Our monastery in western Pennsylvania dates to 1846, founded by Benedictine monks from Bavaria. We run a liberal arts college and theological seminary, and our abbey church is also a parish church. Consequently, it is a busy place, and almost every year sees a new building project or repair or renovation of an older building. Since 1903, it has survived four fires.

The Benedictine Rule, written in the sixth century, implies the presence and importance of monastic archives. In Chapter 58, it says that a monk’s vows, to be written by hand and signed by the monk, are to be kept on file, even if the monk were to leave monastic life. Here, each monk, 1529 in all over close to 180 years, has at least one archival folder, containing at a minimum his handwritten vows.

Over the years, our monastery archives moved from building to building, and from room to room within a building. In the process, olive drab metal filing cabinets gave way to grey acid-free Hollinger boxes. We seem now to have settled into a permanent home, on the ground floor of the monastery building, with an entrance for outside researchers.

A little over three years ago, my predecessor, a priest nearing seventy, died suddenly, although for the last few years of his life he had been in failing health. He kept a lot of information in his head, and until the abbot assigned me to replace him, I had not worked in the monastery’s archives. Previous employment in government records, as well as training in historical research, seemed to make me a natural fit for the job. Among my predecessor’s last tasks was overseeing storage of the archives while a massive plumbing project in the monastery building caused months of overall displacement. One of my first tasks was overseeing the archives being unpacked and set back in place.

Along with the whole puzzle of how to re-assemble our archives were numerous smaller head-scratchers. For example, in a Hollinger box marked “Miscellaneous,” I found seven 5ʺ x 7ʺ manila envelopes, brittle with age and thick with papers inside them. At each attempt to open the envelopes and remove the contents, the envelopes cracked and broke apart. The papers inside were typed, with handwritten notations across the top right-hand corner. These typescripts were either in English or in Slovak, but the handwriting was always in English and bore dates in the 1940s and 1950s.

From the handwritten notations, it was clear that the texts were academic lectures, spiritual conferences, and homilies for various occasions. Those occasions included the first Masses of monks of Slovak heritage. At a first Mass, it is customary for an older priest to deliver the homily.

What none of the typescripts or handwritten notes revealed, however, was the name of the monk who had created them. It could be why they had nestled undisturbed in their increasingly fragile envelopes for close to eighty years. It was time to correct that situation, but how to go about it was a poser.

In the 1920s, our seminary offered courses in learning how to read, write, and speak Slovak. Especially in western Pennsylvania, many priests served in parishes with predominantly Slovak populations, and those priests needed to understand that local vernacular. It seemed reasonable to compare the handwriting on these mystery texts with that of the monastic vows written by the monks who had taught Slovak in the seminary. Unfortunately, the handwriting did not match.

The next step proved that it is always the last place one looks. Bound volumes of a monthly journal published here from 1891 to 1956 contained news about the monastery, the college, and the seminary. News items included reports on priestly ordinations and first Masses. Those reports about the first Masses indicated in these handwritten notes revealed that the homilist was a Benedictine monk named Father Nepomucene Hruza.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1893, to Slovak parents, John Hruza became a monk at Saint Vincent in 1911 and received the monastic name of Nepomucene. He studied in Rome and Switzerland, returning to our seminary to teach philosophy and theology and then serve as the seminary’s vice rector and then rector. He was then pastor of a local parish, where in 1956, he died in his sleep.

Until the identification of these texts, his lone file in the monastery archives was rather thin. It contained some photographs and his vows, as well as his passports and his baptismal and death certificates. Another Hollinger box marked “Miscellaneous” has brought to light more photographs of him, along with a manuscript notebook by him dated 1918. A box of assorted old postcards contained two sent by him while studying in Europe. Such a once prominent monastic administrator and intellectual now has nearly an entire archival box to himself, providing new perspectives on ways that Benedictine monks in twentieth-century America ministered to Slovak immigrants and their families.