When Boniface Wimmer arrived near present-day Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1846 to establish a Benedictine monastery–the first in North America– he brought 18 followers with him. Modeling their work after the self-sufficient monasteries in Wimmer’s native Bavaria, the monks began farming and herding livestock. They worked the soil to provide grains, fruits and vegetables for themselves and their students. And they expanded by building, with wood, bricks and stone.
Living a life of prayer and work, the Benedictines had been praying, working, evangelizing and teaching every day for 117 years. Until a day unlike any other in the history of Saint Vincent. On January 28, 1963, just before the start of the spring semester, fire broke out in a biology laboratory, a fire that devastated the campus. Five buildings were devastated by the flames and two others severely damaged, taking out the heart of campus, which included a preparatory school, a college and a seminary. The monks were devastated by what seemed to be an apocalyptic destruction of their monastery and schools. But even as the flames burned, the monks’ daily routine of prayer continued, and they resiliently began planning for the rebirth of a campus.
Using archival photos and narrative accounts written by those who lived through the day of “fire and ice,” The Saint Vincent Fire traces the story of the fire and the subsequent rebuilding of the Saint Vincent Campus, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the blaze.
Softcover. 104 pages.
About the Author:
Dr. Jerome Oetgen, a Saint Vincent alumnus, has taught at universities in the United States, Canada, and the Peoples Republic of China, Lithuania, and Ecuador.
He has published numerous articles on the history of the American Benedictines.
He has served as a U.S. diplomat in Latin America and as director of the Latin American Fulbright Program at the United States Information Agency in Washington, D.C.
His books about Saint Vincent include An American Abbot: Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., 1809-1887; Mission to America: A History of Saint Vincent Archabbey, the First Benedictine Monastery in the United States; Always Forward: Saint Vincent Archabbey 1949-2020; Boniface Wimmer: Letters of An American Abbot; and The Saint Vincent Fire: January 28, 1963. He also helped produce the 2013 Telly Award-winning documentary about the Saint Vincent fire of 1963, Fire and Ice.
Other contributors: Editor, Kim Metzgar; Photo Editors: Kim Metzgar, Jordan Hainsey, Sadie Stresky; History Editor: Rev. Warren Murrman, O.S.B. Text by Dr. Jerome Oetgen and Kim Metzgar.