This is a brief introduction to the history of our Abbey. We have lived on our monastery hill in Oceanside, CA for almost fifty years! Our beginnings are rooted in Benedictine monastic tradition which is nearly fifteen hundred years old which is fresh and alive to this day. The history of St. Benedict and the Benedictine Order is beyond the scope of our humble web site but the reader is encouraged to visit our library or speak to a monk or just pray with us to learn more about us than we can reveal here.
Prince of Peace Abbey is located in North San Diego County, CA about two miles east of the Pacific Ocean. It sits on a hill bordered to the North by Camp Pendleton; to the South by Oceanside Municipal Airport and Highway 76. In this area of coastal vegetation one can also find scrub oak, cactus, sage, milkweed, bougainvillea, oleander, pine, eucalyptus, palm and olive trees. The wildlife consists of rabbits, squirrels, bobcats, opossums, raccoons, and coyotes. There are red hawks, ravens, hummingbirds and a pair of owls. Egrets are found along the San Luis Rey River just at the bottom of the hill.
The abbey church was so constructed as to allow a panoramic view of the ocean from the pews and choir stalls. The monks' cells also have a view of the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes the winter rains would bring flash flooding to the river valley, submerging or washing out the abbey's bridge and making the abbey a very peaceful island until the water subsided.
Our property was discovered by monks who were invited by the former bishop of San Diego, Bishop Charles Buddy, to establish a sanctuary of prayer and worship. Monks from St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana answered the call in 1957 to find a piece of property. They resided in a home in Riverside before finding the present site.
St. Meinrad's was founded by monks from Einsiedeln, Switzerland in 1854. (That makes Prince of Peace Abbey the grand-daughter house of Our Lady of Einsiedeln Abbey.) When a monastery makes a new foundation, it is called a "Conventual Priory" which is attached to the mother house because of its financial, spiritual and personnel dependence. The head of this new foundation is called a Prior. If it can stand on its own feet, it becomes an "Independent Priory." With more growth in vocations and finances, it can be elevated to an Abbey with its elected leader named as Abbot. The Priory was first named St. Charles Priory after its patron, St. Charles Borromeo because this saint was so devoted to the Church and the liturgy. When it was elevated to an Abbey it was renamed, Prince of Peace Abbey.
The physical plant comprising the monastery has been under construction since its beginning in 1958. At first there was only a small one-bedroom ranch house on the site. So the monks lived in town and came up to the site each day to build more rooms and a chapel. In 1960 "the East Wing" consisting of 7 rooms and a set of showers was attached to the original ranch house. Shop buildings were built of brick in 1961. The ranch house served as a kitchen, refectory and brothers' oratory. By the mid sixties, when the Divine Office was prayed in English, the brothers and fathers prayed the office together in the chapel.
As the community grew, so too the number of rooms to house them. By 1965 the cafeteria, kitchen, north wing, ten retreat rooms, small library, gift shop and porter's office were added to the physical plant. At times, donated trailers were used for monks' cells and later for storage. Five years later a bakery was added next to the kitchen.
In 1980 the construction of the abbey church began. The church was designed by the renowned architect/artist, Fr. Gabriel Chávez de la Mora, OSB. It was completed in 1987 entirely on donations from our friends. This building included the new library. The monks' cemetery was marked out in the shadow of the church. Thirty monks' cells were constructed immediately following the completion of the church. There are six cells to a building. The novitiate was then constructed with eight rooms.
By 1986 the switch-back dirt road was finally paved. When highway 76 was being widened the abbey was fortunate to acquire an airplane hanger which is used for storage. By 1998 it was time to remodel the north wing for retreatants' rooms. The Chapter House, Recreation Room and Novitiate Classrooms were completed in 2002. In 2003 the first section of the East Wing was torn down and a new South wing was constructed. This latter part of the building program has just been completed and includes a new Porter's Office, gift shop and lobby.
Fr. Cornelius Waldo finished his military career while in California. He had been a chaplain and served in parishes in San Diego Diocese. Bishop Charles Buddy knew Fr. Cornelius. It was through this connection that Bishop Buddy asked St. Meinrad Archabbey to make a foundation in his diocese.
The first set of monks to begin this foundation in Riverside was comprised of: Fr. Cornelius Waldo, Fr. Rudolph Siedling, Fr. Nicholas Schmidt, Fr. Bede Jamieson, Br. Xavier McGough and Br. Ivo Staples. Fr. Rudolph was the first prior. Soon afterward Fr. Bernardine Shine and Fr. Luke Dougherty came from St. Meinrad Archabbey and lived in Oceanside driving each day to the monastery site to help with the construction of the new buildings. By 1961 the members were: Fr. Prior Rudolph Siedling, Fr. Bernardine Shine; Fr. Maurus Ohligslager, Fr. Cornelius Waldo, Br. Benno Garrity, Fr. Nicholas Schmidt, Fr. Ambrose Frey, Fr. Bede Jamieson, Fr. Luke Dougherty, Br. Rene Bouillon, Br. Charles De Sutter.
In 1961 Fr. Claude Ehringer became a permanent member of St. Charles Priory. (He would be elected as the first Abbot in 1983.) That December Br. Joseph Black was the first person to make his profession at St. Charles. Frater Charles Wright (now Abbot Charles, our second Abbot) became the first vocation for the priesthood for St. Charles Priory.
While the Priory was being constructed many monks moved back and forth from St. Meinrad to St. Charles in obedience to the abbot of St. Meinrad. When the monastery became an independent priory the monks had to decide whether they were going to change their vow of stability to St. Charles Priory or return to their original abbey, St. Meinrad Archabbey. Only one returned to Indiana for health reasons. All the original founding members of our abbey are now deceased except for Br. Xavier and Br. Ivo.
God continues to bless the abbey with items some people can't use and others really need. We have assisted migrant workers, the families of the military, the local poor and the poor in Tijuana. For our first 30 years we survived without any solicited donations.
With the assistance of some lay men, Br. Benno Garrity, OSB (1910-1992) the abbey's cook, baked 350 loaves of bread every Wednesday. These loaves were given to the stores who had helped Br. Benno's work in aiding the poor, to the people who donated materials for him to give to the poor AND to give to the poor directly. For years Br. Benno would drive to the local markets and farms, pick up edible vegetables, fruits and pastries and deliver them to the working poor or to a senior citizens center. Food that was left over went to a milk farm to "slop the hogs" and many times he would return to the abbey late at night with gallons of milk in the truck. After a few hours of sleep, he'd be ready to start the new day cooking for the monks and feeding the poor at night.
Charitable work is not for one person. We are all called to share our time, talents and goods but most of us need an "engine" to set us in motion. Br. Benno was that engine for many. We all got drawn into his projects. A couple who owned a business in Oceanside were so impressed with his work that they started a soup kitchen so that they could feed poor transients under Br. Benno's name. Br. Benno would leave much of his collected food and items at this house. Volunteers came to assist in the cooking and clean-up. Eventually, when this couple retired, they converted their office building which was located near the abbey to continue their work in assisting Br. Benno. Soon afterwrd, the Br. Benno Foundation was formed and the abbot serves on its Board of Directors. The abbey continues networking with the following groups: Women's Help Line; Ecumenical Food Bank, Br. Benno's Center.
For more information view: http://www.brotherbenno.org