Mount St. Benedict is the home of the Benedictine monks who live and work in Trinidad and Tobago. They follow a way of life that traces its roots to St. Benedict of Norcia who was born in Italy in the year 480. Educated in Rome, Benedict was exposed to the onslaught of hedonism that was rampant at the time, as people became distracted from their principal purpose in life. Benedict sought out the solitude of a cave at Subiaco, some thirty miles east of Rome, to recapture what he perceived to be the primary purpose of life: the search for God. Within a few years, many young people sought out Benedict, one of his early disciples being his sister, Scholastica.
Mount St Benedict Monastery was founded in 1912 by Dom Mayeul de Caigny, Abbot of the Abbey of San Sebastian, Bahia, Brazil. He had written to the Archbishop of Port of Spain, Trinidad, in October 1911, asking permission to send some of his monks to the Island, as he stated that there was the threat of religious persecution in Brazil. The Archbishop extended an invitation for him to come and choose a suitable locality for his monks.
The Abbot chose his site on January 17, 1912, and on October 06 of the same year, three of his monks arrived in Trinidad to establish monastic life there. The monastery was dedicated to Our Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of Exile, as this story from the Gospel of St Matthew recalled the experience of the monks who, like Mary, were also fleeing the threat of persecution. The beginnings were of a very humble nature.
From 1914 Abbot Mayeul supervised the development of the Monastery until he resigned in 1923 and retired to the Abbey of Saint Leo in Florida, USA, where he is buried today. Mount St. Benedict, as it is more popularly known, was granted canonical status as a Conventual Priory on March 06, 1915. Dom Mayeul was succeeded by Dom Hugh van der Sanden, a Dutchman, who encouraged local vocations. During his term the Monastery was affiliated to the Belgian Congregation (Congregation of the Annunciation) in 1927. It was also under his tenure that the Monastery began a Seminary in 1943 to prepare young men for the diocesan priesthood. In that same year, the Monastery established a Secondary School. Dom Hugh was Superior until 1947 when the Monastery was raised to the rank of an Abbey, and Dom Adelbert van Duin was elected as its first Abbot. He won the respect of pilgrims from all walks of life. Dom Bernard Vlaar, another Dutchman, succeeded him. He brought the monastery into the mainstream of the Charismatic Renewal. Dom Hildebrand Greene from Guyana was elected the First Caribbean Abbot of the Monastery in 1979, and he was instrumental in establishing a monastic daughter house in Guyana in 1988, which served the people of Guyana for over 20 years. In 1995, with the election of Dom Francis Alleyne, Mount St. Benedict had its first Trinidad born Abbot. In 2003 he was appointed Bishop of Georgetown, Guyana. The monastic community then elected Dom John Pereira as its fifth Abbot on November 15, 2003.
The major ministry of the monks has been spiritual direction and pastoral counselling to the pilgrims who visit the Abbey on a daily basis. Hospitality is extended to all, and people of all faiths: Christians, Hindus and Muslims, and people who profess no faith are all received at the Abbey. In 1967, a Vocational School was established at the Monastery to teach young people a skill such as woodwork, bookbinding, plumbing, welding or some other technical craft to gear them for life. The Monastery has been involved in the parochial activity, Pastoral Counselling, Agriculture, Apiculture, Education, Credit Unions, Coaching of young swimmers, Liturgical Renewal, Retreats, Sale of Religious books and articles, and Cottage Industries, such as the production of Guava Jelly. In more recent years, the monastery has been producing Yogurt under the brand name “Pax Yogurt”. This has become very popular throughout the country in recent years.
As a Benedictine community, Mount St. Benedict has made a commitment to root itself in the land it inhabits. Its work has always flowed out of this basic commitment to respond to needs as they arise. Its inter-faith and ecumenical outreach has made it a centre of spirituality for all peoples.