In 1846, Boniface Wimmer, a monk of the Abbey of Metten in Bavaria established the first Benedictine monastery in the United States, St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa. In 1857, responding to an appeal by the Bishop of Newark for monks to take charge of St. Mary’s Parish, which had been established in 1842 to care for the German immigrants, and to establish a monastic community, Wimmer sent three monks, who became the founding community of St Mary’s Priory. These monks and those who followed them responded energetically to the needs of the Church by staffing parishes and and by helping in neighboring ones on weekends. In 1868, responding to another urgent need, the Newark priory established a school for boys, St. Benedict's College (later called St. Benedict's Prep). As the city grew and prospered so did the monastery, becoming in 1884 an independent house, St. Mary's Abbey, under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception.
Two other monasteries were founded from Newark: St. Anselm's in Manchester,N.H. (1889) and St. Mary's in Morristown (begun in 1928.) In 1956 the title “St. Mary's Abbey” was transferred from Newark to Morristown, and in 1968, when these two became independent, the older house was re-named “Newark Abbey,” still under the patronage of Mary's Immaculate Conception. The new title represented the commitment of the monks to the city.
Today the Benedictines of Newark continue the witness of work and prayer begun over 150 years ago. The monastery church is also a parish church, and priests from the monastery serve as chaplains to St. Walburga Monastery, a community of Benedictine Sisters in Elizabeth, and help on Sundays in parishes in neighboring communities. The primary focus of the monks' common work is St. Benedict's Prep, which has revitalized and renewed itself over the years to meet the ever changing needs of the residents of Newark and its suburbs.
The monks of Newark Abbey cheerfully share with their neighbors the noise, pollution, struggles, and fears; the joys, victories, holiness, and heroism that make up life in the city. Egyptian monks of old went into the desert to "do battle against the devil" and to seek and find God there. The Newark monks do the same in the desert of a modern city with its own thirsts, mirages, and demons. The monastery becomes an oasis of spirituality for all people. Life in the City is at times bewildering. The Benedictine monk tries to be a sign of stability. He is called to be a Christian witness of peace in a society marked by racial tension and social unrest. Resisting the headlong pursuit of material goods and pleasures, he serves as a reminder of Christ's simplicity.
To read a more detailed history of Newark Abbey, click here.
Fr. Augustine's Archbishop Gerety Lecture, "Monks and the City: A Unique New Experience," relates the history of the community's relationship to the City of Newark,