Information on Catholic and Benedictine life

Why are they called Benedictines?

  • Benedictines were founded by Saint Benedict of Nursia of Italy. The date of his birth is 480, he wrote the Rule for Monasteries, also called the Rule of Saint Benedict in about 540.
  • He was influenced by Christian monks and hermits in Egypt.
  • The formal name is the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB).
  • The Rule of Saint Benedict became the officially approved guide for monasteries in Europe around the time of Charlemagne (800s).
  • Monasteries became wealthy and complacent. Reforms of the Benedictines happened in the 1000s (11th century)- Carthusians, Camoldolese, Cistercians. These still exist today, but are not as numerous as the Benedictines.
  • There are a variety of congregations of Benedictines, groups of monasteries somewhat related to each other (perhaps founded by the same mother house). There are two major congregations of Benedictine monasteries in the U.S. with about 15 in the Swiss-American Congregation (founded and descended from two monasteries in Switzerland that came to the U.S. about 1850) and the American-Cassinese Congregation (founded from a visionary Benedictine, Boniface Wimmer, from Bavaria who came to the U.S. in about 1850). Saint Martin’s belongs to the American-Cassinese Congregation because it was founded by Saint John’s in Minnesota which was founded by Saint Vincent in Pennsylvania which was the original monastery founded in the U.S. by Boniface Wimmer of Bavaria.

What is the Rule of Saint Benedict?

  • It is sometimes shortened as “RB.”
  • It was originally written in Latin, and has been translated in many languages.
  • The RB has 73 chapters of various lengths on spiritual topics such as obedience and humility. He emphasizes silence. He talks about specific prayers to be said, mostly from the book of Psalms from the Bible. He talks about practical matters like certain monks assigned to do certain things, who should do the dishes, who should ring the bells for prayer, how many possessions monks should have…
  • There are probably a few copies of the RB in the O’Grady Library and can be found easily online. It is helpful to have a commentary with the RB itself.
  • The RB provides a model for Benedictine life, but these have also been filtered through a document called "constitutions and directories" which are more specific and practical guidelines for governing monasteries.
Interrelated terminology
Benedictine One who belongs to the Order of Saint Benedict and follows the religious life according to the Rule of Saint Benedict. Women also belong to the Order of Saint Benedict and have O.S.B. after their names and live according to the RB.
Monk One who lives a monastic life, or communal religious life. Buddhists living communal religious lives are also monks. The RB is a Rule for Monasteries. All Benedictines are monks. The Benedictines are a monastic order.
Brother Title for a man who has taken vows to live the religious life in a particular community.
Father Title for a man who has been ordained to the priesthood. The title of father supersedes that of brother when a brother becomes a priest.
Priest Man who has gone through four years of seminary training and been ordained formally by a bishop for the sacramental ministry of celebrating the Eucharist, baptisms, hearing confessions, weddings, etc… Some monks are also priests, some monks are not priests. Not all priests are monks or belong to religious orders. All priests must have a superior, if they do not belong to a religious order, their superior must be a bishop (or archbishop).
Benedictine life Benedictine life is a specific form of monastic life - one that follows the Rule of Saint Benedict.
Monastic life A life of living together in community, sharing resources, food, housing, common work, gathering for prayer together, meals together, decisions together. Monasticism is also found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and maybe Islam? It is only a small part of Christianity. Benedictines are the largest monastic order in Catholicism (remember, the Rule of Benedict was given official approval in the time of Charlemagne).
Religious order Organization within the Catholic Church of men or women committed to live a certain kind of organized spirituality- a communal life, a life of common prayer, a life of ministry to the poor, a life of ministry through teaching. They were usually founded by someone with a vision for spiritual life - Saint Francis, Saint Ignatius, etc…


Stages of formation
Stage Name Time period Activities, expectations
Candidacy Candidate No particular amount of time. Saint Martin’s focuses on men at or below the age of 40. Make contact with vocation director, visit the monastery. Fill out application.
Postulancy Postulant Six months, often beginning in the summer (after graduations in recent cases). Move into the monastery and live monastic life. May take classes in university. Usually manual work around monastery.
Novitiate Novice Recently begins with a ceremony on January 1. Lasts one year and one day, according to canon law requirements. Limited interaction with outside world, even the university. TV and telephone restrictions (one call per month). Takes a religious name at the beginning - gives three choices from which the abbot chooses one. Classes in the monastery on Psalms, RB, Benedictine history, church fathers. Manual work around monastery
Juniorate Junior Begins with taking of first vows or simple vows. Three years of annual renewable vows. Monk may be given work in the university. Lives monastic life according to the rest of the monastery, but has not made a final commitment and may not be given official positions in the monastery. Also limitations on outside travel.
(Full monastic life, no formal title) Senior monk or capitular (not commonly used) Begins with the taking of solemn vows or final vows, the life-commitment to monastic life. Monk may now go on for further education-to be used in the university or for training in the priesthood.

What vows do the Benedictines take?

The RB itself states that monks should take the vow of obedience (to the abbot and community), stability (to stay with one monastery for life) and conversion of life (to live one’s life according to the RB).