St. Anselm Abbey Manchester, New Hampshire, United States
During 2016, as Saint Anselm Abbey celebrates the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, it’s a safe bet attention will be focused on the mercy that is at the heart of the monastery’s primary worship space. The abbey church, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, has served monks, students, faculty, staff, neighbors and visitors from throughout New England and beyond, and is located in Goffstown, NH, just outside Manchester, the Granite State’s largest city.
Most members of the wider Saint Anselm community know that it is to the abbey church that the Benedictine monks repair each day for the Divine Office and the celebration of the Eucharist. But the abbey church also opens its wide embrace to the families of deceased alumni and faculty members, welcomes couples renewing their nuptial vows from throughout the state, receives students back from a 140-mile charity walk from Maine, provides a safe, silent haven for students in distress, glows in the candlelight of services to remember the dead and pray for those diagnosed with cancer and celebrates the arrival of Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with hundreds of food baskets and vibrates with applause during honors convocation. When disasters, tragedies and losses hit individuals, the campus community or the nation as a whole, it is to the abbey church that one can see students streaming for prayer, Mass or reflection.
On a campus busy with the academic life of young people, the abbey church rises up as an enduring and inspiring example of God’s mercy each and every day. As with every monastic community, the monks of Saint Anselm see their church as the centerpiece of their world and the anchor of their day.
They conduct Saint Anselm College, a nationally ranked liberal arts college for nearly 2,000 undergraduates. The abbey church, with its striking round contemporary shape and its soaring stainless steel spire, is the first major building first-time visitors find. It wasn’t always that way.
Designed by the late Manchester architect Nicholas Isaak, AIA, the abbey church responds to the brick architecture of the campus and echoes the old New England mill environment of the Manchester community. Its soaring arches, brilliant nonfigurative stained glass, and wood and stone features balance light and darkness and focus attention on the brilliant white marble altar.
Abbot Mark A. Cooper, O.S.B., fifth abbot of Saint Anselm, and his nearly 30 monks have three major apostolates: a college, a parish and a preparatory school in California. At present, the abbey has one novice, two juniors and one solemnly professed monk preparing for priestly ordination.
Saint Anselm College, founded in 1889, the year after the Benedictines first arrived in New Hampshire from Saint Mary’s Abbey in Newark, NJ, provides all students with “Conversatio,” a strong year-long program in the humanities, as well as a strong core curriculum. A total of 42 majors and 22 minors are available to students. The college also is home to the New Hampshire Institute for Politics and the Institute for Saint Anselm Studies, a center dedicated to researching and promoting the thought of the college’s patron Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). Apart from prayer and regular financial support for AIM, the community frequently supports the education at Saint Anselm of monks from communities in the developing world.
Saint Raphael Parish, founded in 1888, is the first Benedictine foundation in New England. More than 500 families and 2,500 individuals comprise the parish, located in West Manchester, less than two miles “down the hill” from the abbey. Saint Benedict Academy, on the parish campus, operates on a pre-K through Grade 6 model with about 140 students.
The monastic community also operates Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley, CA. The West Coast effort began in 1975 with a pilot year of affiliation. In 1976 Saint Anselm Abbey assumed responsibility for the California monastery and school founded in 1957 by members of the Hungarian Congregation of the Order of Saint Benedict, who sought to escape communism at home. Woodside has 350 students in Grades 6 to 12.
When the monks of Saint Anselm assemble at the altar, they gather around Christ, the fullest expression of the mercy of the Eternal Father. But they also bear within themselves Christ and individually help make up the Mystical Body. Together, under the Rule of Saint Benedict and their abbot, they strive each day to seek God, encountering him in prayer and work so “that in all things God may be glorified.” (1 Pet 4:11; RB 57:9)