“I will now praise the godly,
our ancestors, in their own time,
The abounding glory of the Most High's portion,
his own part, since the days of old.”
— Sirach 44:1–2
Saint Benedict parish was founded in 1911 to minister to Catholics of German ancestry. They were originally parishioners of Saint Mary’s (now defunct) in downtown Richmond, and had begun migrating to the West End of the city. According to an agreement reached by Bishop Augustine Van de Vyver, the sixth bishop of Richmond, and Bishop Leo Haid, OSB, the vicar apostolic and territorial abbot of North Carolina (now Belmont Abbey), the Benedictine monks would open a high school for boys and run an attached parish in what is today the Museum District.
After the parish and all-boys high school (Benedictine College) were established, an elementary school (Saint Benedict, 1919) and a high school for girls (Saint Gertrude, 1922) followed. With the parish and schools in close proximity, the Benedictine monks and sisters forged a nexus that would educate generations of Catholics and non-Catholics in Richmond.
The parish church was fortuitously dedicated on August 28, 1929—just two months before the stock market crash that unleashed the Great Depression. Bishop Andrew Brennan, the eighth bishop of Richmond (1926–1945), performed the dedication ceremony. The church, considered among the most beautiful in the diocese, has the classical shape of a Roman basilica and includes Byzantine and Gothic ornamentation.
From its beginning through the 1960s, Saint Benedict parish, together with its associated schools, grew in proportion to the West End of Richmond. Many Catholics came to inhabit the area around the parish, making it a neighborhood community.
The identity of the parish shifted during the 1970s and 1980s. As in many communities at that time, there was confusion and debate at Saint Benedict’s about how to implement the reforms of Vatican Council II (1962–1965). In the area of worship, the parish adopted a contemporary liturgical style and music, which encountered both support and resistance, even as the parish remained active in other ministries.
The next decade was also a pivotal time. In 1989, the monks of the parish (Saint Benedict Priory) formed an independent abbey (Mary, Mother of the Church), becoming detached from Belmont Abbey. As a result, most of the monks moved to a new monastery in Goochland County in 1994. This development absorbed much of the parish’s attention. During the same period, Saint Benedict’s was becoming less of a neighborhood parish, with more of its members coming from outside the territorial boundaries. The community crossed a historic threshold in 1999, when the monks ceded the care of the parish to the diocese because of declining vocations.
In the new era, Saint Benedict’s emerged as a more traditional parish, which today attracts people from within the Museum District and beyond. The parish is best known for its majestic church and reverent worship. Notable, too, is Oktoberfest, the three-day festival that pays tribute to the parish’s German roots, gathering 40,000 people and raising tens of thousands of dollars for Catholic education each year. Saint Benedict School, a ministry of the parish, stands out by maintaining a strong Catholic identity and by offering a classical educational curriculum.
For more than a century, the Benedictine motto has guided the work of the parish: ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus, “that in all things God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11).