august occasion were Abbots Leander Schnerr of Saint Vincent, Peter Engel of Saint John's, Charles Mohr of Saint Leo's, and Bishop Leo Haid of Belmont, the Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina.
The Alumni Association was formed in 1908. Its purpose was “not only to aid in furthering the interests of Saint Benedict's, but also and more immediately, to establish a state of good fellowship among Saint Benedict's men”.
Abbot Hilary died at the age of 66 on December 21, 1909, after 23 years as Abbot. He left behind a community that staffed a college, two preparatory schools, and a number of parishes in New England, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Exactly two weeks after the death of Abbot Hilary, the Newark capitulars chose as his successor Father Ernest Helmstetter, who had served as prior and procurator. The abbatial blessing took place on April 5, 1910.
Joseph Helmstetter was born in Newark on October 7, 1859. He attended grammar school at Saint Benedict's "Down Neck", and Saint Benedict's College. He then attended Saint Vincent College, from which he entered the Benedictine novitiate. He was ordained in June of 1884. Shortly after Saint Mary's had become an abbey, Father Ernest transferred his vows and returned to his native city. From 1893 to 1898, and again from 1905 to 1907, he had served as Headmaster of Saint Benedict's.
During his abbacy, the student population of Saint Benedict's grew from less than two hundred to more than seven hundred.
Saint Benedict's "Prep"
In April of 1910, as a result of a decision by the Board of Trustees, the final steps towards the discontinuance of the college program, which had become obsolete, were taken. The following year these steps were completed and the entire program was dropped and college level degrees were no longer issued. However, it was not until 1917 that the name of the school was changed to Saint Benedict's Preparatory School. It is interesting to note that the act of 1881 which gives Saint Benedict's the power to grant degrees has never been revoked and is still in effect today.
In 1914, the Catholics of Hilton (now Maplewood) met at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Frank Hess to discuss with Father Peter Petz, representing the Abbey, the formation of a parish. Following the meeting, the group, convinced that there were sufficient families to warrant the erection of a new parish, petitioned Bishop John J. O'Connor to erect a parish in Hilton. The Bishop was receptive to the idea and gave the go-ahead. The first mass of the new Saint Joseph's Parish was offered by the first Pastor, Father Peter, in the home of Mr. & Mrs. Nicholas Pignataro on 20 April 1914. Soon a one-family house on Prospect Street was purchased and converted into a chapel. Money from Saint Mary's Parish in Newark helped the new venture get started.
Abbot Ernest was elected President of the American-Cassinese Congregation of Benedictine Monasteries in 1914. He remained President for 18 years. During those years he visited all the countries of Europe and every state in the union. Heeding the call for help in staffing the Catholic University in Peking, he asked for volunteers. Father Damian Smith went to China in 1929 and Father Gregory Schramm in 1930. In recognition of his many accomplishments, Abbot Ernest was granted the right to wear the cappa magna in 1929 and a violet skull cap in 1934.
"Culture" at Saint Benedict's
The first twenty years after the turn of the century saw in Saint Benedict's a surge of literary publications and popular stage productions. A school publication was instituted in 1914. The need for a publication was recognized for some time both for the students to exercise their writing abilities and as an information medium to unite the classes of the school. The Saint Benedict's College Quarterly was written and entirely edited by the students and included not only news items covering athletic events and various school activities but also literary articles written by the students. Humor was not forsaken in the publication which contained many quips and personal sayings.
The Saint Benedict's College Quarterly gave way to the first yearbook which was published in 1919 and was called the Maroon Telolog. The name Telolog was coined from two Greek words meaning "end" and "word".
A Gym, a Field, and Three Famous Coaches
Saint Benedict's campus was further expanded in 1919. On March 21, the Feast of Saint Benedict, Mr. Bernard M. Shanley, Jr. presented the school a large gift for the purpose of building a new gymnasium. The monastic chapter voted to buy the Halsey property adjoining the school. The acquisition of this property resulted in a decision to build a large addition to the school and a new gymnasium on the Halsey property. These additions were necessitated by the inadequacy of the existing building to accommodate the increasing number of students and by the lack of proper gymnastic facilities. The frame buildings on the property were torn down and the new buildings were erected, with the gymnasium being named in honor of the donor's father, Bernard M. Shanley, Sr.
In May of the same year Father Cornelius Selhuber, who had been instrumental in the building drive of the early twenties, started a campaign to raise money to purchase an athletic field. This highly successful campaign culminated in 1925 with the purchase of four acres of property at Third Avenue and North Fifth Street. That Fall the first football game was played at Benedict Field, one of the most complete and modern athletic fields of the time, consisting of a baseball diamond, football field, tennis courts and a quarter-mile track. The field had accommodations for 7,000 people for football and 2,000 people for baseball.
James Cavanagh, an alumnus of Saint Benedict's, came to the Hive in 1919 from coaching at Barringer High School. Although he did spend a few years coaching basketball, his main distinction was on the track. His cross-country teams were state champions for the first fifteen years after he came to Saint Benedict's and four of his runners at one time held world marks.
In 1925 Cavanagh was joined by an outstanding basketball coach. Ernest "Prof" Blood's credentials were remarkable. He had led the Passaic High School "Wonder Team" to 157 consecutive victories. The basketball team prospered under "Prof's" leadership winning state championships for the next five years.
Joseph Kasberger came to Saint Benedict's in 1930 as a graduate of Oregon State and Columbia University. Also included in his background was a year of football at Notre Dame in 1924, the year of the "Four Horsemen."
By 1925, with the Manchester foundation heading for independence, Abbot Ernest had begun looking for a place to establish a theologate. Two sites were seriously considered as possible places for a foundation: the Darlington estate in Mahwah and the Luther Koontz estate on Mendham Road in Morristown. Koontz had made up the name "Delbarton" for his property, putting together syllables from the names of his three children. (The area is rich in Revolutionary War history. A large portion of the Koontz property was dedicated as Jockey Hollow National Park.) On August 18, 1925, the community voted to purchase the remaining 400 acres of the Koontz estate. When Saint Anselm became independent in 1927, the clerics moved to Morristown under the leadership of Prior Vincent Amberg.
Father Cornelius Selhuber retired in 1926 to Belmont Abbey in North Carolina and was succeeded by a new Headmaster, Father Boniface Reger.
The school had been making a big name for itself in the sports pages. During his seventeen-year tenure as Headmaster Father Boniface saw to it that this reputation for greatness would extend to academic and cultural areas.
He helped organize the school band in 1931 for the purpose of "adding zest to many of the school activities, especially in the field of sports." That same year he launched the official school newspaper, The Gray Bee. In 1934, at the Headmaster's urging, the Glee Club made its debut, affording, in his words, "an opportunity for enjoyment of music and the appreciation of art."
During Father Boniface' tenure, Saint Benedict's successfully underwent its first evaluation for membership in the Middle States Education Association.
Abbot Ernest remained President of the Congregation until 1932. Failing eyesight forced him to leave day-to-day administration to Prior Anselm Kienle. He died of a heart attack on July 6, 1937, at the age of 77, having been Abbot for 27 years. The community flourished under his leadership, with most of the vocations coming out of Saint Benedict's Prep. The loss of personnel occasioned by the independence of Saint Anselm had reduced the Community of Saint Mary's from 105 to 71, but over the next ten years professions continued to outpace deaths and departures, so that, at the time of Abbot Ernest's death, the Ordo gave the membership of Saint Mary's Abbey as 85.
On August 11, 1937, the chapter elected Father Patrick O'Brien, Pastor of Saint Joseph's, Maplewood, as fourth Abbot of Saint Mary's. At his doctor's recommendation Father Patrick had been excused from the election chapter and was convalescing in Glen Falls, New York, when notified of his nomination. His good friend, Bishop Thomas Walsh of Newark, was at his side when the call came and exhorted him to accept this sign of God's Will. (Four months later, on December 10, 1937, the Holy See announced the elevation of Newark to the rank of an archdiocese, at the same time appointing Bishop Walsh its first archbishop and the first metropolitan of the newly created Ecclesiastical Province of Newark.)
A native of Manchester, Edward Raphael O'Brien, did his last two years of high school at Saint Anselm Prep. His school years were marked by poor health. Only with difficulty did he finish his junior year at Holy Cross College, which he had entered upon graduation from Saint Anselm Prep. He spent the next two years caring for his health, and then entered Saint Anselm College, but had to drop out once again because of ill health.
After teaching Latin and history at Saint Joseph's School in Manchester, he entered the novitiate at Saint Vincent Archabbey in June 1914, at the age of 28, taking the double name Patrick Mary. In July of 1915, after pronouncing simple vows before Abbot Ernest, he returned to Saint Anselm to complete college and study theology. He made his solemn profession of vows in 1918 and was ordained a priest on May 29, 1920. His health remained delicate, but that did not temper his enthusiastic response when, in 1933, Abbot Ernest asked him to assume the position of Pastor of Saint Joseph's in Maplewood. Bishop Walsh presided at the formal abbatial blessing in the Abbey Church on November 1, 1937.
One of the new Abbot's first appointments was that of Father Celestine Staab to the pastorate of Saint Mary's, replacing Father Leo Bleier who had died at sea. Father Celestine would have two terms as Pastor of the Abbey Parish: 1937 to 1946 and 1946 to 1958.
A Boarding School for Morristown
Shortly after his election Abbot Patrick informed the chapter that he was determined to develop the Morristown property. He was convinced of the need for a Catholic boarding school for boys in northern New Jersey. By 1938 a new monastery had been completed and the original Koontz mansion was given over to Delbarton School, which opened in 1939, with Father Augustine Wirth as the first Headmaster. He was succeeded in 1943 by Father Stephen Findlay.
The liturgy was one of Abbot Patrick's great interests, and he was the guiding force behind the establishment in 1940 of the Benedictine Liturgical Conference, forerunner of today's Liturgical Conference.
He encouraged Father Benedict Bradley to publish the Saint Mary's Missal, which was intended to be the first truly American missal. Among the features were brief histories of the Catholic church in each of the States.
The War Effort
With the forties came the second world war. Abbot Patrick permitted Fathers George Sherry, Maurus McBarron, Eugene Polhemus, Dunstan Smith, Martin Burne, and Philip Hoover to enter the armed forces as military chaplains.
Saint Benedict's students contributed their share by participating in the school war bond drives. With the enthusiastic urging of Father Mark Confroy students outdid themselves in purchasing bonds and, month after month, the School proudly flew the blue Navy "E" pennant, bearing witness to its substantial contribution to the War Effort.
In 1945, since the student population at Saint Anselm College had been greatly reduced by the war, Abbot Bertrand Dolan graciously "loaned" several of his most talented men. Fathers Timothy Pelletier, Philip Mullen, Francis Steinmetz, Robert Quirk, and Michael Custer taught at Saint Benedict's for two years. Father Philip later made Saint Mary's his permanent home, changing his name to Edwin.
Several European monks were granted asylum by Abbot Patrick and spent the war years either in Newark or in Morristown. Three Austrians, Fathers Sigmund Toenig and Ansgar Rabenalt of Kremsmuenster Abbey, and Father Willibald Berger of Schotten, taught at Saint Benedict's. Father Ninian MacDonald, from Fort Augustus in Scotland, and the renowned Belgian musician, Dom Augustine Verhaegen of Afflighem, spent the war years at Delbarton. (Father Augustine trained the clerics in his theories of Gregorian chant, which were not always in line with the Solesmes Method.)
The war-time presence of monks from other abbeys was not at all exceptional. Newark had always been internationally renowned for its hospitality. The reputation was secured during the days when people crossed the Atlantic travel by ship. The Abbey's proximity to New York Harbor assured a full complement of embarking and debarking travelers. Also--and this was especially true under Abbot Patrick--many priests, both Benedictine and Diocesan, were welcomed and lived as members of the Community, some for rather long periods. Father Bonaventure Schwinn of Atchison published the American Benedictine Review here for several years. Fathers Justin Mahoney, Jeremiah Ahearn, Andrew Lavallee, Felix Pepin, Charles Tucke, and Benedict Tobin, monks of Saint Anselm, all became much loved confreres in both Newark and Morristown. And one dearly remembered friend, who became part of the very fabric of the Newark house, was Father Genadius Diez, a Spanish-born monk from Manila. As a young man, Father Genadius had gone to study Theology at the Catholic University in Peking. There he had become very friendly with Father Gregory Schramm. In 1950, at the request of Father Gregory, Abbot Patrick welcomed Father Genadius for an open-ended stay. Father Genadius remained in Newark until his death in 1985 and was considered one of the family.
Father Eugene Polhemus died of a heart attack during Army maneuvers in 1943, but all the others returned to the monastery at war's end. Father Maurus re-enlisted in 1948 and remained in the army for another sixteen years, retiring in 1964 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
In 1948 Father Matthew Hoehn, Prior and school Librarian, published Catholic Authors, a critically acclaimed collection of biographical sketches of living Catholic authors. A second volume followed in 1958.
Abbot Patrick appointed Father Philip Hoover as Headmaster in 1949, replacing Father Gerald Flynn.
Ever since war's end the Abbot Primate had been pleading with the American Abbots to supply a monk who could help out in matters involving the English language. After consulting with other Abbots, Abbot Patrick released Father Lambert Dunne in 1951. Father Lambert became Procurator for the American-Cassinese Congregation and eventually the English-speaking secretary to the Abbot Primate, Benno Gut. In 1968 he was named a titular Abbot. In 1953,
Father Gregory Schramm, Subprior and Pastor of Saint Mary's, announced that the apse would be sheathed in green marble as part of the renovation of the abbey church, the first major renovation since the parish's golden jubilee in 1907. Father Gregory, who had been Pastor since 1946, was assisted for several years by Father Paul Keegan, a monk of Saint Leo's Abbey in Florida.
By the mid-50's Saint Mary's Abbey had a membership of over 120, conducting two prep schools and nine parishes, in addition to the Theologate at Delbarton. Tensions were growing between the Morristown and Newark communities, with each feeling its growth hindered by the demands of the other. At a Chapter meeting in 1956, Abbot Patrick, hoping to relieve the situation, but resolute in his determination to hold the two houses together, presented his plan for transferring the title of Abbey to Morristown. The majority gave him the affirmative vote of confidence that he asked for and Saint Mary's Monastery in Morristown became "Saint Mary's Abbey". The Newark house reverted to the title it had borne from 1857 to 1884: Saint Mary's Priory.
In 1958 Father Celestine returned as Pastor of Saint Mary's after spending eight years as Pastor of Saint Benedict's Down Neck. Father Wilfred Schulz proved to be an able Assistant during Father Celestine's second term at Saint Mary's.
Enrolment at Saint Benedict's during these years was approximately seven hundred students, with many hundreds of applicants being refused each year. Obviously, new facilities were needed and, with this goal in mind, Father Philip launched a successful fund drive in 1957. The ground-breaking for the new building was held on February 27, 1958.
The new addition was completed early in May of 1959 and dedicated on May 4 by Archbishop Thomas A. Boland. The new facilities were first used for the 1959 commencement. (The original plans called for the yellow brick facade to be continued up High Street as far as, but not including, the abbey church. Fortunately, the money raised was insufficient to proceed with this part of the plan.)
With the dedication of a new building, Saint Benedict's was able to expand its library. The basement of the 1910 building, which had been the cafeteria and auditorium, was renovated as a new Prep library, and the books were moved down from the old library on the first floor. The Matthew Hoehn Memorial Library was dedicated on June 9, 1960.
Father Mark Confroy, Subprior, succeeded Father Philip as Headmaster in 1960.
For most of his abbacy poor health required Abbot Patrick to be absent for long periods of time. Mention must be made here of those stalwart men, the Priors of both houses, who kept the community on a steady keel over the years. Priors who served in Newark under Abbot Patrick were Fathers Anselm Kienle, Boniface Reger, Charles Carroll, Matthew Hoehn, Martin Burne, George Sherry, and Maurus McBarron. Fathers Vincent Amberg, Hugh Duffy, Bede Babo, and Michael Collins performed the same service at Delbarton.
During the 1960's the Holy See had been urging European and American religious institutes to establish foundations in third-world countries. Although Saint Mary's Abbey did not undertake a foundation, Abbot Patrick did, nevertheless, comply with the Church's wishes by permitting several priests to offer their services to short-handed bishops in Brazil. The first to go were Fathers Edmund Nugent, Columba Rafferty, and Kevin Bray. Later the Abbot permitted Father Sebastian Joseph to join the others.
A Coadjutor Abbot
In early November, 1966, the 81-year-old Abbot Patrick, who had now been Abbot for more than 29 years, petitioned Rome for a Coadjutor Abbot. On the 28th, the monks chose Father Martin Burne. A 1932 graduate of Saint Benedict's, Father Martin had served as a chaplain with the Marine Corps in the South Pacific. After the War he resumed his duties at Saint Benedict's, which included deep involvement in the music programs.
He had served as Prior in Newark for a little over one year, when, in 1960, Abbot Patrick asked him to serve as Assistant Pastor in Sacred Heart, Elizabeth. After a year in Elizabeth Father Martin returned to Newark. In 1965 Abbot Patrick named him Novice Master at Delbarton.
In June, 1967, Abbot Martin made a number of significant changes in personnel. He appointed Father Laurence Grassman to succeed Father Mark as Headmaster. Father Mark assumed the pastorate of Notre Dame parish in Cedar Knolls. Father Stephen was relieved of his duties as Headmaster of Delbarton School and his place taken by Father Francis O'Connell. Father Jerome Fitzpatrick became Prior in Newark, replacing Father Maurus McBarron, who was named Pastor of Saint Mary's Parish.
He even journeyed to Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, to speak with Mother Thecla Brennan, General Superior of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, his former teachers at Blessed Sacrament School. He succeeded in his aim of procuring the services of the Sisters in Saint Mary's School.
But new personnel were not the only changes affecting the High Street community. The Summer of 1967 was the Summer of the Newark Riots, from which the city is still recovering 25 years later. The Riots and their "White Flight" aftermath left Newark a city that bore little resemblance to its former self. The Benedictines were forced to take a long, hard look at the meaning of their presence in the city. Saint Benedict's had always educated the sons of Catholics of European origin, who came from Newark and its environs. Though the riots left no doubt that there was a new situation to be faced, demographic changes had been going on for thirty years, ever since southern African-Americans had begun moving North in large numbers during the 1930's. They now constituted a substantial segment of the City's population.
Earlier, in 1963, seventeen monks had signed a petition to have the two communities seriously consider separation. Part of the petition read: "The two communities have already begun to pull apart in the directions that their objectives and apostolates have taken. We feel that because of the special conditions in Newark regarding the Negro and Puerto Rican population, and the college and business area, this division will soon become even more pronounced. Such differences require different methods of training, different ideals, and different types of sacrifice."
The petition did not pass at that time, but the seed of separation had taken root.
A straw vote ballot was taken in preparation for a chapter meeting to be held on Saturday, July 6, 1968. Fifty eight capitulars voted that Newark be given independent status. Seventeen voted that Newark be phased out and everyone move to Morristown. Only six voted for the status quo.
On Saturday, July 13, 1968, approximately sixty monks attended a discussion meeting about the future of the community in Newark. A second discussion took place one week later, to be followed by still further discussion over the next several months. No doubt about it, and in spite of the dire forecasts of the doomsayers, the move was on for an independent monastery in Newark. Abbot Martin made such independence a major priority and gave his support to the movement.
An Abbey Once Again
Working through Abbot Lambert Dunne in Rome, Abbot Martin was successful in his efforts and on November 21, 1968, the monastery again became an abbey. Prior Jerome posted a notice on the monastery bulletin board announcing the good news and announcing a meeting for Tuesday, December 3rd, to determine a date for the election of an Abbot.
Having chosen the name Newark Abbey, and placing it under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception, the capitulars, on December 14, 1968, elected as their first Abbot Father Ambrose James Clark, headmaster of Saint Benedict's. A native of Elizabeth and a 1945 graduate of Saint Benedict's, Father Ambrose had taught at Delbarton during his theological studies from 1949 to 1953. Ordained in 1953, he taught at Saint Benedict's from 1953 to 1960. He had received his bachelor's degree from Saint Vincent in 1949, a Master's in Classics from Fordham in 1959, and degrees in Canon Law from the Catholic University of America in 1962. Before being named Headmaster at Saint Benedict's, he had taught Canon Law at the School of Theology at Delbarton.
Archbishop Boland conferred the abbatial blessing on February 22, 1969 at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Life in Newark was not easy for the newly independent house and Abbot Ambrose experienced personally the keen growing pains of the fledgling community. He characterized that time as "very different from any other years I spent in monastic life. They were, for me, years of exhilaration and suffering, of great plans and of defeat, but a defeat that slowly evolved, because of the faith and strength of the men of Newark Abbey, into victory."
Problems beset the community from the beginning, both from the outside and from within. On one hand, the community was faced with the possible demise of their main source of livelihood, Saint Benedict's Prep. Enrolment continued to decline, due mainly to people's fear of sending their sons into the city. Then, too, some of the community felt that monastery and school should move out of the city and re-locate. Advocates of relocation came up with all kinds of ideas of where to go, ranging from the New Jersey Shore, where a few alumni had indicated a willingness to build a new Saint Benedict's, to as far away as Texas.
But a renewed commitment to the city was made when Abbot Ambrose announced that the school would stay and build. Redevelopment land was being made available to those who would help revitalize the city. Architects were brought in to draw up a plan to use the property nearby to expand the campus. Given the flight from the city that had been the norm, this decision by the monks made the headlines. But the plans remained just that.
Slowly the dissatisfaction of a significant percentage of the monks with life in the city grew. Even while expressing a commitment to the city, the men could not be sure that they would be able to live up to that commitment. The neighborhood was changing. More and more alumni chose not to send their sons to their alma mater. Each year the number of eighth-grade boys listing Saint Benedict's as one of their choices went down.
Things came to a head in early 1972. Some of the monks, struggling with questions of the Abbey's changing identity and its mission, asked the Abbot President of the Federation for a special visitation to help settle some issues, such as "Do we really want to stay in Newark?", "If we have no school, what should we do for work?" and "What is to become of the vacant buildings?" Abbots John Eidenschink of Saint John's and Edmund McCaffrey of Belmont conducted the special visitation.
Abbot Ambrose appointed Father Basil Zusi as Prior, replacing Father Melvin Valvano. (When Father Basil returned to Morristown in June of 1972, Father Melvin resumed the priorship temporarily, until replaced by Father Theodore Howarth.)
An Ending and Some New Directions
Sentiment against remaining in the city had grown so strong that its proponents succeeded in placing on the agenda for a chapter vote a motion to close Saint Benedict's Prep. Faced with the refusal of so many to continue their connection with the school, Abbot Ambrose directed the Headmaster to proceed with plans to bring down the curtain on Saint Benedict's, which had been center stage for over a century.
Father Cornelius Sweeney made the public announcement on Ash Wednesday. At a meeting that morning, before the school day began, the lay faculty were told that Saint Benedict's would close in June. The students were assembled in the auditorium at the beginning of first period to hear the same announcement.
Concerned parents tried to do what they could to change the decision. But the decision was final.
The remainder of the school year was extremely difficult for the students and the teachers, whose lives would be directly affected by the closing. And that June Saint Benedict's Prep celebrated what was thought would be its final graduation.
At the chapter meetings where the closing of Saint Benedict's had been discussed, a second motion had been introduced: to move the monastery out of the city. This motion failed to receive the required number of votes.
The net result of this situation was that the men found themselves with their stability to a monastery in a city some preferred not to live in, but without a school in which to practice their profession and support themselves.
Some thought it best to approach Abbot Leonard Cassell about the possibility of transferring their vow of stability back to Saint Mary's in Morristown, from which Newark Abbey had separated just four years before. Abbot Leonard's willingness to consider accepting any Newark monk who wished to transfer proved to be a key element in the events of 1972. His offer caused deep soul-searching among Newark's monks. "Can I live in uncertainty?" "If the school does reopen, do I want to teach in it?" These were some of the questions, but many, especially older or ill monks, asked very practically and very generously, "If I remain in Newark Abbey, will I be able to be an asset; or will I be (or soon become) a liability Newark Abbey cannot afford?"
Abbot Ambrose said later, "The decision on the part of so many who transferred (a decision made, I feel, on the part of all in various degrees of unselfishness and generosity) was crucial to Newark Abbey's future. Because of this move Newark Abbey and Saint Benedict's Prep were now manned by lean, healthy, determined men of faith who had made the decision to stay."
Shortly after graduation day a dozen monks left for Morristown. The twenty-four monks who chose to stay formed a community much more united in outlook and commitment than the community of the previous several years.
The men in residence at Newark met around the large table in the recreation room twice weekly during July to discuss a variety of questions, such as the need for a common apostolate, the role of the abbot, and styles of community prayer. They still needed to support themselves. Father Melvin found work as a chaplain in the VA Hospital. Father Edwin worked in a drug rehabilitation clinic. Father Philip drove a delivery truck. Others got jobs teaching in local Catholic schools.
As pastor of the tiny Saint Mary's Parish, Father Maurus McBarron was already in touch with people of the neighborhood as well as with the poor and lonely who came to the monastery door looking for help. He prevailed upon the monks to allow Saint Mary's School to move out of its antiquated 1860's building and some of Saint Benedict's classrooms.
In the course of the ongoing discussions, two major points of agreement had emerged. First, Newark Abbey had a school building that was not being fully used. Second, the city needed a good boys' school and that was the one thing the monks knew how to do best.
Homilies at the daily community mass made frequent reference to the theology of the "remnant of Israel" and the desert experience that molded the people of God through adversity.
There were reports from several subcommittees investigating possible apostolates such as Newman Club work and a retreat center. But by early October it was apparent that the group's heart was in education, and that running some sort of school would seem the most appealing (even if not the most sane) option to investigate. On October 12 the monks voted unanimously to begin planning such a venture, and on November 14 Father Edwin Leahy was chosen by the fifteen monks living on High Street and appointed by Abbot Ambrose to be the "Director" of the school venture.
Three days of Christmas vacation were spent by the group in a workshop atmosphere at the Inn of the Spirit in Yulan, New York, to investigate and clarify what each monk meant by "running" a school.
In January the monks began to shape a deliberately integrated inner-city school that would use a combination of traditional and innovative approaches in a three-phase school year. School would begin in July, to keep the students off the street and give them something productive to do. And the interest in experiential education led to the development of Spring Phase, when the students would participate in an out-of-classroom learning experience. Some would go on bike hikes. Others would go canoeing. There would, of course, be some who wouldn't be able to get along in any organized activity. These few were to be put on the Appalachian Trail. (The discipline of hiking together in a group, being dependent on each other, would prove to be so beneficial that it would eventually be made a required part of the Freshman curriculum.)
The spring of 1973 was a time of recruiting new students and re-recruiting some who had been freshmen when the school had closed. Roger Cook, an alumnus and still a valued advisor, and his father, J. Franklin Cook, were extremely helpful in many aspects of the early planning. (Paul Thornton came on board as the school opened, adding his many talents as well. Over the next 20 years his success in fund raising would make the Development Office the envy of many a college.)
On January 24, 1973, the proposal was presented to a group of parents, friends, and alumni to test their reactions. The monks were heartened by the enthusiastic response and involved that group in more serious planning.
Saint Benedict's "Prep"
The monks had tried to come up with a name for this new venture, High Street Learning Center being one of the more popular suggestions. But it soon became apparent that no one else saw this as a new school, and that this was going to be "Saint Benedict's" no matter what the monks called it. So the first official stationery said "St. Benedict's School," the word "Prep" having been deliberately dropped to avoid the assumption that its sole purpose was to "get kids into college." But once again, tradition prevailed, and some months after the re-opening the name "Prep" was officially reinstated. The absence of the word had misled some into thinking that the school was no longer preparing students for college.
Carl Quick, a new-found friend, chaired the finance committee of the proposed school. The tuition was finally set at $600, a sum that would mean operating at a deficit from the beginning. Father Boniface Treanor called the first meeting of the Admissions Committee on February 17. Alumni were informed by letter of the plan to open a small school, and a press release went out to the local papers on February 28. Friends new and old began offering their support. Saint Peter's College offered the use of their Development Office resources. Bernard Shanley, of the class of 1921, sent a first and unsolicited donation. (Right up to the time of his death in February, 1992, Mr. Shanley remained a dear friend and a strong support.) John Magovern, past Chairman of Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company, was a constant source of encouragement and sage advice. This generous support would grow over the years to keep pace with the school's needs, and has become an essential ingredient in the survival and success of the venture.
June was spent in a flurry of activity preparing for the opening.
On July 2, 1973, monks and lay faculty welcomed 87 students into grades 9, 10, and 11. There were no seniors the first year. The first morning convocation was held in a corner of the cafeteria. Later in the morning there was a ceremony in the auditorium attended by Mayor Gibson and representatives from several local colleges. Within a week new applicants were being turned away.
The first four years of Newark Abbey's existence may be seen as the shake-down cruise of a newly launched ship; or perhaps as agonizing labor pains. By either image anyone familiar with monastic life realizes that it was Abbot Ambrose who most personally and most keenly experienced the community's anxiety and stress. That July, having seen the school reopened, and the monks recommitted to monastic life in the city, Abbot Ambrose tendered his resignation as Abbot. Prior Theodore Howarth automatically assumed the post of Administrator and set about making arrangements for an election.
A New Abbot
On Saturday, September 8, 1973, two days before the beginning of the Fall-Winter Phase, Father Melvin Valvano, who had formerly held the post of prior, was elected second Abbot of Newark Abbey. A native of Linden and the son of Joseph and Ella Valvano, Abbot Melvin had been baptized in the Benedictine parish, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, by Father Bernard Peters. He was a 1956 graduate of Saint Benedict's and had been professed at Saint Benedict's Abbey in Atchison, Kansas, in 1959.
At the time of Abbot Melvin's election the student body was composed of students from a wide variety of racial, economic and ethnic backgrounds. This diversity would become even more pronounced as time went on, and would be both a challenge and a source of pride for the school community. From the beginning the wide range of student academic abilities has continued to pose its own challenges. The school's philosophy has always stressed the obligation that the stronger student has to help his weaker brother. A favorite saying of the Headmaster in the early days was, "You don't laugh when there's a hole in the other guy's end of your lifeboat. You're in the same boat as he is, like it or not!"
With the Election of Abbot Melvin the basic lines of development on High Street for the next two decades were already sketched in: Abbot Melvin brought to his new job energy and enthusiasm and a developing sense of how the monastic life should be led on High Street. His leadership in the monastery would give the needed balance to Father Edwin's enthusiastic and energetic direction of the school, so that Newark Abbey and Saint Benedict's Prep could prosper as cohesive units, each nourishing and invigorating the other.
A New Era
September 1973 saw the first chapter meeting under the new abbot, during which Brother Luke Edelen was accepted for simple vows. Two days later Casino Hall was demolished, one more sign that a new era had begun. On November 11 Abbot Melvin was solemnly blessed in Saint Mary's Church by Archbishop Boland.
The students soon began asking for changes, notably the Sophomores, who felt that the school needed stricter discipline. The school's fleet of vans doubled in size with the purchase of a used florist's van bought for $325. Parents came in on two Saturdays for "painting days" that went from ten o'clock in the morning to seven at night.
The Victoria Foundation gave the school a grant of $20,000 in December, and an annual Alumni Giving Campaign was created. (Foundation grants and alumni gifts have been two crucial sources of support since the very beginning.)
December witnessed the first home basketball game, against Morristown-Beard School, with the Gray Bees losing by about 35 points. The score wasn't the real issue, however. As referee Angelo Frannicola (class of '60) put it, "It's a thrill just to see those Benedict's uniforms out there again." Over the next several years Saint Benedict's would re-establish its reputation in athletics. There was no football team. Before long the new fall sport would be soccer, in which the school would eventually achieve national prominence.
(The new winter sport would be fencing, begun in 1984 under coach Derrick Hoff, whose team would also achieve a reputation on a par with any team Saint Benedict's had ever fielded. The wrestling team under coach Mike DiPiano, who arrived in 1976, would soon re-establish the school's reputation in that sport, and Jack Dalton would return in a few years to take over the basketball program. The immediate feedback and clear consequences of athletics and activities, their challenge to overcome discouragement and defeat with the help of teammates, make the extracurricular as valued a part of the Saint Benedict's experience as the classroom. Because of the encouragement given to these activities, the majority of students have always been involved in some sort of after-school activity.)
A welcome Christmas present was the sale on December 28 of Joe Kasberger Field on Third Avenue and North Fifth Street, formerly known simply as Benedict Field. The half-million-dollar profit realized from that transaction formed a major part of the school's capital at the time.
The first "Spring Projects" included Art, Bike Hiking, Backpacking, Court System, Children's Theater, Consumer Education and Independent study. The first scholastic year ended with a six-day faculty debriefing session during which the faculty agreed that it had been a good year but that there were many areas in need of improvement.
In June, 1974, Abbot Melvin appointed Father Boniface Treanor Prior. Father Theodore Howarth, who had served as Prior since June, 1972, acting as interim Administrator between the resignation of Abbot Ambrose and the election of Abbot Melvin, was named Treasurer. Father Benedict Tyler assumed direction of the abbey kitchen.
When the second school year began in July of 1974, with a Freshman class of 35, there was a growing sense of confidence that comes from having "been there already". The year of experience made the second year much easier on the staff in many ways. The major concerns would be improving the curriculum and making administration and discipline run more smoothly. Already sports teams would start to "pay back" schools that had defeated them badly the first year.
Father Timothy Dwyer died in July. He had always been an ardent supporter of the efforts of the younger monks in the school, and in his last years in residence at the Abbey had become a source of edification to all his brothers, as he had been for so many years to his parishioners in Sacred Heart, Elizabeth.
An exciting possibility arose that same month when the Abbey was offered a tract of land across Shipman Street from Saint Mary's school and convent buildings. It was already apparent that such a purchase would have the effect of breaking the community and school out of the siege mentality that comes from having no open spaces around the buildings, no lawn, in fact no parking area.
That October a young architect and alumnus, Gregory Arner, spent many hours with the community assessing space needs that might be met by renovating the now vacant Saint Mary's school building, convent and laundry.
The graduation of June, 1975, the first in three years, was an exciting occasion, and a sign of hope and optimism for everyone. The Commencement Address was given by Navy Lieutenant George Coker of the Class of '62, recently released from a Prisoner-of-War camp in Vietnam.
Summer session of 1975 opened with a senior class of 17 students. Attrition was to remain a problem for many years, as the staff sought ways of supporting students while still demanding more and more academically. The finding of that balance continues to be one of the great challenges to the school.
In July 1975 the Archdiocese of Newark accepted title to Saint Mary's cemetery, thus relieving the Abbey of what had become a burden in terms of both supervision and finances.
The start of the new school year in the summer of 1976 saw some important changes. Religion courses were re-introduced and Matthew Payne began a period of postulancy for Newark Abbey while teaching Physics and English. One of the most visible changes was the beginning of the "Group System", an outgrowth of the student leadership method that had worked so well during the Spring Backpacking Project. Each student was assigned to one of ten home-room "groups", to which he would belong for his years at Saint Benedict's. The first groups were identified with letters of the alphabet, Group A through Group J. The system would undergo modification and expansion over the years, but would keep its original philosophy and structure. In January of 1980 the number of groups would be expanded to 14.
In 1977 the first "draft" would be held, in which new students were picked to be members of the various groups. The first intergroup competition was a basketball tournament in the summer of 1976 (won on a buzzer shot in Shanley Gym in front of the parents), but the favorite sport was indoor soccer, played inside the "Shanley Dome", where nothing was out of bounds and bodily contact was vigorous and somewhat reckless. Both the soccer and hockey games would be helped by the installation in January of 1977, of retractable bleachers in the gym.
Some new lay faculty members joined the staff in July of 1976, including two that still remain - Michael DiPiano and Henrique Cordeiro. Bernard Greene, who had joined the staff midway through the previous year, was officially put in charge of the discipline in the school.
There was a summer program for sixth and seventh graders to get them acquainted with Saint Benedict's.
Another significant event was the entrance into novitiate of Matt Payne on July 10, taking the name Brother Mark. The Fall saw Brother Luke leave to start theology studies at Saint Vincent Archabbey and return to profess solemn vows in early October.
In January of 1977, responding to a request by Father Lucien Donnelly for some students who might like to sing some gospel music for a "Jesus Night", Father Albert got a group of student singers together. Ronald Mobley, an eight-grader from Saint Mary's school, played the piano accompaniment. The Saint Benedict's Gospel Choir soon became an important part of the school's life, singing each Friday for morning convocation, and providing music for all sorts of occasions at school and in local churches. In March of 1978 the Gospel choir produced a record album that sold 2,000 copies. One of their first songs became like a second Alma Mater because it expressed so well the spirit of the newly reborn school: "We've come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord, trusting in His holy word. He's never failed me yet."
January of 1977 saw Ronald Lee of the Bronx move in as a postulant for Newark Abbey. In March of that year Saint Benedict's was invited to join the "National Network of Complementary Schools", an organization of about thirty schools, public and private, around the country, who exchange individual students for a few weeks at a time. (Over the years the school has continued to send students to study in member schools in California, Alaska, Canada, Florida and many other states, and receive students from Alabama, Texas, and Kansas.)
But during all this growth there were many signs that the school was also conscious of its long and rich tradition. Students would spend hours poring over old Telologs in the library, and would listen eagerly to stories (suitably embellished in the retelling) shared by visiting alumni.
May 14,1977, saw the establishment of the Saint Benedict's Hall of Fame, with the induction of twelve Charter Members who had distinguished themselves at Saint Benedict's in athletics or in other areas of school life.
In July of 1977 the letter group names were replaced with names of men famous in the history of Saint Benedict's Prep: Joe Kasberger, Prof Blood, James Cavanagh, Frank Hill, Philip Hoover, William Koelhoffer, Thomas Long, Boniface Reger, Cornelius Selhuber, and Dunstan Smith.
The 103rd commencement on June 5, 1977 meant the graduation of the first students to complete four years in the re-opened school. This marked "the end of the beginning," the end of the era of starting up and creating things out of whole cloth.
Events left little time for sitting back and reflecting, however. With only two weeks' notice, an idea was implemented whereby all 65 Freshmen would stay overnight at the school for the first week of Summer Phase. (This has become an annual event, the "Freshman Overnight". Incoming Freshmen report on the first Monday of Summer Phase with sleeping bags and suitcases, and spend the week learning the school's traditions, history, and songs, as well as one another's names-this in addition to school work and daily physical education sessions. Under the watchful eye of Father Matthew Wotelko, it has become, along with Father Mark Payne's Appalachian Trail Hike, one of the important parts of the school's culture and a rich source of student folklore.)
On Tuesday of that same week in July, 1977, Abbot Melvin signed the papers that gave Newark Abbey title to a parcel of property along the east side of Shipman Street. Shipman Street between William Street and Branford Place was abandoned by the city so that the campus could stretch from High Street to Arlington Street. The chapter had previously voted $234,000 to develop that property, along with the piece of land on the corner of Branford Place and High Street. The decision of the City Fathers to permit the building of a Burger King on that site, next to the school, threatened to scuttle plans. Through the good offices of a leading benefactor, Ed Lenihan, the City authorities agreed to send the proposal back to the drawing board. The Burger King was reassigned to its present spot further down Springfield Avenue, and Newark Abbey purchased the corner to incorporate it into the expansion plans. In October ground was broken for the 2.4 acre complex of parking lot and playing field.
Brother Mark Payne professed simple vows on July 11 as Brother Thomas (Ronald) Lee entered novitiate under the new novice master, Father Albert Holtz, Father Declan Cunniff having been appointed as Pastor of Saint Joseph's. Father Maurice Carlton joined Father Declan at the parish, where the Pastor Emeritus, Father Bernard Peters, and Father John Browne were already in residence. Father Antony Kovacs returned to the monastery from Saint Joseph's. Father Howard Moussier replaced Father Declan as librarian for school and abbey.
Jack Dalton, who had been basketball coach and history teacher when the school was closed down, returned to the faculty in the same capacity as the September session began.
When the redecoration of Saint Mary's Church began in early 1978, church functions were moved to Saint Mary's Library. It was then found that the church's plaster ceiling was badly in need of replacement. A wooden ceiling was put up in its place, and a linoleum covering on the floor. The walls were painted in white and dark brown.
After months of planning, a "Lower Division" of 40 seventh- and eighth-graders was begun in July, 1978, reviving a tradition that had ended fifty years before. The students, under the special care of Brother Thomas, were taught in two classrooms on the fourth floor.
In September 1979 the 273 students returning to school found the upper and lower fields behind the school covered with new green sod, and the project virtually complete after almost two years. Students and monks soon came to enjoy the opportunity of spending time outdoors on our "campus". In November Robert Brennan, of the Class of 1962, announced to the students that he was making a donation of $250,000 to the school. The newly developed area in back was named in his honor.
The starting time for school was changed from 8:25 to 8:00 a.m. in November, and the Abbey schedule was soon changed to have Morning Prayer start at 6:15 instead of 7:00.
bbot Melvin continued to challenge the monastic community to a deeper understanding of the demands and the rewards of monastic life. The beginning of 1980 found the monks faced with a list of needs, which included renovating the virtually unused former laundry, convent, and grammar school buildings; replacing all the monastery windows; renovation of the monastery building; and establishing a teacher endowment fund. Classroom space was at a premium, and there was talk of the need for a bigger gym. Paul Thornton, Director of Development, began emphasizing the need for intense ongoing fund raising work, and not just occasional campaigns such as the one run for the recent property development. (This plea was heeded, and since that time the Development Office has worked tirelessly and effectively under Mr. Thornton to raise large amounts of money to keep the school and Abbey alive and healthy.)
The abbey's finances received a timely boost with the auction of the Abbey coin collection which netted almost $900,000. Surprise blessings like this one punctuate the monastery's recent history at regular intervals. The monks had to keep reminding themselves and the students of the days in 1972 and 1973, those "good old days", when donations and support were hard to come by.
On July 28, 1980, the Frankoski Construction Company began the renovation of the three buildings formerly facing on Shipman Street.
In late August Brother Mark Payne wrote a computer program to print out student schedules, rosters, and classroom assignments. By November the report cards were being printed by computer as well. Those programs are still in use today, as part of the school's greatly expanded computer network used for school administration, finance and development office work.
Among the five new faculty that arrived for the 1981-1982 school year Jim Gaul and Paul Snellgrove would have an important and lasting influence by raising the academic expectations and demands of the curriculum. Their relentless and uncompromising insistence on excellence in the classroom came at a time when the school as ready for just such a growth in academic strength.
When Dr. James Flanagan arrived to begin a period of postulancy for Newark Abbey in October, his medical experience was soon put to good use. A hepatitis epidemic in the school necessitated gamma globulin shots for all the faculty and the wrestling team. Later that year, now known as Brother Paul, he would join Brother Timothy Quick in the novitiate under the tutelage of Fr. Albert Holtz.
Whirlwind is the best word to describe the renovation and planning sessions that descended on the monastery in November of 1980. New DeVac windows began appearing in all the buildings fronting on High Street, while a committee was meeting to discuss plans for the renovation of the abbey buildings. As the gutting and rehabilitation of the old grammar school, convent, and laundry continued during the spring of 1981, negotiations went forward concerning the possible buy-back of the old Casino Field property, owned at the time by the Newark Housing and Urban Development office. In July the Chapter voted to take out a loan of one million dollars with the Knights of Columbus to finance the much needed renovation of the monastery. In September 1981 the renovated Saint Mary's School, (called at first "Building A" or "The Other Building" for lack of a better name) was put to student use with its classrooms, Art Department, and wrestling room.
Spring of 1981 was marked by two important events. On March 31 Bob Brennan offered to take over the entire repayment of the Abbey's debt to the Knights of Columbus, amounting to close to two million dollars. And during Easter week the monks vacated the monastery buildings in preparation for the renovation. All but three of the monks took up temporary residence in the newly renovated buildings. The monastic refectory was placed on the ground-floor at the multi-purpose end of the Art Department, and the recreation room in the basement of the Radel Building, formerly the laundry. Father Celestine Staab by now had been a priest for more than 66 years, but rather than plead old age and balk at the idea of moving out of his room, he said he thought the whole move was wonderful.
During the summer of 1982 the long neglected Abbey Library was being slowly put back into working order under the supervision of Father Luke Edelen with the help of several students: clutter was cleared from the stack areas, books were arranged properly on their shelves and a general sense of order was restored. A door was cut through the south wall of the library to connect with the new library office in the renovated monastery.
Abbot Melvin appointed Father Luke Edelen as Pastor of Saint Mary's, to succeed Father Maurus McBarron. Father Maurus remained a cheerful and supportive confrere, even though his health began to deteriorate, due to "Lou Gehrig's Disease".
(During Father Luke's pastorate, the parish, once home to German immigrants, has become a place of worship for a large West African community. Father Luke has help in this work. Father Christopher Anyanyu, of the Diocese of Orlu, Nigeria, serves as assistant. Sister Mary Magdalen Yauch, S.S.J., is Director of the Pierre Toussaint Food Pantry. Sister Linda Klaiss, S.S.J., directs the Parish Education Ministry. Brother Francis Woodruff keeps everything in order as Abbey and Parish Sacristan.)
Among new teachers starting the Fall-Winter Phase was Father Malachy McPadden, recently returned from Washington, D.C., where he had been living since 1969.
A Place in the Country
The monks had long been considering the need for a place in the country to serve the school, monastery, and parishes. Various individuals had reported back from time to time on sites encountered on their mountain hikes that seemed suitable. One, a tract of land in Sussex County, the former Camp Munsee, struck many as quite attractive. In February there was a meeting with financial advisors to discuss the advisability of purchasing the property. A phone call a few days later, however, revealed that the property had been sold to another buyer. There the monks left the issue and went on to think of other things. Then, out of the blue, three weeks later, Bob Brennan announced to the Abbot at the annual Alumni Communion Breakfast that he had quietly purchased the Camp Munsee land to present as a gift to the monks and the school. Since that time several buildings have been thoroughly renovated or expanded, and Father Lucien Donnelly, who has had complete charge of furnishing and maintaining the buildings, has resided there full time.
The country property has become an integral part of the Backpacking program and is used for recreation in all seasons by monks, Oblates, parishioners, lay faculty, and students alike, as well as by many groups of friends from outside the immediate abbey and school community.
Two major topics arose at this time that would occupy the attention of the monastic chapter and others for the next couple of years. A proposal from the Archdiocese of Newark to merge Saint Mary's Parish with Saint Bridget's forced the monastic community to look seriously at its commitment to maintaining the parish and grammar school, and to articulate its vision of what the parish could and should be, and indeed of what the monastery's witness to the surrounding community should be.
This challenge came at the same time as a second one, this one from the Saint Benedict's Advisory Board, who invited the monks to accept the idea of launching a campaign to raise a seemingly impossible seven million dollars for development and endowment needs. At the end of July the Abbot learned that the Abbey's proposal to purchase and develop the entire 3.5-acre triangular block formed by High Street, William Street, and Springfield Avenue (including the site of Casino Hall) had been approved by the City. A variety of meetings would be held during the next year to plan how to use that property.
At the end of summer of 1983 Assistant Headmaster Bernard Greene, with his wife, Sharld, and their three sons, took up residence in the duplex apartment located in the renovated Turrell House, and the monks moved back into the monastery. On September 8, 1983, the first meeting in the new chapter house was held, marking the tenth anniversary of Abbot Melvin's election as abbot.
On September 24 and 25 the newly renovated monastery was opened to visitors, and Sunday Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Peter L. Gerety as part of the blessing of the buildings.
The Fall sports season was marked by a national career scoring record set by soccer player Tabare Ramos, who would eventually play for the United States in World Cup and Olympic competition.
On December 7, 1983, the Newark and Morristown monasteries inaugurated the year-long celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Saint Mary's Abbey. As part of that commemoration Abbot Primate Victor Dammertz was chief concelebrant at a Mass in the Abbey Church in May 1984. At the end of the Mass, as a poignant reminder of those who had first worshipped in the Abbey Church, the congregation sang Holy God We Praise Thy Name in German. About 350 guests shared in the buffet following in the school cafeteria. The next afternoon the Newark monks were invited to solemn vespers at Saint Mary's in Morristown, where Abbot Primate Victor again presided with great charm and grace.
New Christmas customs were established in the "new" monastery surroundings in December of 1983, among them a tree-decorating party, Christmas eve carolling on the property, and a reveillon in the fireplace room after midnight Mass. The new fireplace did not have sufficient draft to carry the smoke out, so a rather rustic air pervaded much of the monastery each time a fire was lighted.
In February 1984 the monastic chapter voted to adopt Saint Mark's Priory in South Union Kentucky for a period of three years. Father Philip Waters was to be sent there as Prior, accompanied by Father Howard Moussier.
In the Spring of 1984 a committee was formed, under the chairmanship of Abbot Martin Burne of Saint Mary's Abbey, to consider renovating and possibly re-locating the organ in Saint Mary's church. The committee eventually chose as builder Mr. James Konzelman of Bayonne, who was hired in November of 1984. In the summer Novice Brother Augustine Curley was running both libraries, the school's and the monastery's.
In September Brother Augustine professed simple vows, Father Robert McElaney arrived from Indianapolis to begin teaching, Brother Theodore Taylor came from Mount Saint Benedict in Trinidad to be supervisor of maintenance, and Michael Woodruff began his period of postulancy.
Faculty meetings went on in October and November concerning the details of a proposed building on the former Casino property, while the major capital campaign was being prepared by the Development office and the Advisory Board.
Then something happened that substantially changed the whole outlook of the school for years to come: On November 14, 1984, Abbot Melvin announced at a specially called early-morning Chapter meeting that Mr. Brennan had presented him with a check for five million dollars. The next day, at an outdoor press conference, the Abbot made the same announcement to a large gathering, including faculty, students, and friends from Saint Vincent Academy and several parochial schools of the Deanery. Everyone was invited to a lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs in the school cafeteria. (To a classmate's wondering if Mr. Brennan was a millionaire a Lower-Division boy piped up, "Not no more, he ain't!")
Hard on the heels of that stunning announcement came the resolution of the question of merging Saint Bridget's and Saint Mary's parishes. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Francis, Vicar for Essex County, told the Community that he was convinced that Saint Mary's would remain a viable entity, dependent on the Archdiocese for neither money nor manpower. He would now begin looking to merge Saint Bridget's with Saint Patrick's instead. Many more discussions would ensue trying to discern God's will with regard to Saint Mary's school and the monks' role in the evangelization of their neighbors, a question that is still part of the Abbey's consciousness.
While Greg Arner was revising the drawings for the proposed gym, the monks were already considering the need for an abbey health care facility.
In September of 1985 the monks re-instituted the custom of table reading at the evening meal. That same month Father Mark Payne was appointed Prior to replace Father Boniface Treanor.
The Bowers Construction Company was selected as the general contractor for the new Henry and Agnes Brennan Building, as the new athletic facility would be called. A ground-breaking service was held on April 23, 1986. After Mass in church, Archbishop Peter L. Gerety, Mayor Kenneth Gibson, Abbot Melvin, and other dignitaries crossed the street in a downpour for the actual ceremony. On June 11 the bulldozers started the project in earnest.
The school's organizational structure underwent some hard scrutiny and reevaluation as it became apparent that the campus and the student body were expanding to the point that decision-making would have to be decentralized and responsibilities delegated. The school was rapidly leaving the era of the seat-of-the-pants operation and demanded clearer lines of authority and sharing of roles among more and more people.
In March, 1986 the Council of Seniors voted to engage Rambusch Associates of New York to design and oversee the final phase of the renovation of Saint Mary's church, a work in which Father Maynard Nagengast would be closely involved as a consultant. Over the summer months monks and parishioners once again moved their services out of the church to allow for renovation, which would include new oak flooring, new granite altar and furnishings, and the restoration of the paintings, as well as the removal of the old high altar from the apse and the installation of a new pipe organ in its place.
Brother Gereon Reuter transferred to Newark from Mount Savior Monastery in upstate New York and took over the chemistry course.
Father Casimir Finley, who had been diagnosed in late summer of 1986 as having cancer, died of his disease on January 9, 1987. In February Father Maurus McBarron returned to the monastery after spending several months in the V.A. Hospital in East Orange. He needed round-the-clock nursing care, which was arranged by Brother Chrysostom Frankwick, abbey infirmarian.
In March, on Ash Wednesday, the monks began singing the psalms of weekday Vespers to the accompaniment of guitar. Previously they had been singing only Sunday Vespers. That same month, on the Feast of Saint Benedict, Bishop Joseph Gerry, Auxiliary Bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire and former Abbot of Saint Anselm, dedicated the new stone altar.
Father Philip returned from Kentucky in August 1987, the Chapter having voted not to renew its temporary affiliation with Saint Mark's Priory.
The Fred Radel Estate, under the trusteeship of Wallace Scanlon and Betty McHugh, had become a generous benefactor over the past few years. Its crowning generosity came, however, with a pledge of $500,000 for teacher endowment, and later in the year another $800,000 for an abbey infirmary and library. Fred Radel of the class of 1913 was certainly helping to further the dreams of his alma mater.
In April of 1988 the Chapter decided to relocate the monastic library collection in order to make room for the urgently needed health care facility.
October 22, 1988 was the date of the dedication of the Henry and Agnes Brennan Building. The ceremony began with a 10:00 o'clock Mass, with the choir of Blessed Sacrament (Newark) singing spirited praise. The half-finished pipe organ accompanied the hymns. The dedication ceremony itself took place later in the day, with music by the Saint Benedict's Gospel Choir. A huge tent over the parking lot area adjacent to the new Gym housed the tables for the luncheon. At 4:15 there was an alumni basketball game, the first in the new facility. The classrooms were in use by the next week. A new era in the history of the Newark monks had begun.
In November and December of 1988 the business offices were consolidated and placed in the renovated basement of the former laundry, now called the "Radel Building". The old "Freshman" locker room was vacated to make room for a parish religious education office and expanded Pierre Toussaint food pantry facilities with direct access from the street. (In 1984 High Street had been renamed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard.)
1988 saw our neighborhood change with the rapid construction of Society Hill, a development of town-house condominiums all along the hillside extending westward up to Norfolk Street.
The Indianapolis Connection
Prior Charles Henry, of Saint Maur Priory in Indianapolis, Indiana, gave a persuasive presentation to the Newark Chapter in March of 1989. Convinced that affiliation would be beneficial to both communities, the Chapter voted to adopt Saint Maur as a dependency. The seven monks attached to Saint Maur thereby became full-fledged members of Newark Abbey. (The arrangement continues to work very nicely. The men from Indianapolis come to Newark for the annual retreat and are integrating smoothly into the larger community. Father Emilian Muschette lives in Newark and is a strong asset in the Treasurer's Office. Father Robert McElaney went to Indianapolis in 1991, where he directs the monastery's Hospitality Center. Novice Brother Placid Cowart came to Newark Abbey through his contact with Saint Maur Monastery.)
By May the abbey health care facility was just about complete, and drawings were being presented for a combined abbey and school library to be located across King Boulevard over the parking lot of the Henry and Agnes Brennan Building.
The school's Advisory Board began to take a much more active role in the planning and running of the school. Various subcommittees were established for such areas as finance and long-range planning, and members old and new joined in enthusiastically. For the first time the business office, now under Father Philip Waters, asked for a budget from each department, calling for a sense of fiscal responsibility appropriate to the size and complexity of our once small operation. The monks had to articulate the community's vision in a clear mission statement against which planning alternatives could be measured. Members of the Board would be instrumental in negotiating a large loan through the Educational Development Act, a step that eased to some extent the pressure on annual fund-raising.
At the June, 1989, General Chapter of the American-Cassinese Congregation of Benedictines, Abbot Melvin was elected to the office of Abbot President. This new job was both and honor and a burden which both the Abbot and the community willingly accepted.
In November, 1989 Jack Dalton retired as Varsity Basketball Coach, to be replaced by Hank Cordeiro. Saint Benedict's began the long process of self-evaluation as part of the process of renewing its accreditation with The Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges. The process was a very valuable one involving students, parents, and alumni, as well as faculty, in a searching look at Saint Benedict's.
On September 22, 1990, the Chapter voted to start construction of the new abbey and school library, after receiving the unanimous support and endorsement of the Board of Trustees.
A committee from the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges conducted a visitation of the school in November of 1990. This resulted in Saint Benedict's being once more accredited by the Middle States Association.
This Unlikely Wilderness
So, after 150 years, there are still Benedictine monks in Newark. The bells of Saint Mary's continue to sing her Angelus morning, noon, and night; to summon monks and parishioners to worship; to toll our passing. Canonists declare that a Benedictine Abbey is a moral entity and may be moved from one place to another with no damage to its integrity. True. On the other hand, there is something awesome about the way a monastic community sets its roots in a particular place. A powerful bond has been formed between these men and this place: the monks of High Street/King Boulevard and the City of Newark, in the County of Essex, in the State of New Jersey.
The Founding Fathers of Newark dreamed of making the City "a peaceful sanctuary dedicated to the greater glory of God". For a century and a half the monks of Newark have been committed to carrying that dream forward.
A few years back Father Matthew Kelty, O.C.S.O., came from Kentucky to give our monastic retreat. Upon learning that Father Declan tends beehives on the roof and that Saint Benedict's teams are called the Gray Bees, he told us, "There is indeed honey hidden in your environment, your people. You know it and you prove it: both the bees on the roof and the monks who live and work with them. And the bee is not, as it were, robbing anyone of anything, but proving what good there is if one would look for it, cultivate it, nurture it, and share it. And here where you live, between a city quite splendid and a city no longer what it was, you have flowers and green and bees. And of course the honey-which is the point of it all: I mean love.
"The bee finds honey where one would swear there was none. How very Benedictine that these men of peace should be peace, sow peace, and reap peace in this unlikely wilderness."