St. Bernard Abbey
In the 1840’s monks from Metten Abbey in Germany, a monastery founded c. 700 A.D., came to America to plant the Benedictine monastic life in the United States and to minister to the growing German-speaking immigrant population. St. Vincent’s Abbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania became the first foundation, and in the 1870’s monks from St. Vincent’s were sent to Alabama to serve the needs of German Catholics here. In 1891 those monks gathered to establish St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama.* One year later, 1892, a school was opened at the new Abbey.
At overlapping intervals from 1892 to 1979 the monks operated a high school, junior college, four-year college, and seminary. The present St. Bernard Prep School , opened in 1981, is the recipient of this Catholic educational heritage.
In 1934 the Ave Maria Grotto, the religious devotional work of St. Bernard monk, Brother Joseph Zoetl, O.S.B., was dedicated on the Abbey grounds in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This landscaped garden offers vistors a walk through the collection of Brother Joseph's miniature replicas of famous Old Testament and Christian buildings. The Grotto has welcomed visitors every day since its opening. Most famous among the miniatures are the buildings of ancient Jerusalem, thus the Grotto's popular name "Little Jerusalem".
In 1981 the monks opened the St. Bernard Abbey Conference and Hospitality Center, which welcomes religious retreat and pilgrim groups as well as Abbey guests, school groups, and others. The center provides a beautiful campus setting, meeting space, lodging, and meals for an exceptional spiritual or meeting experience. Boniface Hall, the lodging and meeting facility, has recently undergone major renovations to better welcome and accommodate guests.
The monks of St. Bernard Abbey are called Benedictines. There are approximately 8,000 Benedictine monks in the Catholic Church throughout the world, and they take the name from St. Benedict who was born in Nursia, Italy c. 480 A.D. St. Benedict wrote a rule or guide for his monastic community (Montecassino Abbey near Rome) in following the Gospel.
Benedictines still look to that rule as their guide, and it has stood the test of time for over 1,500 years. St. Benedict's rule provides the structure for a monk's life of "prayer and work" in a community of brothers united in Christ and governed by an Abbot (from the Aramaic word abba , meaning father).