Conception Abbey was founded as a Benedictine monastery in 1873 by the leaders of Engelberg Abbey, a Swiss monastery. The abbey is a member of the Swiss-American Congregation of the Benedictine Confederation. At present, there are around 60 monks who live together, staff and administer Conception Seminary College, the Printery House, as well as the Abbey Guest Center.
Backstory and Context
In 1872, an abbot on Engelberg, Switzerland, upon considering the Swiss government's current intolerance of the Benedictines, decided to accept Father Power's invitation. He chose two men, Father Frowin and Father Adelhelm Odermatt, to go as the founding members of a new community. The two men were reportedly opposites in nearly every manner. They left together in April, 1873.
Frowin became the pastor of the new parish, while Adelhelm moved into the parish house. Meanwhile, Frowin asked and received permission to start a new novitiated in Conception.
Frowin had been deeply influenced by a long friend with a Benedictine community in Beuron, Germany. That influence is visible even today at Conception in the monks' habits, liturgy, and in a collection of Beuronese murals.
Unfortunately, Adelhelm was not comfortable with Frowin's Beuronese influences. He began a letter campaign to Engelberg against Frowin's "deviant" practices. The Frowin made compromises, the relationship did not heal, and eventually Adelhelm left, founding Mount Angel Abbey (a direct translation of "Engelberg") in Oregon.
In 1881, Conception officially gained the status of "abbey," and Frowin was appointed the Abbot. He stayed in this position for over 40 years.
Through his influence, Benedictine sisters from Switzerland also came and started their own community in neighboring Clyde, MO ("The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration"). Meanwhile, under his direction, the monastery was completed in 1881 and the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in 1891.
Over time, the Conception College (today called Conception Seminary College) became the primary apostolate of the monks. Enrollment began to dwindle, however, in the 1970s, but that began to be reversed, starting in the 1990s. In the 1930s the printing of religious documents was also added as an apostolate of the monks, which is today accomplished in the Printery House.
Today the abbey provides pastors to 15 parishes across 5 different states, as well as caring for hospital, religious houses, and schools. As a religious seminary, the monks also provide guidance and direction to men considering the religious vocation.
A visit to the Abbey will provide a snapshot of life and ministry of the men who have poured their lives into the community for over a century. Tours can be arranged through the Abbey Guest House.