Saint John's Abbey Church

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Saint John's Abbey Church

View of Altar, Abbot Throne, and Choir Seats
View of Stained Glass Wall
Address: 2910 Abbey Plaza
Collegeville, Minnesota
Stearns County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1961
Primary Style: Modern
Additions: The Blessed Sacrament Chapel
Historic Function: Religious/Place of worship
Current Function: Religious/Place of worship
Architect or source of design: Marcel Breuer
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Concrete
Material of Roof: Concrete
Material of Foundation: Concrete
Part of the Site: {{{site_name}}}

Collegeville Stearns County

Saint John's Abbey Church
(45.580014764021° N, 94.3922476843° WLatitude: 45°34′48.053″N
Longitude: 94°23′32.092″W

Building Information

Saint John's Abbey Church, located in Collegeville, Minnesota, is part of the Saint John's University Campus. Regular mass services and prayer times are held daily in the Abbey Church.



Original Church

Prior to 1961, when the Abbey Church was constructed, mass services were held in what is now called “The Great Hall.” The bell towers on the Great Hall were taken down and the massive bells were placed on the new Abbey Church's bell tower. Today the Great Hall is a social, religious, and educational gathering space for guests, students, and clergy.

Building History

In 1856 five monks moved to Minnesota from the Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania to start a Benedictine community(1). They began Saint John's Preparatory school in Saint Cloud, Minnesota one year after moving to the state. Over the years, the school prospered and by 1950 a new church, monastic quarters, library, guest house, and administrative building were needed to accommodate the growing monastery, seminary, university, and preparatory school at Saint John's University. Priority for the new master plan would be given to the new church. Abbot Baldwin Dworschak wanted the new church to be an “architectural monument to the service of God” (2). He contacted twelve architects to submit designs for the university's new master plan. Waltar Gropius, Richard Neutra, Eero Saarinen, and Marcel Breuer are some of the prestigious architects that were contacted. Marcel Breuer was eventually selected by the monastic community because he was “not only an outstanding architect, but a simple, straightforward, sincere and rather humble person” (2).

Building Design

Construction for the new church began May 19, 1958 and lasted until 1961. A thousand tons of concrete and steel reinforcement were used to construct the church and bell tower. The altar and abbot throne are in the center of the church, with space for a 300 person choir adjacent, and a 1,400 person congregation near the entrance of the building. The site cast concrete, steel reinforced, folded form provided enough stability to allow the building to span a long distance without any columns. The result is a trapezoidal plan that allows clergy, the choir, visitors, and students to sit close to the altar without obstructed views.


In 2008 Vincent James Associates Architects (VJAA), a Minneapolis based architecture firm, designed a chapel that has direct access into the Abbey Church. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel was originally an office with a window into the adjacent courtyard. VJAA designed a modern reredos wall (a traditional ornamental panel) that diffuses light from the courtyard into the chapel.

Historic and Cultural Value

Saint John's Abbey Church is not only an architectural feat but also has great historic and cultural significance. Abbot Dworschak believed that the Benedictine tradition challenged its followers to have their ideas manifest physical form that was relevant to the present day. He also believed that the country had failed to produce significant religious architecture in the modern era(2). Hiring Marcel Breuer to design a modern church produced what art historian Maurice Lavanoux called “a milestone in the evolution of the architecture of the Catholic Church in this country.” Though the space is not defined by traditional religious architecture, it still fosters traditional activities of the Benedictine order.

Traditional Practices

Attending mass daily is regular part of a monastic community's schedule. During mass, there is a reading from the Gospel with a psalm response and acclamations chanted unaccompanied. The worshipers stand, instead of kneel, and have communion in the church's sacristy. The monastic community also attend three prayer services daily: morning, mid day, and evening prayer. The Holtkamp Organ in the Abbey Church is primarily for the monastic community's daily use in prayer. Other traditions include the ringing of the church bells to summon people to worship, and traditional choir worship.

Memories and stories

Related Links

[Saint John's University Website]

[Minnesota Historical Society Website]

Resources and Citations

1. "Monastic Life."[Saint John's University Website]

2. Colman J. Barry, OSB, Worship and Work (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1993) 336-337


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