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Saint John’s Abbey

Abstract Adhering to the Rule of St. Benedict that emphasizes humility, stability, and frugality, the monks at St. John’s Abbey are committed to environmental stewardship and ecological sustainability. Rooted in a tradition of self-sufficiency and nurturing a deep and abiding sense of place, the religious community at St. John’s Abbey has been living off of a 2,500 acre plot of land in central Minnesota for 150 years. The land includes the twenty-eight-acre campus of St. John’s University (SJU) and the College of St. Benedict (CSB), as well as a 2,500-acre natural Arboretum, which includes more than twelve miles of walking trails, nearly 700 acres of wildlife habitat reserves, and 150 acres of coniferous woodlands, oak savanna, prairie, wetlands, lakes, and orchards. On this large parcel of land, Benedictine-style stewardship, environmental education, and diverse ecosystems combine to provide an ideal environment for ecological living and learning. Seeking to be a place for the study of the connections between religion and the environment, St. John’s provides an opportunity to explore the relationship between humans and nature through spiritual reflection and practice, academic coursework, and hands-on research and restoration projects. In maintaining their entire 2,500 acres of land as a natural Arboretum, the monks are guided by a vision of caring for God’s creation and adhere to the principles of preservation, sustainability, and restoration. The Arboretum recently obtained Green Certification through the SmartWood forest management certification program, which verifies that the forest is sustainably managed through a combination of harvesting, thinning, and replanting. Areas of undisturbed wildlife habitat provide opportunities for wildlife observation, research, and recovery. Through the Habitat Restoration Project, the Abbey is working to revitalize three increasingly rare native Minnesotan habitats: prairie, wetlands, and oak savanna. The walking trails and boardwalk provides access to these unique habitats, and Arboretum staff offer educational tours and programs. The Arboretum’s newsletter, Sagatagan Seasons, is published quarterly.
Religion Christianity
(Roman Catholic)
Geographic Location United States of America
(Collegeville, Minnesota)
Duration of Project 1856–Present

When the first Benedictine monks arrived in Minnesota in 1856, they immediately began to plant pine trees, initiating a practice of tree planting and forest management at the Abbey that continues to this day. In 1894 they established the first pine plantation in Minnesota, which is now the oldest in the state. Until the middle of the twentieth century, the monks lived self-sufficiently on the land, milling lumber and making bricks for their structures, providing food (fruit, vegetables, milk, honey, and maple sugar) for themselves and their students, planting trees and maintaining the forests. While the monks no longer raise the majority of their food and material resources, they carry on sustainability practices because of their spiritual belief in the obligation to care for creation as a gift from God. In the late 1980s, an Environmental Coordinating Organization was formed to assess recycling practices and energy use on campus and to begin to formulate an environmental studies program. During that period, Fr. Paul Schwietz initiated a 150-acre Habitat Restoration Project, which entailed extensive conifer planting as well as wetland, prairie, and savanna restoration. In 1997, all 2,500 acres were designated as a natural Arboretum. In 1994, students at the university could minor in Environmental Studies, and in 2002, the faculty approved a major as well. In 2001, the Presidents of CSB and SJU issued an Environmental Statement articulating their commitment to cherish, honor, and steward the natural environment as an expression of God’s wisdom and in the tradition of St. Benedict. The Abbey received the Forest Stewardship Council’s certification for responsible forest management in 2002. Around the same time, the Department of Natural Resources declared that the Abbey’s land was a model of an intact, functioning oak forest.

Mission Statement

The Abbey’s Vision, “celebrating and preserving the unique beauty and richness of God’s creation and fostering the Benedictine traditions of stewardship, education, and environmental respect,” is expressed in the Mission of the Arboretum, which is to:

  1. “Preserve the native plant and wildlife communities of the Arboretum lands

  2. Sustain the evolving nonnative environment of the inner campus

  3. Provide opportunities for education and research

  4. Model practices of sustainable land use

  5. and Make accessible a natural environment that invites spiritual renewal.”
Partner Organizations Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
The Nature Conservancy
Minnesota Independent School District 742
Long-Term Goals None Listed
Bibliography Jennifer Delanhunty Britz, “EverGreen!” in Saint John’s Magazine, vol. 41, no. 2 (Winter 2003): 6–15.
Additional Research Resources None Listed
Contact Information Saint John’s Arboretum
Saint John’s University
Collegeville, MN 56321–3000
Ph:       320.363.3163
Fax:      320.363.3202
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)