About & History
Saint Benedict’s Abbey is a community of Benedictine monks located on the state boarders of Wisconsin and Illinois. Our Abbey is located in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee but we serve both the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and Chicago.
St. Benedict’s Abbey was founded in 1945 by Fr. Richard Felix, OSB, a monk of Conception Abbey in Missouri. A seasoned street preacher and founder of Our Faith Press, a publisher of Catholic pamphlets, Fr. Richard’s dream was a home missionary congregation with small Benedictine monasteries evangelizing throughout the United States. After looking at dozens of locations, Fr. Richard obtained property at Benet Lake, right on the Illinois-Wisconsin border, halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, both with large Catholic populations.
The first Eucharist was celebrated at Benet Lake on March 21, 1945, and the small community began to grow. The monks engaged in farming and pastoral care, ran a Latin school for young men looking to enter the seminary after World War II, and lived the monastic life in southeast Wisconsin. The priory was raised to the rank of an abbey in 1952, and Fr. Richard was elected the first abbot.
Support for the monastic life and evangelization came many friends and benefactors through a prayer guild, which enrolled people in the Golden Book. Pastoral work and high school teaching in the smaller priories also supported the community. Abbot Richard established new priories in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio and New Mexico. Two priories became independent abbeys: Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, Massechusetts, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey, in Pecos, New Mexico. At the request of St. Pope John XXIII, the community established five missions in Latin America between the late 1950s and early 1990s. At its peak, the community of St, Benedict’s Abbey numbered 70 members. The ministries of prayer and retreat hospitality continued at Benet Lake and became more and more central to the community’s identity.
By 2010, the closing of small priories, the deaths of members and the lack of vocations had reduced the size of the community. Provisions for the future needed to be made. Abbot Edmund Boyce, OSB, began a series of conversations with Abbot Gregory Polan, OSB of Conception Abbey, the founding motherhouse.
In 2013, the communities of St. Benedict’s Abbey and Conception Abbey entered into a memo of understanding and began a process of planning for the future. In October 2014, the chapter members of St. Benedict’s Abbey voted to become dependent on Conception Abbey, and the chapter of Conception Abbey agreed to the reunification. Almost all of the Benet Lake monks transferred their monastic stability to Conception Abbey, and Fr. Patrick Caveglia, OSB, was appointed prior at Benet Lake.
Since 2014, the future has unfolded. Many of the older members of St. Benedict’s Priory have retired to St. Stephen’s Health Care Center at Conception Abbey in Missouri. A small community of Benedictine monks continues the ministries of prayer and hospitality at Benet Lake. It is hoped that younger monks will be sent from Missouri to augment the retreat staff and revitalize Benedictine life in southeast Wisconsin.