St. Benedict’s Life, From Norcia to Atchison

For Benedictines, March 21 is the Solemnity of the Passing of the Holy Father Benedict, a man who transformed culture, all the way from Norcia, Italy … to Atchison, Kansas.

Not only was St. Benedict a “fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture,” according to Benedict XVI — a “luminous star … in the black night of history” — he was also a key figure in the creation of Atchison, Kansas.

The centerpiece of the Haverty Center at Benedictine College is the mural titled “The Development of Atchison Around the Benedictine Community” and was done by Anthony Benton Gude, grandson of Thomas Hart Benton.

What could possibly make St. Benedict and his twin sister, St. Scholastica, key figures amid the trains, factories and steamboats depicted on the mural?

It all started when a Benedictine monk on a mission, Father Henry Lemke, experienced a miracle of the Blessed Mother near where campus is located today. Watch Lemke: A Founder’s Miracle and the video above for that story.

The book Kansas Monks by Benedictine Father Peter Beckman tells more of the story. It explains how General Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, an Episcopalian former Confederate, donated a plot of ground to the monks because he wanted Atchison to grow and he knew that they would build a Church and a school.

He was right. They did. They attracted knew people to town and changed the character of the city to something very different from Stringfellows’s own pro-slavery views.

“Benedictine College is built on a heritage of transformation,” said Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis. “The Benedictine order has been one of the most significant agents of transformative change in the history of Western Civilization.”

As to Atchison, “Not only was this the lonely and remote edge of the Western frontier, plagued by natural disasters, hordes of voracious insects, and deadly epidemics; it also was the focus of the increasingly violent run-up to the Civil War,” he said. Yet “Through quiet, persistent pursuit of God’s glory, [Benedictines] educated bishops, abbots, prioresses; they educated doctors, bank presidents, judges, college presidents, and entrepreneurs.”

So on this feast of St. Benedict, thank God and St. Benedict for Western Civilization — and for Atchison, Kansas.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.