St. Andrew Abbey History

      Since January, the Benedictine monks of Saint Andrew Abbey have been commemorating the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Benedictine monk in Cleveland.  Fr. Stanislaus Gmuca, OSB, a 28 year old monk of St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Illinois arrived at St. Andrew’s Slovak Parish on East 52nd and Superior Avenue in downtown Cleveland on February 5, 1922 and became pastor with the added responsibility of laying the foundation for a monastic community and an all-boys high school.

    St. Procopius Abbey was founded in 1885 by monks who came to Chicago from St. Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  Monks from Bavaria came to Latrobe in 1846 and established St. Vincent’s as the first Benedictine monastery in the United States. A group of monks of Czech heritage were sent to Chicago to work among Czech Catholic immigrants. They established a high school and college in Lisle, Illinois.  Students from Czech-American and Slovak-American families across the nation enrolled in these schools.

    Slovaks and Czechs share the Slavic heritage and their languages are similar but not identical. Usually ruled by larger empires in Europe, both groups had an opportunity for independence after World War I, but the Treaty of Versailles instead united them into one country later known as Czechoslovakia. They became two independent nations after the Velvet Revolution brought an end to eastern European communism in 1989.

   Around 1903, a 19 year old Slovak named John Vaniscak enrolled at St. Procopius High School and College.  He eventually became a monk of that abbey with the religious name of Fr. Gregory.  He was involved with different Slovak-American organizations in the United States which sought to develop religious communities and schools to minister to the needs of immigrant families.

    Bishop Joseph Schrembs of Cleveland was interested in getting a Benedictine monastic community in his diocese since he had attended St. Vincent’s Seminary and his brother was a monk of St. Vincent Archabbey.  Working with officials of Slovak organizations, Bishop Schrembs made it known that he would welcome any group of Benedictines who wanted to come to Cleveland.  Even before his ordination as priest in 1914, Fr. Gregory Vaniscak, OSB worked hard to garner support for a Benedictine abbey and school in Cleveland to work with Slovak immigrants.  He was able to get the support of his superior Abbot Valentine Kohlbeck, OSB and on January 9, 1922, his monks voted to accept Bishop Schrembs offer of St. Andrew’s Parish in Cleveland as a base for founding a new monastery and later a high school.

     However, Fr. Gregory had been assigned to a Slovak parish in Chicago and the Archbishop of Chicago would not release him from that assignment until 1928. So Abbot Valentine sent young Fr. Stanislaus to Cleveland in February of 1922 and then several more priests and brothers over the next few years. In 1929, the monks purchased St. Mary’s Institute, an orphanage run by the Notre Dame Sisters on Buckeye Road on the southeast side of Cleveland.  This became the new St. Andrew’s Priory and Benedictine High School.

     The monastic community and the high school continued to grow and the priory became an abbey in 1934 and elected Fr. Stanislaus as the first abbot.  A new high school was built in 1940 and the enrollment reached 1000 boys by the end of the decade.  Abbot Theodore Kojis, OSB was elected the second abbot in 1946 and partially built a new monastery in 1952.  The abbey reached its highest membership in 1960 with 80 monks.  Besides Benedictine High School, the abbey also staffed five parishes – two in the Cleveland diocese – St. Andrew’s and St. Benedict’s. 

      In 1966, Abbot Jerome Koval, OSB was elected the third abbot.  In 1977, Bishop James Hickey of Cleveland asked if the Benedictines would be interested in staffing Assumption Parish in Broadview Heights.  Abbot Jerome accepted the offer and named Fr. Augustine Yurko, OSB as the first Benedictine pastor.  Later, when he retired in 1981, Abbot Jerome would become a senior associate here at Assumption until his death in 1993. 

     Abbot Roger Gries, OSB served as the superior of the Cleveland Benedictines for 20 years until he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland in 2001.  He named Fr. David Vizsolyi, OSB as the second Benedictine pastor of Assumption in 1983. When Fr. David retired in 1991, Abbot Roger named Fr. Christopher Schwartz, OSB as the third Benedictine pastor of Assumption Parish. Abbot Clement Zeleznik, OSB was elected to succeed Abbot Roger in 2001.  He had been serving as an associate pastor of Assumption Parish at the time.  Fr. Christopher resigned as pastor of Assumption Parish in 2004 and was succeeded by Fr. Justin Dyrwal, OSB, our current pastor who is the fourth Benedictine pastor of Assumption Parish. He had been serving as an associate pastor at Assumption for three years before becoming pastor.  Fr. Christopher would later serve as abbot of St. Andrew Abbey from 2008 to 2013.  He is now in residence at Regina Health Center in Richfield.

     So, at a glance, the Cleveland Benedictine monks have been an integral part of Assumption Parish for the last 45 years.  Three of the abbots have lived here and other monks have served as associate pastors:  Fr. Ronald Mahnke, OSB, Fr. William Matyas, OSB, Fr. Paschal Petcavage, OSB, Fr. Kenneth Katricak, OSB, and now Fr. Louis Carey, OSB. Other monks such as Fr. Joachim Pastirik, OSB and now Fr. Finbar Ramsak, OSB, have provided weekend ministry.


Fr. Christopher Schwartz, OSB

Abbot Clement Zeleznik, OSB

Fr. Justin Dyrwal, OSB

Fr. Paschal Petcavage, OSB

Fr. Finbar Ramsak, OSB

Fr. Louis Carey, OSB

Abbot Roger Gries, OSB