Saint Vincent Celebrates Founder
In the 1860s, St. Vincent Archabbot Boniface Wimmer faced crisis after crisis.
Internal disputes over the expansion of the archabbey he founded in 1846 near Latrobe were rampant. A barn burned. Crops failed. And Wimmer was desperately trying to provide financial help to the other abbeys he founded throughout the United States.
But he had hope.
“Man’s adversity is God’s opportunity,” he wrote in a letter at the time, said current St. Vincent Archabbot Douglas Nowicki. “I think that really sums Wimmer up in a beautiful way. He saw problems really as opportunities.”
To mark his bicentennial this year, St. Vincent Archabbey will honor Wimmer’s influence on not only its founding but on the Catholic Benedictine community throughout the Untied States.
Members of the community will look back on the life of a man who was always looking forward.
The celebration will kick off on Jan. 14 (2009)– 200 years after Wimmer was born in Germany.
Abbot Notker Wolf, the abbot primate of the Benedictine order, will be the keynote speaker for the opening ceremonies of the bicentennial celebration during a vespers service at 7 p.m. Wednesday in St. Vincent Basilica.
Wolf, a native of Germany, serves as the representative of the Benedictine order in Rome. The order consists of monasteries of 8,500 men and 16,500 women worldwide.
St. Vincent Archabbey, which Wimmer founded in 1846, is the largest Benedictine monastery in the world.
It started with a simple plan — to train German immigrants for the priesthood so that they could pastor their afflicted brethren, Nowicki said.
“I think the thing that attracted him to the United States was the plight of the immigrants,” Nowicki said. “Many of them expected to have much better economic conditions, but when they came, they realized there was no welcome wagon to greet them. There was a lot of hostility toward them.”
In 1846, Wimmer led 18 novices to the United States, with plans to build their community in Carroltown, Cambria County.
“They realized the area simply wasn’t good for farming,” Nowicki said. “There were too many tree stumps, too many rocks. It was hilly.”
So Wimmer approached the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which offered the St. Vincent Parish near Latrobe and its buildings and land for the mission.
He arrived at St. Vincent Oct. 18, 1846, where he would establish the archabbey, college and seminary.
While his initial plan was to train young men of German descent for the priesthood, Wimmer quickly had to alter that vision.
There were other immigrant groups that needed help. The Pittsburgh bishop needed priests trained for his diocese. Young men wanted to be educated but did not want to enter monastic or priestly life.
“To Wimmer’s credit, he knew that if they had an education, that education would give them the skills to make America grow,” Nowicki said. “He valued education very highly, and I think saw that as a key in integrating people in society.”
As St. Vincent grew, Wimmer was not content to remain in the Latrobe area. He started Benedictine communities in such far-flung places as Minnesota, Kansas, New Jersey and North Carolina.
Before his death in 1887, Wimmer established seven abbeys, 150 parishes and 75 schools in America. Wimmer’s legacy includes 11 abbeys that operate colleges and 11 abbeys or priories that operate secondary schools.
“Wherever there was a need, he was able to reach out and respond,” Nowicki said.
By Jennifer Reeger, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Honoring the founder
A number of events are planned to celebrate the bicentennial of St. Vincent founder Boniface Wimmer.
— Abbot Notker Wolf, the abbot primate of the Benedictine order, will be the keynote speaker for the opening ceremonies of the bicentennial celebration during a Vespers service at 7 p.m. Jan. 14 at St. Vincent Basilica. A reception will follow in the community center;
— Jerome Oetgen, editor of the recently published book, “Boniface Wimmer: Letters of an American Abbot,” will offer the Threshold Lecture March 19 at the Robert S. Carey Student Center auditorium;
— A delegation from Wimmer’s hometown in Germany have been invited to visit St. Vincent in July, which will include a Solemnity of St. Benedict ceremony tentatively scheduled for July 11;
— Archbishop Reinhard Marx of Munich is set to preside at the Mass on the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul on Sept. 27;
— Cardinal Justin Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia, will be the principal celebrant of the closing ceremonies and Founders’ Day Mass Nov. 19 at St. Vincent Basilica. A “Wimmerfest” Dinner will follow.
About the writer
Jennifer Reeger is a Tribune-Review staff writer and can be reached at 724-836-6155 or via e-mail.