History of St. Michael's Abbey
In the first century, our Lord Jesus Christ established the apostolic way of life for his closest disciples and their clerical descendants. In the fifth century, St. Augustine provided this Christlike life with regular dimensions by the composition of his holy rule. In the twelfth century, St. Norbert revived this original order of Christian perfection with his Augustinian foundation at Prémontré.
By the end of St. Norbert’s life, his monastic confederation had already expanded into the medieval kingdom of Hungary, beginning with the house of Varadhegyfok. Then less than fifty years after his death, another Norbertine abbey was founded in Hungary, this one at the town of Csorna. Notwithstanding the interruption caused by the Turkish occupation in the early modern period, this Hungarian canonry of Csorna flourished for centuries after the example of our Holy Father St. Norbert.
But after World War II, the godless Communist regime brought severe persecutions against the abbey. “In the world you shall have distress. Have confidence. I have overcome the world.” In 1950, seven confreres fled Csorna. After a treacherous journey through Soviet-occupied Austria, the refugee canons eventually found their way to America.
In 1957, Cardinal McIntyre invited the Hungarian Norbertines to regroup in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. From those earliest days, the confreres taught high school in Santa Ana and celebrated Holy Mass at local Orange County parishes each Sunday. Then in December 1958, Cardinal McIntyre gave the Norbertines his blessing to erect a permanent monastic community and novitiate here in Southern California.
The doors of St. Michael’s Junior Seminary first opened in September 1961, on a thirty-three-acre property purchased from the fathers’ common savings. Those early years were a challenge for the priests, especially because of the cultural upheaval occurring all around them, both inside and outside the Church. Hailing from the Old World, the Hungarians generally were able to transcend the petty American political squabbles breaking out on all sides. Their seminarians, however, were less fortunate. Finally, having watched many young men enter but few persevere, the Norbertines decided to take a stand.
On the feast of St. Michael the Archangel in 1968, the founding fathers publicly pledged their loyalty to the Catholic magisterium. The priests understood that fidelity to Holy Mother Church and to the See of Peter would guarantee the wellbeing of their young community. Their attitude embraced both old and new in the living and eternal Catholic Church. The canonry’s policy was—and is—to preserve what is good in the old and to embrace what is good in the new. Or as our prep school motto now puts it: Looking ahead from the vantage point of tradition.
This was their pledge, which remains ours today:
1. We are priests and religious called and strengthened by God to live a common life according to the spirit and tradition of the Canons Regular of Prémontré.
2. Our purpose for coming together as a community is to strive together for sanctity in unity of mind and heart and to lead others to sanctity in fidelity to our common way of life.
3. Fidelity to our rule of life (i.e. gospel, Rule of St. Augustine, constitutions, canonry customs) is an important means for achieving our purpose.
4. Our daily life in community revolves around the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the choral celebration of the Divine Office, while not neglecting the customary functions of community life in the natural order, such as common roof, common table, common recreation, and common mission.
5. Our Order’s ancient liturgical and devotional tradition is rich in love and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and the Virgin Mother of God.
6. The solemn celebration of the Liturgy, including the use of Latin, song, and Gregorian chant, is characteristic of our rich liturgical heritage.
7. In imitation of St. Norbert, we profess unquestioning fidelity and reverential respect for the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium of the Church and filial devotion to the Holy Father.
8. The Fathers and doctors of the Church, especially Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, are the guiding stars of our priestly studies and teaching.
9. The apostolate is essential to our way of life.
10. A genuine Norbertine apostolate flows from a common life of prayer and penance.
11. Teaching is the principle apostolate of our canonry. Parish work is also an important apostolate for us.
12. We are clothed in the white habit of the Order, which is the most distinctive and powerful external sign of our inner identity and consecration.
The God of every good gift blessed the faith of the St. Michael’s founders. By 1976, the house in Orange had become fully autonomous as an independent priory of the Norbertine Order. Then in 1981, a class of five American seminarians was ordained to the sacred priesthood. Fr. Ladislas Parker, one of the founders and in those days the prior of the community, had become confident that their work would endure. They had replaced the seven original Hungarians with American priests, and gone beyond. The vocations continued to pour in.
In 1984, Rome elevated the community to abbatial status, and St. Michael’s Abbey was born. On the Solemnity of the Assumption, Fr. Ladislas was blessed as the canonry’s first abbot.
Our Norbertine abbey in Orange has continued to grow rapidly ever since, blessed each year with more ardent young men striving to follow Christ. The community began with just seven refugee confreres in 1961, and now boasts nearly fifty solemnly professed members and thirty seminarians.
In 1995, the canonry elected Fr. Eugene Hayes, a New York native, as its second abbot. In 1996, the abbey established a Norbertine convent for cloistered, contemplative women in Tehachapi in the diocese of Fresno. In 2011, our canons welcomed a group of active Norbertine sisters to our parish of Saints Peter and Paul in Wilmington. The priests of the abbey provide daily pastoral care for the canonesses in Tehachapi, the active sisters in Wilmington, and a Filipino congregation of Rosarian Dominican Sisters, who maintain a convent on our abbey grounds and serve in the abbey kitchen. Our confreres run two parishes in Southern California, and our own St. Michael’s Preparatory School. Prayer remains the first work of the canonry, and education remains our primary apostolate.