Equally significant was the year 1973, the year of the first novitiate which would include candidates for the brotherhood and the priesthood. Fr. Jaime Reyes, liturgist, teacher, and theologian, was put in charge of novices Raymond Schulte (from North Carolina), Oscar Rivera (of Barranquitas), and Raphael Perez (the first native vocation of Humacao).
AN ABBEY OPENS ITS DOORS
Oscar Rivera, O.S.B. (1)
The 12th of July 1985 was a special day for the religious community of San Antonio Abad. On that day our small community of monks was granted the statue of abbey–an autonomous Benedictine house–which we celebrated with the election of our first abbot. (2) Now it is our responsibility to keep alive the calling of the Benedictine life in Puerto Rico. To the extent that we are faithful to our charism, to the common life within a balanced climate of prayer, study, and work under the abbot we have elected, we will be faithful to our history, to our people, to our world, to the Church, and to Christ our Teacher.
The Benedictines arrived in Puerto Rico in 1947 thanks to the dream of a businessman from Humacao, Don Agripino Roig. His dream was to promote the agricultural-industrial education of the youth of the area and put it under the direction of the Church. In this task he was advised by Fr. Juan Rivera, pastor of Humacao; together they consulted with the Bishop of San Juan, Jaime P. Davin, who requested a visit by the monks of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. The Abbey approved the project of Bishop Davis and Mr. Roig under the monastic concept of a foundation.
On 1 July l947, the first monks arrived in Humacao: Frs. Basil Stegmann and Julian Simon. Fr. Basil came as prior of the foundation (and died at St. John’s in 1981). Fr. Julian came as his assistant and has dedicated his whole priestly life to pastoral work in Humacao and Yabucoa (he also served as procurator of the community and as vicar of planning for the Diocese of Caguas).
The first years were difficult: these pioneers had to do everything. With the help of the Roig family (which donated 90 acres on which the Abbey is established), a monastery was built. Later a school of industrial arts with boarding facilities for young boys was added. Eventually, upon consent of the Roig family, the institution became a college preparatory school for boys from grades seven through twelve.
Many young men from the country and cities of Puerto Rico soon arrived with the idea of joining the monastic community. Only a few persevered. Of these few, Jose M. Rodriguez (Pepe) was the first to be ordained a priest. He was followed by Frs. Jaime, Raphael and Oscar, and Bros. Gregorio, Cruz, Randolph, Eduardo, Florencio, Anastacio, and Francisco (who died 18 October 1984 at the ago of 28).
Of great significance to our community was permission (on 27 April 1972) to elect our own prior. The community chose as prior, Padre Julio Schmiesing, the director of the school. Equally significant was the year 1973, the year of the first novitiate which would include candidates for the brotherhood and the priesthood. Fr. Jaime Reyes, liturgist, teacher, and theologian, was put in charge of novices Raymond Schulte (from North Carolina), Oscar Rivera (of Barranquitas), and Raphael Perez (the first native vocation of Humacao). Even more significant for our community was the year 1979: the year of the election of the first Puerto Rican prior, Fr. Jose M. Rodriguez.
What we have seen crystallizing in these last years in our common life has been the product of uniting wills, which enabled us to receive and respond to direction from the Holy Spirit. During this time the community planned for the ideal of every Benedictine foundation: monastic autonomy–arriving at self-sufficiency and engendering the monastic life where we live and in other places. Perhaps the Lord took us more seriously than we took ourselves. But thanks to the recommendation of those in Puerto Rico who guided us and thanks to the recommendation of Abbots John Eidenschink and Jerome Theisen, we petitioned St. John’s Abbey, on 11 March 1983, to grant us monastic autonomy with the status of abbey. The response was affirmative. St. John’s petitioned the Holy See and Rome responded to us on a day very significant for our country: 19 November 1983, the commemoration of Our Lady of Providence and the discovery of this island by Spain. On 12 July 1984 we would elect our first abbot, and we would become an abbey.
Our independent status is the fruit of patient, sacrificing men, men who know how to leave on our Puerto Rican soil the imprint of humble, simple service and great perseverance. Julian, Owen (prior from 1951-1967), Bernardo (who died in 1984), Felix, Eric, and Mauro (all North Americans of German, Dutch, and Irish extraction), who left country, father, mother, companions, friends, and brothers from the mother community, have sown in our soil the seed of the Benedictine life.
The providence of the Lord lives in our community; he has enriched us with monks of perseverance and has given us the vocations which we need today. We placed in his hands the election of our first abbot. We came prepared for this moment. We prayed intensely. We discussed the importance of what we were to do.
We are conscious that we are a small community with much work, but we know that we are not the principal subjects of our history. We hope in the power of the resurrection, we depend on the maternal solicitude of the Virgin Mary and on the intercession of our father Benedict.
We ask the reader to call on the Lord to guide the community of San Antonio Abad: that we might have the wisdom to listen to the one who will lead us on the road of the Gospel, the one who will act as Christ in our midst, and who will deepen in us the balanced life of prayer, study, and work so that we might be faithful to the Church.
1. Fr. Oscar Rivera was born in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, on October 16, 1950, professed on July 11, 1974, and ordained to the priesthood on May 5, 1978. He is currently serving as subprior and novice master at Abadia de San Antonio Abad. This article originally appeared in the newspaper, El Mundo on July 7, 1984. The editors thank Frs. Eric Hollas and Julian Schmiesing for their help in translating this selection. The article has been edited and does not appear in its entirety.
2. Abbot Jose Rodriguez was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, on March 19, 1922, was professed on July 11, 1959, was ordained to the priesthood on June 1, 1963, and was elected first abbot of San Antonio Abad on July 12, 1984.