The Monastery of the Holy Cross was formally established in 1988 when our three founding brothers, Father Thomas-Benedict Baxter, Father Brendan and Father Edward, returned from a year’s novitiate with the Community of Jerusalem in Paris. Having spent several years in the missions in Haiti and Brazil, the three came to an agreement that God was calling them to form a community of prayer, a mission of evangelization to our own increasingly secularized culture. The community initially settled in the diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, where they served in parish work. Father Edward was the first prior, and Father Thomas-Benedict was chosen to succeed him shortly before their departure from Minnesota.
His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Bernadin invited the community to the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1991, where they could fulfill their particular charism of contemplation in the city. The timing was auspicious; the closing of some 40 parishes in 1989 had left a number of church buildings unused. Given a choice of the use of these former parish buildings, the brothers chose the former Immaculate Conception church, both for its nearness to downtown as well as for its remarkable beauty.
This beauty was in part hidden, as during the two years of its being closed, the church had been used as a warehouse and had suffered a good deal of damage. The initial years in Chicago were thus spent renovating the church, including the construction of a loft in the church attic as a space for guests, and establishing a rhythm of liturgical life. The liturgy in the early years was borrowed from the Community of Jerusalem, but needed to be translated into English from the original French.
The community was extremely poor in its early days, and fond memories are told of truckloads of potatoes from friends in rural Minnesota helping the brothers through the winter. There were no choir stalls, and the monks prayed either standing or kneeling upon the floor. The community was early on forced to learn how to beg when the boiler in the church went out at the beginning of winter.
Gradually, as the community grew and stabilized, the distance between the French culture of the Jerusalem model and the realities of the situation in the United States became more and more apparent. In the middle of the 1990’s, the community sought to affiliate itself with the Subiaco Congregation of the Order of Saint Benedict. The Abbey of Christ in the Desert graciously agreed to be our adopted motherhouse and sent monks to assist in our Benedictine formation.
During this time, the community earned its keep through chaplaincies at Chicago hospital and religious communities. Lay brothers were called upon for jobs such as bagging groceries. Eventually, the community found its way into computer work, first converting library card catalogues to computer databases, then editing digital versions of academic books. As this work was subject to the ups and down of venture capital, the community developed its present work of welcoming travelers in our Bed and Breakfast and retreatants in our guesthouse, as well as selling caskets made by fellow monks.
In March of 2000, the founding members emotionally made their Solemn Professions as Benedictine monks. On the same day, the first new member made his first vows. Over the next few years, the monastery was able to purchase several adjacent properties, allowing us to welcome more guests and accommodate more monks. The community also began chanting a more traditional version of the liturgy.
Around this time, some friends of the monastery approached Father Brendan and asked for talks on monastic spirituality. The group that gathered for these discussions became the core of the monastery’s Oblate program. Since 1999, over twenty lay persons have promised to live a life in keeping with the values of the Rule of Saint Benedict according to their state in the world.
Today, the monastery numbers eight in Solemn Vows, with one in temporary profession. In keeping with our contemplative charism (we are usually numbered, with the Carmelites of Des Plaines and the Poor Clares in Lemont, as one of three such communities in the Archdiocese), we chant the full Divine Office and steep ourselves in the ethereal beauty of Gregorian chant. In fidelity to our mission to the city, we schedule our day to allow the most number of guests, and we pray daily for the bishops, priests and consecrated persons in the Archdiocese, as well as for vocations.
In August of 2004, Prior Peter was blessed to become the third superior in the history of the community.
On December 31, 2011, Abbot Bruno Marin, OSB, former Abbot President of the Subiaco Congregation, erected the Monastery as an autonomous house. Prior Peter was appointed and installed as the community’s first Conventual Prior.