Subiaco Cassinese Congregation

The Subiaco Cassinese Congregation is an international union of Benedictine houses (abbeys and priories) within the Benedictine Confederation. It developed from the Subiaco Congregation, which was formed in 1867 through the initiative of Dom Pietro Casaretto, O.S.B., as a reform of the way of life of monasteries of the Cassinese Congregation, formed in 1408, toward a stricter contemplative observance, and received final approval in 1872 by Pope Pius IX. After discussions between the two congregations at the start of the 21st century, approval was given by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013 for the incorporation of the Cassinese Congregation into its offshoot, the Subiaco Congregation. The expanded congregation was given this new name.[1]


Father Casaretto (1810–1878) from the age of seventeen was a monk of the Abbey of Santa Maria del Monte which was a member of the ancient Cassinese Congregation of Benedictine monasteries. Due to his poor health later, after his ordination as a priest, he was advised to seek exclaustration (a temporary leave of absence for discernment). Instead, he accepted assignment to a parish which had been entrusted to the pastoral care of the Congregation, but only on condition of being accompanied by a few of his brother monks. Furthermore, his stipulation was that they be allowed to follow an exact observance of the monastic life as laid down in the Rule of St. Benedict. To be revived in this was the practice of perpetual abstinence from meat and the celebration of Matins at 2:00 A.M. This was seen as an act of defiance in some quarters, but Casaretto had won the confidence of Pope Pius IX and the King of Piedmont. His vision was fulfilled with the establishment of a small monastic community in 1843.

The new foundation received approbation within the Congregation in 1846 with the visit of the Abbot of their mother community. That same year, it also found support from the Vatican with its approval of 18 articles Casaretto had submitted to serve as shaping the character of the foundation. Additionally, he founded a small seminary nearby to prepare monks for serving overseas. This was a step away from the purely European focus of the Cassinese congregation.

Over the next few years, three other Cassinese monasteries joined Casaretto's experiment. At this point, the Cassinese Congregation formed these communities into a new Province of Subiaco, granting these communities a degree of autonomy. By 1867, monasteries in Belgium, England and France had also joined this new Province. That was the year that Casaretto had decided that conditions in the mother Congregation were such that a complete split would be best. For this he convened an extraordinary Diet, which declared such a break, and established the monasteries of the Province as the Cassinese Congregation of the Primitive Observance. One new feature of this congregation, breaking with monastic tradition, was the establishment of a single abbot for the congregation, titled the Abbot General, with the Superior of each monastery being titled simply a prior, who was to be elected triennially, rather than for life.

This step drew the criticism of excessive centralization of monastic life, but the new congregation thrived, and received final papal approval in 1872, only five years after its inauguration. Yet Casaretto's vision was not to survive intact. Within a few years of his death, a committee of Cardinals called an extraordinary General Chapter in 1880. In the course of this, they cancelled the congregational nature of the monastic religious vows and re-established both the lifetime office of Abbot as the Superior of each monastery and the practice of the monk's vowing stability in a single community.

Following decades saw the consolidation and expansion of the Congregation. Growing hostility by the governments of Italy and France saw temporary suppression of various abbeys. This led them to establish new foundations in Bengal, New Zealand and the Philippines by the end of the 19th century. The congregation was flourishing, however, at the start of the 20th century, with the number of monks growing from about 1,000 in 1920 to over 1,400 by 1937. New foundations were taking place, but this growth also came through the affiliation of the formerly Anglican monastery of Prinknash Abbey which chose to affiliate itself with this Congregation, after its conversion to the Catholic Church.

The Spanish Civil War, followed soon after by World War II, saw a change in fortunes of the Congregation. Widespread destruction and dispersal of religious communities did not spare the monks. The entire community of "El Pueyo" was murdered during this conflict. Growth was able to resume after these conflicts, especially in the French province, which made new foundations in Asia and Africa. In 1959, the General Chapter of the Congregation chose to re-take its original name of Subiaco.[2]

Current status

As of 2013, the Congregation consists of 80 monasteries, with another 45 women's houses affiliated or "aggregated". There are 1,329 members of whom 535 are priests.

The congregation was formed with the aim of rediscovering the ancient simplicity of the monastic life, which had become obscured over the centuries. As such, its houses tend to be focussed more on an enclosed contemplative life rather than pastoral involvement with the larger community through the operations of schools or parishes. Compared to the other member congregations of the Benedictine Confederation (apart from the Ottilien Congregation), the Subiaco Confederation is one of the most internationally diverse, due to the widespread missionary activity of its abbeys.

The residence of the Abbot President of the congregation is at the Abbey of St. Ambrose (Italian: Sant'Ambrogio della Massima) in Rome. It was originally founded by the saint's own sister in the 4th century as a monastery of nuns.[3]

Abbot President Bruno Marin, who has served in this capacity since 2004, and re-elected in 2012, resigned his position according to the Norms of the Congregation.

On Thursday, September 22, 2016, capitulars of the General Chapter meeting in Rome, elected as the new Abbot President, Abbot Guillermo Arboleda Tamayo. He was born in 1956, ordained priest in 1980, and professed as a monk of Santa María de la Epifanía (Guatapé) in 1986, and until now, Abbot of the Abbey of Santa Maria of Medellin and Administrator of Santa María de la Epifanía (Guatapè). The new Abbot President is the first from the Americas.

Structure of the Congregation

The congregation is currently made up of:

(from the former Subiaco Congregation)

Eight provinces: the Italian Province (18 houses), the English Province (14 houses), the Flemish Province (10 houses), the French Province (14 houses), the Spanish Province (11 houses), the African and Madagascar Province (7 houses), and the Vietnamese Province (4 houses);
The Philippine Pro-Province (2 houses)
Seven extra-provincial monasteries, subject directly to the Abbot President of the Congregation..

The individual membership numbers below are as of March 2009.

Italian Province

Aerial view of Subiaco Abbey

English Province



United Kingdom

United States

Flemish Province

French Province

Hispanic Province

Our Lady of Montserrat

Africa and Madagascar Province

Vietnamese Province

German Pro-Province

The former Michaelsberg Abbey

With the closure of Michaelsberg Abbey in June 2011, this province was abolished. Kornelimünster Abbey was made an extraprovincial monastery.[6]

Philippine Pro-Province 2 Independent Houses



Sources and external links

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