On August 05, 1860 a Benedictine, Fr. Leonard Meyer, OSB, set foot in Richmond from Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He was sent to staff St. Mary’s parish that was located at Fourth and Marshall Streets. Since 1860, the monks established and staffed a number of parishes in the Richmond Diocese, the last one being St. Benedict parish that was later handed over to the Diocese in 1999.
The Bishop Van de Vyver of Richmond granted permission to monks to establish a military high school for boys along with a parish in the West End of Richmond on January 10, 1910. This marked a major step toward establishing the Saint Benedict Priory and monks were living in the school building. Belmont Abbey in North Carolina assumed sponsorship of the school and provided monks. In 1911, the monks opened Benedictine College (a.k.a. Benedictine College Preparatory) for boys with a mission “to form Christian young men of conscience, discipline, achievement.”
In 1923, a parochial school was established as an addition to the parish. The parochial school was conducted by the Benedictine Sisters. In 1924, the priory building was built, establishing a structure for monastic community life. The Saint Benedict parish church was completed and dedicated in 1928. In 1950 a gymnasium was built for the school. By 1960, Benedictine College began offering evening college courses, allowing an opportunity for a Benedictine education from grade school to college level. Monks who served in the school and parish formed the monastic community in Richmond.
On August 31, 1988, the monks of Richmond petitioned for independence from Belmont Abbey. The monastic chapter of Belmont Abbey approved the petition on April 10, 1989 followed by a special visitation on April 19th in preparation of the Priory’s independence. On June 08, 1989 the General Chapter of the American-Cassinese Congregation granted St. Benedict Priory canonical autonomy raising it to status of an independent monastery under the patronage of Mary Mother of the Church Abbey. This move meant that the monks of Richmond have the right to define and shape their destiny as a monastic community serving the Church in Virginia. On June 18, 1989 monks elected Abbot Benedict McDermott, OSB as their first Abbot, and subsequently confirmed.
In 1993 the monks purchased a 50 acre parcel of land and associated buildings in the rural Goochland County located at 12829 River Road from the Bishop of Richmond. The facility was formerly a minor seminary built in 1960 for the Diocese of Richmond, which ceased operations in 1976.
The main attraction to the property was the rural setting of the area making it conducive for a contemplative monastic environment. Since the facility was originally built for a high school minor seminary, it was prime space for our college preparatory school. At the time, a major highway (Route 288) was being planned with a forecast to draw more traffic via the property making it a strategic location for the abbey and school to grow.
The purchase of the Goochland property was a first step to shaping a long-term vision of an integrated campus of the monastery and school. This 50 acre parcel of land would allow space to grow as opposed to the less than two acres located at North Sheppard street location in the city. The Abbey moved first to Goochland to prepare for the eventual move of the school to the same campus.
The next step to the long-term vision was to build new monastery in the back of the property overlooking the James River. Monks moving to this new monastery building would open up space in the current facility for the school to occupy and grow.
In January 1994 the monastic community moved to the new Abbey on River Road, completing phase I of the vision.
In preparation for the move of the school, athletic facilities were built on the Abbey campus in year 2000 to provide space for various sports programs.
In 2010, the monks sold the North Shepherd street property to the Diocese of Richmond. The funds from the sale were used to retire debts from the school and to renovate the Abbey facility into a first class college preparatory campus.
After a long struggle the school was finally moved to the Abbey campus for the fall of 2013-2014 academic year. The official move ceremonies were celebrated on September 6, 2013.
The school continues to lease the gym at the North Shepherd street facility. A fundraising campaign is underway to construct a new sports center including a gym and other facilities on the Abbey campus.