The Cistercian Convent of Holy Cross was founded 874 years ago by St. Leopold of Austria inspired by his son Otto of Freising. Located on the Via Sacra Austriaca, the pilgrimage route to Mariazell, the Holy Cross Convent is one of 30 convents. 78 brothers are living in the convent, of which 46 are ordained priests. The members of the order are responsible for 19 parishes in 3 dioceses. Due to the high number of young monks it was possible to send monks to a convent in Bochum-Stiepel in Germany and a start a founding project in Sri Lanka. Since 1802, the convent runs a College for Philosophy and Theology which focuses on priest education. At the moment, about 160 international students are taught by 40 professors. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI. declared the college a Papal University and with permission from Pope Benedict XVI., the college carries the name "Päpstliche Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule Benedikt XVI. Heiligenkreuz." The life of the monks is shaped by prayer. Gregorian Chant sung in Latin plays a special role in the convent. On the occasion of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. on September 9, 2007, the first visit of a Pope to Holy Cross Convent, a huge psaltery will be presented to the Holy Father as a gift. Benedict XVI. is connected to Holy Cross through Otto of Freising: both of them were bishops in Munich-Freising and are well-known authors and theologians of their times. The second gift to the Holy Father will bee a new version of the glass painting in Holy Cross Convent which shows Otto as bishop and author. Further information on Holy Cross Convent can be found on http://www.stift-heiligenkreuz.org/.
The Cistercian Convent of Holy Cross was founded 874 years ago by St. Leopold of Austria. On September 9, 2007, for the first time in the history of Holy Cross Convent, the successor of St. Peter, the representative of Christ on earth will be visiting our convent. The visit of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. is a source of joy and we know that this visit will lead to a deepening of faith.
The Holy Father is coming to a convent which was built centuries ago but is facing the future in a strong and vital condition, thanks to God's mercy. On August 14, 2007, the ceremony for the clothing of six novices took place in the convent. On August 15, 2007, the high feast of Mary's Assumption which is dedicated to the mystery of the faith of our church, all seven novices of the last year took their timely vows. This year, one brother was ordained priest and five were ordained deacons. A total of 78 brothers are living in the convent, of which 46 are priests.
When the Holy Father enters the convent church on September 9, the musical part of the prayer will be done in Gregorian Chant. We are happy to sing the oldest western musical meditation of the Bible day by day. An important prerequisite for this mystical form of prayer is the Latin language, which the II. Vatican Council explicitly describes as the language of the Catholic Church. Inspired by abbot Karl Braunstorfer (abbot from 1945 to 1969), who was a Council Father himself, we happily introduced the new liturgy of the II. Vatican Council. Following the spirit of the council, we kept the Latin language in the liturgy to a large extent. From the Holy Father's remarks I conclude that he is concerned with this form of the liturgy. So on September 9, we want to give the Holy Father the lately made new great psaltery including 4 pictures done by the artist Michael Fuchs.
In 1802, in a time when Emperor Joseph II. designed a state church inspired by enlightenment ideas, the Holy Cross College for Philosophy and Theology was founded as a means of educating priests. This college developed into an internationally established institution on theological research and teaching, and a few hundred priests have graduated from Holy Cross College in the last few years. There are not only members of the Cistercian order (also from Sri Lanka and Vietnam) or Benedictine monks studying at Holy Cross College but also candidates for the priesthood of the diocesan clergy or from other orders, the Neo-Catechumenate, the Community of the Beatitudes, Church Reform Movements, etc. In the last two decades it was a special joy to make it possible for candidates for the priesthood from former Eastern Bloc countries to enter the study of theology and pave the way for them to become ordained. At the moment, eight members of the order and alumni from developing countries have been invited to study at Holy Cross college at our cost.
Study at Holy Cross is shaped by the manageable number of 160 students and 40 professors and the rural and quiet Wienerwald surrounding Holy Cross. Nevertheless, Vienna is only 30 min away by car. The studies are dominated by prayer and a positive attitude towards church teachings. Our theology is a "kneeling theology," which wants to facilitate an easier access to church teachings. The mission statement of Holy Cross College is focusing on the education of priest. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI. declared the college a Papal University and with permission from Pope Benedict XVI. the college carries the name "Päpstliche Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule Benedikt XVI. Heiligenkreuz." There is no doubt that the Holy Father wants to honor Holy Cross College with His visit.
The main reason for the visit of His Holiness to Austria is His personal pilgrimage as a "pilgrim among pilgrims" to the Sanctuary of Mariazell. Holy Cross is an important station along the Via Sacra Austriaca, the Pilgrimage route to Mariazell, and thus the visit to Holy Cross becomes a part of the greater motto of the Pope's visit.
Holy Cross Convent is one of 30 Austrian convents, a so-called "Stift." This is how the convents of old orders, such as the Augustinian, Premonstratensian, Benedictine, and Cistercian order, are called. These convents, the "stifte," play a major role in Austria as centers of prayer, faith, cultural events, and in their engagement in pastoral care. Many hundred parishes are under pastoral care of old Austrian orders. Holy Cross Convent is taking care of 20 parishes in 3 dioceses. The visit of the Holy Father to Holy Cross is thus also dedicated to and addressing other Austrian convents and parishes.
20 years ago, the bishop of Essen, the later cardinal Franz Hengsbach, founded a convent in Bochum-Stiepel, and sent over monks from Holy Cross Convent as Holy Cross had so many young monks. At the moment, also twelve Cistercian monks are living in the Convent in Bochum-Stiepel. Additionally, Holy Cross Convent started a founding project in Sri Lanka. Several young brothers from Sri Lanka have come to Holy Cross Convent as Cistercian monks and will hopefully bring the Cistercian life into the church in Sri Lanka in general and the Archdiocese of Colombo in particular.
Pope Benedict XVI.'s connection to Holy Cross Convent is founded in the founding history of Holy Cross. The holy founder of Holy Cross wrote in the charter of the convent that he built the convent due to the influence of his son Otto. Otto was a Cistercian monk in the convent Morimond, one of the four important first abbeys of the Cistercian order. The monks for Holy Cross came from the convent Morimond. Later, the Babenberg Otto was elected abbot of Morimond and he became bishop of Freising. Occupying this position, he is a predecessor of the Holy Father, who was also Bishop of Munich-Freising. Eventually, bishop Otto of Freising became a well-known author of his time who wrote on religious and historic topics. The Holy Father is aware of His predecessor and Otto's role in history. The second gift to be handed over to the Pope is a modern artistic new version of the glass painting depicting Otto of Freising as bishop and author. The depiction of the beatified Otto is a part of the famous Babenberg - glass painting in the High Gothic fountain house built in 1295.
Shortly after the founding of Holy Cross the building of the convent started. It is a blessing for the monks in Holy Cross to be able to use the choir stalls and the church built in the Romanic, high Gothic, and early Gothic styles for prayer day by day. St. Leopold and other donators entrusted the convent with estates, forests, vine yards and houses which still belong to the convent and are administered by almost 200 secular employees of the convent. Up until today, the profit from these enterprises are used for the maintenance of the convent, the parishes and the college as well as social welfare projects.
The history of the Church as a whole and Austria as a nation are mirrored in the history of the convent. 1683 is a perfect example: the Turk's siege of Vienna was not successful and was ended by additional forces on Sept. 12, 1683. The two preceding months had been a terrible experience for Vienna, the area surrounding Vienna and also for Holy Cross. Great parts of Holy Cross had been destroyed, the monks had been expelled or killed. After September 12, the day of Mary's Name, Holy Cross and the surrounding area was completely destroyed. The convent preserved a diary of a priest named Balthasar Kleinschrott covering his experiences in this terrible time. This diary is also available for today's reader in a printed version. Clemens Schäfer, the convent's abbot, successfully started the reconstruction of the convent. He is thus often called "secundus fundator monasterii," second founder of the convent.
Additionally, Holy Cross and other convents and the Austrian church followed the Catholic renewal in the spirit of the Council of Trent. After the troubling times of the Renaissance and the Reformation, the faith and the Catholic Church in Austria regained strength in the Baroque age. This had an effect on the development of Baroque art serving the liturgy in convents. One of the artists who mastered this artform perfectly was the builder Giovanni Giuliani, who created important works such as the choir stall in the church, the two impressive groups of figures in the wing of the church's cloister and the Baroque column depicting Mary's assumption. Also Martino Altomonte and Johann Michael Rottmayr created important works for the Holy Cross Convent. So Holy Cross Convent is waiting for the visit of our beloved Holy Father on September 9, 2007. Holy Cross is ready to receive the Holy Father's encouragement and advice on how to preserve the history for future generations and act as an important instrument of evangelization.
Holy Cross has got an extensive homepage which has been helpful for getting into contacts with young people who later discovered their vocation: www.stift-heiligenkreuz.org. There is also an Italian website: http://stift-heiligenkreuz.org/Italiano.179.0.html.
Abbot Dkfm Mag. Gregor Henckel Donnersmarck
Abbot of Holy Cross