Subiaco Celebrates 135 Years in the River Valley

March 1, 2013 | By More

The church bells of Subiaco Abbey and Academy will ring with joy on March 15, 2013 in celebration of the Abbey’s 135th anniversary.   

Subiaco is a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery named after a cave in Subiaco, Italy, where St. Benedict lived during the 6th century. As a religious order of independent monastic communities, Benedictines follow the 1500 year old “Rule of St Benedict,” a set of community rules for monastic life balanced by prayer, work and service to others.

The Abbey itself is postcard lovely with beautiful sandstone buildings, a large Romanesque style church with tall bell tower, Abbey building with spacious interior courtyard reminiscent of an Italian villa and manicured park-like grounds. Magnificent stained glass windows imported from Germany and Italian marble throughout the church also give visitors the sense of a grand European Cathedral. But the property is still uniquely Arkansas. The buildings are made of native sandstone quarried from Abbey property and thousands of hours of work by local craftsmen went into building this Arkansas Historic Landmark.

The view from the Abbey perched on a ridge overlooking the pastoral valley below is inspiring no matter what Arkansas weather brings. Everyone is welcome to make an appointment to tour the impressive grounds or enjoy several free concerts and a literary symposium, no appointment needed.

History of Subiaco Academy 

As impressive as Subiaco is today, the Abbey began in a humble log cabin built in 1878 by three Swiss Benedictine monks who came to set up a headquarters to minister to the growing Catholic population in the rural River Valley. During the 1870’s and into the 1890’s there was a substantial German/Swiss migration to the River Valley because of its similarity to the micro-climate of their homeland and proximity to the newly operating Little Rock-Fort Smith Railroad Company(now part of the Union Pacific line).

At that time, the railroad had 1 million acres of unused land between Little Rock and Fort Smith. The railroad had targeted German Catholic farmers as potential buyers because they were generally successful and had money to purchase property so the railroad marketed to this group. Their advertising campaign worked so well it brought thousands of German and Swiss Catholics to the River Valley, according to Father Hugh Assenmacher, O.S.B. who wrote A Place Called Subiaco: A History of the Benedictine Monks of Arkansas.

One thing these German Catholics settlers wanted was a parish church nearby, so the railroad approached a Benedictine Abbey in Indiana to send German speaking monks to set up a self-supporting abbey to minister to thesesettlers,saidFr.Hugh.Therailroadgave the Benedictines a land grant of 640 acres, and in 1878, three recently arrived Swiss born (and German speaking) Benedictine monks arrived. The monks immediately went to work building a simple log cabin church and monastery headquarters on the “ridges” south on Highway 22 in Logan County. From these humble beginnings, Subiaco would eventually minister to 25 Catholic parishes throughout the River Valley, he added.

About 10 years after the monks established their Abbey, they opened St. Benedict College in 1887 to educate young men between the ages of 14 and 20 in the basic humanities. Unfortunately, there were never more than 20 students in this school and it was terminated in the summer of 1892. But, as monks committed to a higher calling, they quickly reorganized their educational project and by the fall had reopened the school as the Scholasticate, a seminary to train students for the ministry. By the turn of the century, the facility had 70 students, but the wooden structure was largely destroyed by fire in 1901.

By the spring of 1902, the school reopened as Subiaco College in its present location north of Highway 22 in a stone building that had already been under construction when the 1901 fire occurred. This school comprised a six- year program, still modeled on European lines, with three courses of study: classical, scientific, and commercial. Until the First World War, numerous additional monks and recruits from Switzerland strengthened this educational tradition and by the mid-1920s, enrollment stood at over 200 young men.

In December 1927, the institution was again destroyed by fire, but a school, Subiaco Academy, was reopened in February 1928, in what was left of the main building. This school barely survived the Depression Years but, during World War II, enrollment soared again and after WWII ended, Subiaco Academy was able to begin expanding its facilities. In addition to its impressive architecture, the facility maintains a large Angus herd, a vineyard, vegetable gardens, and a habanero patch used to make two types of hot Monk Sauce. Abbey Brittle, a peanut brittle made onsite, is also sold at the Abbey’s gift shop in Coury House, the Abbey’s welcome center and guest retreat center.

The future of Subiaco Abbey looks bright too. Today, Subiaco Abbey has 41 Benedictine monks in its monastery and 180 students at the Academy. The Academy is unique in the state of Arkansas because it is the only such Catholic boarding school. The vast majority of students board at the school and almost half of these young men come from outside the state as well as from several foreign countries.

With its peaceful beauty and heavenly purpose, Subiaco will undoubtedly continue to attract people from all over the world to this rural corner of the River Valley.

For more information about Subiaco or to purchase Monk Sauce or Abbey Brittle go to www.subi.org. or call (479) 934-1001.

 

 

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