Cardinal Christoph Schönborn visits Glenstal

On Tuesday 11 July, the monastic community was delighted to welcome Cardinal Christoph Schönborn to Glenstal.  Cardinal Schönborn, a Dominican, is Archbishop of Vienna and one of Europe’s leading churchmen. A noted theologian, he was the editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was published twenty-five years ago this year.

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The Cardinal was in Ireland with 15 seminarians of the Archdiocese of Vienna and had a number of engagements in Cork and Limerick, as well as visits to important historical sites such as Clonmacnois. Glenstal’s former Abbot, Fr Patrick, was a student with Cardinal Schönborn in the Dominican theological faculty in Paris in the 1960s and the visit provided a welcome opportunity for a reunion after nearly fifty years.

11 July also happens to be the Solemnity of our Holy Father Saint Benedict, who is honoured not only as the Father of Western Monasticism but as Patron Saint of Europe.

Cardinal Schönborn referred to this European dimension several times in both his remarks at the welcome reception and in his homily during Mass. He described his visit with some of his seminarians as a pilgrimage of thanksgiving for the contribution made by Irish monks such as St Koloman and St Vergilius to the re-evangelisation of Central Europe in the Middle Ages.

In his words of welcome, Abbot Brendan also referred to the religious links between Ireland and Austria, mentioning in particular the Schottenstift in Vienna, a Benedictine monastery founded by Irish monks in 1155. To mark the occasion, he presented Cardinal Schönborn with a copy of The Irish Benedictines, which includes a detailed account of the Irish Benedictine foundations in continental Europe. He also noted that the Cardinal has ancestral roots not too far away from Glenstal. His great-great-great-grandmother, Lady Selina Meade (1797–1872), was the daughter of Richard Meade, the 2nd Earl of Clanwilliam, in County Tipperary.

The Cardinal and his students enjoyed coffee and cake with the monastic community before being taken on a tour of the monastery, with visits to the Icon Chapel and the Barrington rooms in the castle. At 12.10 pm, it was time for the festive Solemn Conventual Mass for the Solemnity of Saint Benedict. Cardinal Schönborn had graciously agreed to both preside and preach at the Mass for the feast. Some of the seminarian group assisted as servers and in the offertory procession. A large congregation, including many of the abbey’s oblates had assembled for the feastday liturgy.

In his homily, the Cardinal reflected on the pilgrimage from the Archdiocese of Vienna and on the day’s celebration of Saint Benedict as a journey ‘back to the roots’. For the visitors, it was a journey to the roots of the Christianity brought to their land by Irish monks. For Benedictines, it was a journey to the roots of the Benedictine monastic tradition. But for everyone, the celebration was a call to go back to the roots our faith: Jesus, and the Father ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name’. He encouraged the community and the congregation to go back to our roots as Christians – the Gospels – and to re-discover in them, in the words of Pope Francis, ‘the Joy of the Gospel’. Cardinal Schönborn also reflected on the state of the Church in both Austria and Ireland, where it has gone from a position of great power and prestige to one of weakness and fragility with significant fall-off in religious practice.  The Church in Austria has shrunk by over 20% during the twenty years that he has been Archbishop of Vienna. Drawing on the Gospel reading for the day (Matthew 19:27-29), he encouraged the assembly to trust in God’s continuing care for his Church and in the promise of the coming ‘renewal of all things’.


After Mass, the Cardinal and his seminarians joined the monks for a festive lunch in the monastery refectory.