Austrian Congregation

 


Introduction

Founded in 1907, the Austrian Congregation of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine provides a formal institutional relationship among the six houses of Canons Regular in Austria and South Tyrol (with parishes today also in Bergen Norway and Glen Cove, New York, United States of America).

The purpose of the congregation is to foster cooperation and mutual support among the six houses.

At the helm of the congregation is the Abbot General, who serves for a five year term. The six provosts elect him. His principal responsibility is to ensure the well-being of the monasteries and their compliance with the canonical life as envisioned by the Constitutions of the Austrian Congregation. He carries out a visitation of each of the houses every four years, during which time he interviews all members of the community.

The current abbot general is Provost Bernhard Backovsky of Stift Klosterneuburg (pictured on the right). His term is 2002-2007. He is now serving in his second term.

Some of the younger members of the congregation at Juniorat Week 2004 at Stift Herzogenburg. Click to enlarge.

A brief History of the Augustinian Canons in Austria

The canonical life has a long and illustrious history in Austria, where 28 monasteries once blossomed. The regular canons first came to Austria as part of a great, clerical reform during the 12th Century. These houses offered the authentic worship of God, holiness of life for the clergy, and opportunities to spread civilization and culture to the local population through cloister schools, libraries, the arts and music and the care for travelers and pilgrims (hospitals).

When the Protestant Revolt extinguished over 800 houses in the rest of Europe, the houses of Austria were likewise affected and many nearly died out. In fact many of the Austrian canons abandoned their faith and became Lutherans. Some stayed on as Lutherans, while many others left. For example Stift Herzogenburg had but one Canon left by 1573 and three of the canonries did not survive.

However, with the energetic intervention of the Catholic faithful, especially in the person of the Emperor, many of the houses were reformed. The old canons were pensioned off or removed, and new canons installed. Thereafter the Austrians houses enthusiastically embraced the Catholic reformation.

Renowned not only for splendid liturgy and zealous care of souls, they also excelled in the arts and sciences. Moreover, at this time, many of the houses undertook great building projects including libraries, churches and residences in the exuberant baroque style.

The blessing of imperial intervention during the so-called Reformation would prove to be a two sided sword during the reign of Emperor Joseph II in the eighteenth century. He was dubbed “the Imperial Sacristan” on account of his desire to regulate every aspect of the life of the Church in his central European empire. He closed all but six of the remaining canonries beginning in 1782. Joseph’s program, called “Josephinism”, has bequeathed the Catholic Church an ambiguous legacy.

The six Stifts of the Austrian Congregation

Click on the pictures to visit the websites of the Stifts

St. Florian: The most ancient of the Austrian canonries, St. Altmann of Passau sent the first canons here in 1071. Named after the martyr St. Florian, the monastery was built a at traditional site of Christian worship going back to the 4th Century. After suffering the depredation of Protestant reformation, it quickly recovered and flourished, becoming the home a thriving community renowned for scholarship and the arts.
Herzogenburg: Bishop Ulrich I of Passau founded a stift at the confluence of the Danube and the Traisen rivers, but later the canons relocated to higher ground in 1244 as a result of flooding. Canonical observance was renewed by the 15th Century Raudnitz reform and again later in the Catholic reformation during which time its buildings took on a unique Austrian rococo style.
Neustift: This stift lies today in south Tyrol, a region which became part of Italy after World War One. The bishop of Brixen, Bl. Hartmann of Chiemsee, founded Neustift in 1142. From the beginning it has been a center of learning and culture with its cloister and music schools.
Reichersberg: The lord of Reichersberg, Werner, founded the monastery along the Inn river in 1084. It achieved great fame during the 12th Century due to the presence of the dynamic and saintly brothers Arno and Gerhoh of Reichersberg. It thrived during the Catholic reformation, but suffered due to wars in the 18th and 19th Century.
Vorau: Markgraf Ottokar III of Styria founded Vorau in 1163 in thanksgiving to God for the birth of his long desired son. The canons ran an important scriptorium which produced many significant and beautiful codices. It has one of the most splendid baroque churches in Austria.
Klosterneuburg: For extensive information on Stift Klosterneuburg, its history, founder, provosts and canons, click here.