New Book Details Historic Saint Vincent Archabbey and Brewery

 A new 100-page softcover book details the history of the Saint Vincent Archabbey Gristmill and the former monastery brewery complex. The Saint Vincent Archabbey Gristmill and Brewery, 1854-2000, was written by Rev. Omer U. Kline, O.S.B., Archabbey historian and archivist. Father Omer is also the author of The Sportsman’s Hall Parish Later Named Saint Vincent 1790-1846, published in 1990.

The book includes a 16-page color section inside with photos of the historic milling equipment, and a fold-out color schematic illustration showing how the mill works. Father Omer’s original manuscript was completed in 1992, but publication was delayed due to the ongoing efforts to restore the Gristmill. Following successful funding of the first phase of the renovations, the manuscript was updated to reflect the restoration efforts, made possible by grants from The Allegheny Foundation of Pittsburgh, The Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation of Latrobe, and The Pennsylvania Heritage Parks Program under the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. A jump-start to the second phase of this restoration was given in 1998-1999 by a grant of HUD through the Independent Agencies Appropriations Act of the U.S. Congress.

“The Gristmill was part of the vision of Saint Vincent founder Boniface Wimmer, who laid the groundwork for its construction shortly after his arrival at Saint Vincent in 1846,” said Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B. “It played an important role in Saint Vincent’s history and it was also an integral part of the local agricultural community.”

“Boniface Wimmer’s plan to build Saint Vincent involved self-sufficiency,” said Father Omer. “His objective was to set in operation a Benedictine monastery that would be modeled very closely upon the monasteries of his native Bavaria. But, in order to establish such a foundation, Wimmer knew that he would have to have a school, primarily for educating candidates for the priesthood. He also knew that he would be expected, not only to minister to the parishioners of Saint Vincent Parish, but also to expand missionary evangelization to an ever growing area and population. But, first and foremost, Wimmer realized that he must build on ‘Mount Saint Vincent’ a sturdy physical plant which would serve as the headquarters for the life of prayer and work that he envisioned for his monastic foundation.”

“The monks set out very soon after their arrival to farm the land, and Wimmer kept adding new tracts of land for the purpose of growing crops, herding livestock and harvesting lumber. They worked the soil to provide all kinds of grains, fruits and vegetables for the monks and students,” Father Omer said. “So it is logical that early on Wimmer saw the need for a gristmill at Saint Vincent, to alleviate the cost and the inconvenience of having the monastery’s grains ground at a gristmill a few miles away.”

Almost parallel with the construction of the Saint Vincent Archabbey Gristmill was that of the Saint Vincent Brewery and its complex of buildings.

“The beginnings of a brewery operation at Saint Vincent were very modest in comparison with the major public issues that were made in 1849-1852 and in the 1890s concerning Saint Vincent being in the ‘beer business’,” said Father Omer. “To build this little brewery and to brew beer for consumption by the monks was not viewed as out of place by these early Saint Vincent Benedictines. In fact these hard working monks, most of whom had emigrated from the territory around Munich, Bavaria, craved for the beer for which that area of southern Germany had long been famous. It was a time-honored practice for Bavarian monasteries to make and sell beer.”

As a result of the brewery issues, made largely by the total abstinence movement, less and less beer was brewed for public consumption. And the fate of the Saint Vincent Brewery was sealed in 1919 with the prohibition amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And except for farm storage the brewery buildings sat idle until a 1926 fire left nothing standing but brick walls and cellars.

In addition to chapters on the beginnings of the Gristmill and on the stories of the brewery controversy, The Saint Vincent Archabbey Gristmill and Brewery, 1854-2000, also includes chapters on “Equipment for Grinding of Grains,” “The Grain and the Grinding” and “The Bakery.” The story of the bakery details the history of Saint Vincent Bread, a once regionally-famous commodity until a 1963 fire struck the Saint Vincent campus, destroying the bakery and numerous other buildings. The bakery was never rebuilt, and thereafter Saint Vincent Bread was baked primarily for monastic consumption. Appended to the end of the book is an eleven-page section which includes the recipes for Saint Vincent bread and other goods baked using Gristmill flour and grains.

The book is available at the Basilica Gift Shop, on the first floor of the Saint Vincent Parish Center, which is open from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays. It is also being sold at the Saint Vincent College Book Center, in the lower level of Kennedy Hall, open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and at the Gristmill, which is open for business from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The book retails for $9.95.

* * * * *

Father Omer U. Kline, O.S.B., a native of Hastings, Pa., received a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from Saint Vincent College in 1946, and completed his ordination studies at Saint Vincent Seminary. His graduate studies were at the Catholic University of America, where he received a master of arts degree in American History in 1955; and, at the Teachers College of Columbia University, where in 1963 he was awarded a doctoral degree of education specializing in the teaching of speech.

He entered the Benedictine monastic community of Saint Vincent Archabbey as a novice in 1943. He made simple profession of vows on July 2, 1944, and solemn profession of vows on July 11, 1947. He was ordained a priest by the late Hugh C. Boyle, Bishop of Pittsburgh, in Saint Vincent Archabbey Church on June 12, 1949.

Father Omer served the monastic community as subprior for 28 years (1966-1994). Since 1966 he has also served as executive secretary and administrative assistant to five archabbots. For the same length of time he has been archivist for both the Archabbey and the American-Cassinese Congregation of Benedictines. His previous assignments were in the educational apostolates of the Archabbey. At Saint Vincent Scholasticate he was a prefect from 1944 to 1948; and, at Saint Vincent Preparatory School, from 1948 to 1955. He taught American History, social studies and economics in the prep school (1949-1956), where he was also moderator of the National Forensic League Chapter. At Saint Vincent College he was a prefect (1955-1956, 1960-1962), and was consecutively instructor in speech (1960), assistant professor of speech (1964), associate professor of speech (1968), and professor of speech (1981-1987). Also, from 1962 until 1966 he was Dean of Students. At Saint Vincent Seminary he was consecutively instructor in homiletics (1960), assistant professor of homiletics (1964), associate professor of homiletics (1968), and professor of homiletics (1981-1987). In 1987, he was named Professor Emeritus of Homiletics, and in 1988 received Saint Vincent Seminary’s Nova et Vetera Award for excellence in teaching. And in 1994, Father Omer was honored with the Saint Vincent Seminary Alumni Award at the annual Alumni and Planned Giving Associates Banquet. And since 1991 each year a seminarian has received the “Omer U. Kline, O.S.B., Prize in Preaching.”

In addition to his teaching duties, Father Omer was a member of the Board of Directors of the Saint Vincent College Corporation (1966-1981), a body which he also served as secretary (1966-1971). Since 1966 he has been secretary of both the Council of Seniors and the Monastic Chapter of the Archabbey (The Benedictine Society of Westmoreland County). From 1971 to 1979 he was on the Board of Directors of the Greensburg Catholic Publishing Associates (Catholic Accent).

His pastoral service included being a weekend minister for 28 years at Holy Cross Parish, Youngwood and Saint Gilbert Parish, Hunker (1962-1990); and a Sunday chaplain for the Carmel of the Assumption Monastery, Latrobe (1991-1994). He is a member of the Society of American Archivists and the American Catholic Historical Association.