Heiligenkreuz: “More monks than ever before”

You perhaps know of their famous CD. I recall meeting one of their monks in their beer garden back in the 90s – as he sat down, he set his car keys and cell phone on the table. This may not fit your image of Cistercian monasticism – but since 18th century “Josephinism,” all monastic orders in Austria have had to be active in parishes or schools in order to remain in existence. In addition to their pastoral duties, the monks of Heiligenkreuz are well-known for their reverent celebration of the liturgy in Gregorian chant.  –  Ed.

“The last time there was such a wave of young people who want to share our life was in the Middle Ages,” according to Father Karl Wallner, rector of Heiligenkreuz [Theological] College. All those entering had their first contact via internet.

On August 12, six novices make “temporary [simple] vows,” and five novices extend their vows. On August 15 – all Cistercian monasteries celebrate the Assumption of Mary as a patronal feast – seven monks will make “perpetual [solemn] vows.” On Augst 16, four monks who have already completed their [masters level] theological study will be ordained as deacons by auxiliary bishop Franz Lackner of Graz. The new deacons will be in parishes of the monastery for pastoral formation or to continue their doctoral studies. On August 19, Abbot Gregor Henckel-Donnersmarck will receive seven young men into the novitiate and clothe them.

Personnel nearly doubled

Starting August 19, there will be 88 Cistercians in Stift Heiligenkreuz. In recent years Stift Heiligenkreuz has nearly doubled its personnel, said Father Wallner. The average age is 47 years.

“Uncomplicated joy in the faith”

When asked why there are so many vocations at Heiligenkreuz, Father Karl Wallner answered calmly, “Certainly not because we became publicly well known through the CD “Chant – Music for Paradise.” Rather, the CD simply made known what has always attracted people: the solemn liturgy according to the norms of the Second Vatican Council in Gregorian Chant, uncomplicated joy in the faith, which comes from our faithful unity with the Holy Father and with the Church’s magisterium. Certainly also, because we have great unity within our community. And that we have a lively youth ministry, and that we are so open to guests and seekers,” said Father Wallner, who is also youth minister of the monastery.

First contact via Internet

Those entering all had their first contact with the monastery via internet. Pater Wallner: “Many have recounted that they virtually visited the website of the monastery several times a day, until they found the courage to visit the monastery live. Father Wallner left no doubt: “Ultimately, we ourselves are amazed at the many vocations, and we have no real explanation for it. We are very thankful to God, and we see therein a mandate to do more for him and to show to the world of today the light of Christ which reflects on the face of the Church.”

From ORF (Austrian national radio), tr. AWR.


  1. At the Cistercian Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, there has been a similar happy increase in numbers. Of the 39 monks, 18 entered before 1988. Twenty-one entered after 1988. There was a time a few years back, when the monastery barely had twenty monks. Now there are almost forty. Good news!

  2. Good for them.

    The Archdiocese of Sydney issued a similar statement a few years after George Pell became archbishop, saying how the number of seminarians had not been so big in so mnay years, and citing ‘faithfulness to the magisterium’ and all the other buzzwords meaning ‘this is a direct result of Pell having restored true Catholicism.’

    A few years passed. Most of the guys didn’t ‘persevere’ to ordination, and of the three who did, one was publicly branded as ‘delusional’ by Pell within 12 months of his having ordained him – http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/03/08/1204780125702.html – and it gets even more weird when you read the report prepared for Pell’s archdiocesan newspaper when he was about to ordain the guy: http://www.catholicweekly.com.au/article.php?classID=3&subclassID=44&articleID=3059&class=Features&subclass=Feature%20articles – ‘For Richard Abourjaily, truth was a key determinant in his view of his calling and an expression of his faith – his biggest commitment to his parishioners.’!!!

    So, good for the Cistercians of Heiligenkreuz, and here’s hoping they all persevere happily, but let’s not ‘count chickens before they hatch’ – someone (Anthony Ruff?) make a mental note and set the alarm clock to re-visit this place, and their numbers, in, say, 5 years time!

  3. I suspect what draws them to this monastery are some of the same things that draws hoards of young women to the Nashville Dominicans and other orders like them. Tradition, joy, habit, sense of belonging to a community rather than angry individualists and common belief and lifestyle. What a throw back! Or should I say a push forward?

    1. Indeed! Those orders such as the Nashville Dominicans who have remained faithful to what the Church asks religious to do are thriving. Those who haven’t are dying. Let’s hope the trend continues, and may the Apostolic Visitation of Women Religious in the United States have a positive impact the revivial of those communities who have experienced such a severe decline since Vatican II.

  4. Rather, the CD simply made known what has always attracted people: the solemn liturgy according to the norms of the Second Vatican Council in Gregorian Chant, uncomplicated joy in the faith, which comes from our faithful unity with the Holy Father and with the Church’s magisterium.

    Now there’s some serious food for thought…

  5. Sociologically speaking, there is the issue of “critical mass” – both the Heiligenkreuz and Nashville religious have it. It allows them to attract members easily and isn’t necessarily tied to their ecclesial vision. Critical mass isn’t something american parishes or religious have figured out I think in terms of applying it to institutional management and planning.

  6. J Thomas, or anyone, please explain the issue of critical mass, to a simple organist, choir director. Sounds interesting.

  7. Earle;

    Maybe a simplification, but it’s much like the reason why people are always willing to join a choir that already has 50 members, and less likely to join one that only has 5 members. The 50 member group has a “critical mass” of participants.

    What the above comment doesn’t explain is why these specific groups have this “critical Mass”? What attracted the current members to begin with? I don’t necessarily agree with this idea… I think it is demonstrable that very “traditional” orders are showing a surge in vocations while less traditional orders are in decline.

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