St. Bernard Abbey to celebrate 125th anniversary; 4 days of festivities planned Sept. 23-26

By: ,
Joyce Nix

Photo: St. Bernard students Ben Swalley and Eli Michelfelder take advantage of the lobby in the new Liberal Arts Center at St. Bernard Prep.


CULLMAN –  St. Bernard Abbey will celebrate 125 years of service to the North Alabama community with a four-day weekend of festivities in Cullman, Sept. 23-26.

Just four years after German-speaking monks from Pennsylvania arrived in Cullman in 1887, St. Bernard Abbey became a major center of Catholic ministry and education.

St. Bernard’s history is linked to Metten Abbey in Germany, which sent monks to America to plant the Benedictine monastic life and to minister to a growing German-speaking immigrant population in the 1840s.  St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, became the first foundation in the 1870s, and was instrumental in the founding of St. Bernard Abbey.

When St. Bernard Abbey was founded in 1891, Abbot Benedict Menges, O.S.B. was elected to be the first abbot.  Twelve monks from Pennsylvania volunteered to become founding members of the abbey in Alabama, including six priests, four brothers and two monks preparing for ordination to the priesthood.

The following year St. Bernard College began classes with 59 boys enrolled in grades 6-12.  As was the custom at the time, the secondary school was called a college.  The school thrived, and in 1929 St. Bernard Junior College was added, offering the first two years of the bachelor’s degree.

In 1955 St. Bernard College was established as a four-year liberal arts degree institution. The focus on the college program led to the closing of the high school in 1962.  In time, the college merged with Sacred Heart Junior College to become Southern Benedictine College.  This closed in 1979.

Due to the efforts of three alumni, the Benedictine community, under the leadership of Abbot Hilary Dreaper, agreed to re-open the high school in 1984 as St. Bernard Preparatory School, a co-educational institution offering classes for day students and boarders.   In 2007 a middle school program was added for sixth and seventh grades.

“The monks of St. Bernard are grateful to God for these 125 years of ministry in Alabama,” said Fr. Marcus Voss, director of development.  “We thank the Lord for his blessings that have given us the opportunity to serve so many people who have become a part of our Benedictine family.  With God’s help and the support of those who love St. Bernard, we look forward to many more years of service.” 

A focus of the celebration will be the dedication of the Liberal Arts Center in the newly-restored Heidrich Library.  The building, which had been a campus hub during the college years, sat vacant for over 30 years.  The expanding needs of the school led to its restoration during the past year, and it now provides ample library space, study areas, a board room and eight classrooms.  It also includes the holdings of the Abbey library with its rare book collection.

On Friday evening, Sept. 23, a wine and cheese party in the Abbey Byre will begin the festivities.  The next day, Saturday, will offer a full program, including presentations at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.  Guests are invited to enjoy a 5K run through the established trails in the Abbey forest, or to take a walking tour of the Abbey church and facilities under the direction of Fr. Joel Martin, president of St. Bernard.

Activities for families are planned on Saturday beginning at 11 a.m.  A picnic luncheon of hot dogs, chips, etc. will be served, with old-fashioned fun activities following the meal.  Families are encouraged to bring blankets and enjoy the festivities ($10 per person; $25 per family).

An evening gala will round out the day with dinner, dancing and a silent auction in the Fazi-Richard Athletic Center.  Following a reception at 5 p.m., dinner will be provided by Old Town Stock House with entertainment by the St. Bernard Jazz Band.  The $100 per plate dinner benefits the education fund of the monks at St. Bernard Abbey.

On Sunday, St. Bernard Preparatory School invites the public to attend the ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony of the Liberal Arts Center in the Heidrich Library at 2:30 p.m.   Guests may take a tour of the facility and enjoy refreshments with staff and students.  At 7 p.m. the choral music department will present a sacred music concert in the Abbey Church.

On Monday, Sept. 26, St. Bernard will hold its annual celebration of Benefactors’ Day.  Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. followed by a luncheon in the St. Bernard Dining Hall.

To register for programs during the anniversary weekend, visit and click the 125th Anniversary link on the website, or call 256-734-8291 for more information.