A Sacred Calling 3

The mission of the Norbertine Fathers who reside in the 50-year-old St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado Canyon is to be expanded through a new abbey

They are clothed in the white habit of their order–a beautiful sign of their inner identity and consecration. The Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado Canyon go about their sacred duties, as they serve in schools, hospitals, and prisons throughout southern California.

Spawned on Christmas Day in 1121 by Saint Norbert in what is today the valley of Prémontré, France, the movement quickly spread through Norbert’s guidance into the medieval kingdom of Hungary, where another Norbertine abbey was founded in Csorna 50 years after his death. There it thrived for centuries until after World War II, when the Communist regime confiscated the abbey and seven fathers fled and found their way to America, eventually ending up in California. In 1961, the fathers opened St. Michael’s Junior Seminary on a 34-acre property in Silverado Canyon purchased with their shared savings from the Cook family of Cook’s Corner.

By 1981, the seven original Hungarian founders had ordained American priests and attracted many young vocations that in 1984 Rome elevated the community to the status of an abbey. Today, the community boasts 52 priests and 34 seminarians studying for the priesthood.

By 1997, the abbey established a Norbertine convent in Tehachapi in the diocese of Fresno, and, in 2011, welcomed a group of Norbertine sisters to its parish of Saints Peter and Paul in Wilmington (Los Angeles area). The abbey priests provide daily pastoral care in Tehachapi and Wilmington, as well as to a Filipino congregation of Rosarian Dominican Sisters, who maintain a convent on the abbey grounds and serve in the abbey kitchen. The abbey Fathers run two parishes in southern California and assist at forty parishes throughout the Southland, while running St. Michael’s Preparatory School.

Due to the abbey’s unprecedented growth, it can no longer serve the entire community, and a new abbey is being planned. The $120 million capital campaign has reached the $80 million mark and will soon go public to raise the remaining funds. The new abbey will be on 327 acres purchased in 2012 near the current abbey in Silverado Canyon. The renowned French architect Jean-Louis Pagès, who has designed several monasteries, has been engaged.

“The abbey will be reminiscent of the 12th century Romanesque style of architecture, which lends itself to southern California and its Mediterranean climate,” says Father Justin Ramos of St. Michael’s Abbey, who has been with the abbey for 30 years.

Ramos says the new abbey will include monastery rooms, church, public meeting spaces for retreats and guests, administration offices, a convent, burial chapel, cultural center open to the community, and a preparatory school (built in the second stage). The current school, a five-day boarding school for 64 high school-age boys from throughout southern California, emphasizes faith, character and academics and has a great success rate, with the boys having top SAT and ACT scores and going on to four-year colleges.

“We are excited about the cultural impact the abbey will have on the local community.  It will be open not just to Catholics but to all peoples to pray and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation,” Ramos says. “We are only developing 44 acres of the 327-majejstic acre site, so there is lots to explore.”

“We are excited about the cultural impact the abbey will have on the local community. It will be open not just to Catholics but to all peoples to pray and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.” – Father Ramos

Ramos describes the 65-foot-high vaulted ceiling of the stone church as “the perfect space for Gregorian chant.” The abbey choir has performed at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Disney Hall and with the Pacific Symphony.

Through the help of philanthropists Roberta and Howard Ahmanson, the abbey acquired the personal library of the late British academic and leading historian on early church history, Sir Henry Chadwick.

Ramos credits Marybelle and Paul Musco for their dedicated leadership as honorary chairs of the new abbey’s campaign.

“This could not have happened without the vision, leadership and the munificent generosity of Marybelle and Paul Musco, and people like them,” he says.

Paul talks about his and Marybelle’s decision to be a part of the project.

“After meeting with them and hearing about their dream of helping others, it made us want to become involved.”

Ramos sums up the new abbey, saying:

“The abbey is a permanent sign of Christ’s presence.”