The Monks & the Modernist

What the Benedictines Built at Collegeville

Marcel Breuer would have been proud. So would Baldwin Dworschak. And maybe even St. Benedict as well. Breuer, the New York Bauhaus-trained architect, and Dworschak, the far-sighted abbot of a Benedictine monastery in rural Minnesota, were the central figures in a unique collaboration that produced one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century religious architecture, the acclaimed St. John’s Abbey and University Church. Thanks to Dworschak’s extraordinary vision and quiet leadership, St. John’s forged a partnership with the Hungarian-born Breuer that produced what the architect I. M. Pei said would be a world-famous building if it were located in New York City instead of the northwoods of Minnesota.

Breuer died in 1981 and Dworschak fifteen years later, but both were there in spirit last October when St. John’s celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the starkly modern church, which art historian Whitney Stoddard hailed as “the most exciting architectural story since the building of the great medieval churches of Europe.”

The saga of how a monastic community following the fifteen-hundred-year-old Rule of St. Benedict and devoted to a life of “worship and work” chose an avant-garde...

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About the Author

Albert Eisele is editor-at-large of The Hill and is a graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota.