Adelhelm Odermatt

Adelhelm Odermatt portrait

"Portrait & Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley Oregon." Chapman Publishing Company, 1903. p. 429.


the founder of Mount Angel, by far the strongest moral influence in this part of the state, and the instigator of every good work which has for its object the upbuilding of his people, was born in Stanz, the capital city of Canton Unterwalden, Switzerland, December 10, 1844. His ecclesiastical training was received at the Benedictine Abbey of Mount Angel, Switzerland, which he entered in 1865, and from which he was sent as a missionary to the United States in 1873. Until 1881 he was located at Maryville, Mo., and August 2 of that year he arrived in Portland to found a Benedictine priory. In search of a desirable location he traveled extensively over the northwest for six months, and subsequently assumed charge of the parishes of Gervais, Fillmore, and Sublimity. May 9, 1882, Father Odermatt left for Switzerland, and after having been appointed prior by the Right Rev. Abbot Anselin, O. S. B., of the mother house of Mount Angel, he returned to America October 29 of the same Year, to found the Benedictine priory at Gervais.

The priory of Gervais consisted of five fathers, one lay brother, and five in candidates for the monastery, in connection with which was maintained the St. Scholastics Convent, with ten sisters, of which Rev. Mother Bernardine, O. S. B., was the head. July 14, 1884, Father Odermatt moved the monastery to what was then called Fillmore, where he erected a new building and church and called the place and railway station Mount Angel, after the mother house in Switzerland. In 1886 the Benedictine sisters also removed their mother house to Mount Angel. In 1888 the Benedictine fathers built a new college, and the following year a seminary was erected for ecclesiastical students. So well founded was this enterprise, and so prosperous did it become that in 1889 the fathers were obliged to build a new college, 150x150 feet, ground dimensions,and four stories high. The new building was modern in construction, and admirably filled the needs for which it was intended, and no more promising religious center existed in the state. However, a great disappointment was in store for those who had so zealously labored in the cause of humanity, for May 3, 1892, between the hours of two and four in the afternoon, the entire monastery, church, old college and seminary, as well as carpenter shop, flour mill, and engine house, were reduced to ashes, but one building remaining of the splendid work of years. Nevertheless, neither the founder nor his co-laborers were utterly cast down, but continued their school in the only building available to them.

Characteristic of the energy and resource which have dominated his career was the course of Father Odermatt in the face of this crushing calamity. He at once left for the east to engage in missionary work, and collect funds for the re-building of the institution, which was to represent in its completion and great opportunity for usefulness, the most ambitious project of a well directed life. Father Odermatt preached throughout the entire east, visiting all the large cities, and availing himself of any pulpit at his disposal. In spite of the general depression of the times, and the remoteness of the enterprise to which the easterners were asked to contribute, he succeeded beyond his expectations, the result of his six years' tour being eminently satisfactory. June 21, 1899, the cornerstone of the new monastery was laid by Archbishop Alexander Christie, D. D., of Portland, Ore., and by New Year's day, 1902, the monastery proper was roofed. At the present time there are seventeen fathers, three scholastics and thirty-four professed lay brothers in the monastery, and the good accomplished by them as a body is beyond calculation. The premises contain about one thousand acres of land, much of which is excellent farming land, while timber abounds, and pasturage permits the raising of large quantities of stock. The institution includes a dairy farm of extensive acreage in the foothills of the Cascade mountains, where the cattle are pastured in summer. Innumerable departments of industry are represented in this religious community, and the visitor who is permitted to observe them is impressed with the neatness, thrift and industry everywhere apparent, as well as by the Old World courtesy which he receives at the hands of those in authority. It is not strange that Father Odermatt ranks with the great material and religious upbuilders of the northwest, nor that his life work is typical, in its extent, of what may be accomplished in the face of great obstacles, and by the light of a supreme and unalterable guidance.


Submitted to the Oregon Bios. Project in March 2010 by Diana Smith. Submitter has no additional information about the person(s) or family mentioned above.

Editor's note: Mount Angel Abbey still exists, in St. Benedict, Marion Co., Oregon. Photos of the original abbey are posted as part of the Abbey History page.