Belmont Abbey graduates celebrate their moment in time - Column: The noble Belmont Abbey basilica
Column: The noble Belmont Abbey basilica
April 21, 1876, was a day of historical and religious significance. Benedictine Father Herman Wolfe arrived at the Caldwell Plantation in the town of Garibaldi, known today as Belmont, from St. Vincent Abbey in Latrobe, Penn. He was accompanied by two students, Harry Plageman and Anthony Lauman. Father J.J. O'Connell had generously donated the 500-acre Caldwell Plantation to the St. Vincent's Abbey for education and God's service. Immediately upon arrival at the farm, Father Wolfe founded the monastery and named it Mary Help of Christians. Having no means to build a church, Father Wolfe converted a room in the farmhouse as the chapel. On April 22, 1876, Father Wolfe celebrated the monastery's first Mass, praying that this sacrifice would never be interrupted here.
The lack of resources hindered the building of a church. In 1877, a humble chapel of frame and board was constructed and daily prayers were offered at this chapel for many years to come. Benedictine Abbot Leo Haid, the first abbot of Mary Help of Christians Abbey, and Benedictine Father Felix Michael Hintemeyer worked tirelessly and selflessly to raise money. They broke ground for a new chapel on March 21, 1892 – the Feast of St. Benedict.
On May 4, 1892, Abbot Haid blessed the church's cornerstone and named the new church Mary Help of Christians. The blessing was attended by hundreds of guests brought to Belmont on specially scheduled trains. The earnest dedication and tireless hard work of volunteers bore fruit when on Dec. 17,1893 (Gaudete Sunday, a day of rejoicing), Abbot Haid offered the first Mass at the new church.
On April 11, 1894, the Abbey Church of Mary Help was blessed by James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore. Father Hintemeyer arranged trains that brought laity and clerics from throughout the Carolinas. Overjoyed guests stood in the aisles and outside and watched the blessing of the new church.
The Abbey church was adorned with a tower clock in 1909. In 1910, the church was named a cathedral by the Holy See, the only abbey cathedral ever built in the U.S. In 1964, under Benedictine Abbot Walter Coggin's visionary leadership, the Italian-made noble statue of St. Benedict was placed on the piazza of the cathedral.
In 1973 the cathedral became a historic landmark and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The leadership of Benedictine Abbot Oscar Burnett brought great honor to the abbey church when, in 1998, Pope John Paul II named it a minor basilica.
The splendor and the beauty of the holy basilica are preserved and glow during the liturgies, and the vision of the founding fathers lives on in the daily offerings of Vigils, Lauds, Midday Prayers, Vespers, and Holy Mass under the leadership of Benedictine Abbot Placid Solari.
The magnificent abbey basilica is a house of prayer, a sanctuary for the rich and for the poor, a place of peace that can bring comfort to anyone in despair.
The sweet and melodious ringing of the bells on the tall tower is heard in the surrounding areas of the city of Belmont and fills the hearts and souls of the people of Belmont with devotion, love and praise for God.
The academic pursuit of the young minds at Belmont Abbey College commences and completes at the abbey basilica. At the start of each academic year in August, the eager freshman class is matriculated in the basilica with prayers and blessings to the Almighty Father. At the completion of each academic year in May, hundreds of happy graduates gather at the basilica to attend the baccalaureate Mass and invoke God's blessings before receiving their diplomas.
Gireesh Gupta is an associate professor of computer information systems at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont. Historical information is from "A Carolina Cathedral" by Benedictine Father Paschal Baumstein.
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