Mount Angel Abbey: Chamber salutes 137 years of Distinguished Service

March 2019 Posted in Columnists & Opinion, Community, Food & Drink

Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, above right, conducted the church service at last year’s Saint Benedict Festival. Nearly 1,000 people visited the Abbey in early July for an afternoon of prayer, music and a buffet picnic lunch with the monks. PHOTO COURTESY MOUNT ANGEL ABBEY

By Brenna Wiegand

Mount Angel Chamber of Commerce will honor Mount Angel Abbey with its 2018 Distinguished Service award at this year’s First Citizens Banquet. The Abbey has been entrenched in its surrounding community since 1882, co-settlers with the townspeople.

“It’s a beautiful idea; we are all very touched by it,” Abbot Jeremy Driscoll said. “It’s a lovely honor because it acknowledges the long history between the town and the monastery, which is so much a part of everything.

“One of the reasons I really appreciate receiving it is that as abbot it’s one of my desires to freshen and strengthen our relationship with the community; we’re just very grateful; this is a good sign of the friendship and the bonds that unite us,” Driscoll said.

Mount Angel Abbey’s pastoral grounds, home to 55 Benedictine monks, contain a 120-student seminary, open church services, a guest house and a library with a collection of 4,000 rare books that include a Bible manuscript dated 1280, a German translation printed in 1476 and microfilm of local newspapers from 1921 to 1973, providing genealogical information for those tracing Oregon family roots.

Most recently, the monks opened Benedictine Brewery on the hillside below the Abbey proper where Father Martin Grassel’s passion for home brew has become another way for the monastery to reach out – and create a new revenue stream to support the Abbey’s ministries.

“I think that brewery is going to put Mount Angel, Oregon, on the map,” First Citizen Selection Committee Member John Gooley said. “Their beer is the first one that sells out at Oktoberfest since we started carrying it three years ago. Word is getting out.”

The bulk of the brewery was constructed from 100-year-old trees those first German monks had the foresight to plant for their Benedictine descendants. Last November, those descendants formed the backbone of a 100-member crew that, with dozens of community members, raised the structure’s frame in a day.

“The monks have never been afraid to work,” Gooley said.

“There’s no question the brewery’s going to be good for the town; we’ve already had a lot more company there than we expected and that has been gratifying,” Driscoll said. “People come there that wouldn’t come to the monastery; some don’t even know there is a monastery but then discover it afterward.”

An even grander undertaking than the brewery is an extensive renovation of the Abbey’s 60-year-old guest house, just getting its final touches.

“We’ve completely renewed the interior of the existing building and, down the side of the hill, added a large dining room, a new entrance/reception area, eight new rooms and a second conference room that allows us to receive two groups at once; something we were never able to do before,” Driscoll said.

“These are all ways we reach out to people and we’re very happy for that, but I think our strongest influence in the town has been through the ways in which our priests serve in various settings,” Driscoll said. “Usually in a town this size, at best you might have one priest at the parish church, but we also have priests serving at Mount Angel Towers, Benedictine Nursing Center and for the Benedictine Sisters at Queen of Angels Monastery, also in Mount Angel.”

The Sisters and the Abbey have been with St. Joseph Shelter and Mission Benedict since they opened more than 25 years ago and Mount Angel is also home to St. Mary Missionaries of the Holy Spirit and a Carmelite monastery.

“It is a unique situation; Archbishop Vlazny used to call Mount Angel ‘Catholic Central’ because there’s such a concentration of religious and Catholic institutions in town that it was like nowhere else in the archdiocese,”
Fr. Philip Waibel, St. Mary Catholic Church parish priest said. “It’s hard to find a concentration quite like that
anywhere else.”

Waibel came to the Abbey seminary high school at 16 and never left. He later worked at the seminary – now a college – for several years before being assigned to Mount Angel’s St. Mary Catholic Church in 2002. In a given year he presides at 20-25 weddings, 35-40 funerals, more than 100 baptisms and is among the Abbey representatives who show up at local events, including Oktoberfest’s opening ceremonies, to offer prayers and blessings, a common occurrence in this Catholic town of some 3,500 souls.

“If you look at our history one of the reasons we came to Mount Angel was to serve the religious needs of the people in this area and there’s quite a bit of service happening from the Abbey just within the community itself,” Waibel said. “This award is recognition, not only of that priestly service, but of the educational element that has been going on since our founding.  JFK High School started out as a work of the Benedictine Sisters and the Abbey to do the high school education for boys and girls. Before that the sisters ran Mount Angel Academy and we ran Mount Angel Preparatory School that educated a lot of the men in this area.”

It’s the way monasteries are supposed to work, the abbot said.

“In the Middle Ages, monasteries became centers of culture and learning and people were glad to live near a monastery; we’re glad when people know about us and can profit from a friendship with us,” Driscoll said. “It’s all part of the great friendship we have with the town, but this award was good for us to receive because we just sort of get used to what we do and this  feels like the community taking the time to remind us that they don’t take us for granted and that is very nice.”

With help from Oktoberfest funds the monks developed a trail up the hill so the hundreds of people who make it their daily constitutional can steer clear of Abbey Drive. Visitors from around the world are welcome to come spend a weekend immersed in the Benedictine culture.

“Mount Angel Abbey has enjoyed a wonderful relationship with the surrounding people and has been involved in their lives in so many ways,” Waibel said. “From the standpoint of education; of ministry; of service; it’s really a wonderful relationship and it has been just a joy to do the work and the service for this community.”

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.