A Visit to St. Leo Abbey

In Central Florida, near Dade City, is an amazing spot.  One of the thin places, where God seems very near.  It’s so easy to just drive by, but once you know it’s there you’ll never visit the area without stopping by.  It’s like stumbling onto a beautiful place deep in Europe, or somewhere from another time that was closer to God.

It’s called St. Leo Abbey, and Benedictine Monks live there and dedicate their lives to God, but they allow visitors to come and see their beautiful church, they allow retreats on the grounds (see here), they have a large gift shop (see here), and there’s much to see in the surrounding area.

Take a look at some photos from a visit there on Pentecost 2013 . . .

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St. Benedict by Fra Angelico

The history of St. Leo Abbey goes back to 1882 when Judge Edmund F. Dunne founded the Catholic colony of San Antonio. The Order of St. Benedict sent a German-speaking priest to minister to the growing German-immigrant population there.  On June 4, 1889 both Saint Leo College and the Benedictine mission that would later become the Abbey were founded on land granted to the Order of Saint Benedict by Dunne. Saint Leo was officially designated an Abbey on September 25, 1902.

The Church of the Holy Cross at the Abbey was begun in 1935 and consecrated on January 29, 1948.  (See the history of the Church here.)  The lands are now a part of a 100-acre historic district surrounding the Abbey.

The St Leo Abbey website is can be found here, the Wikipedia entry here.

State Road 52, off of I-75, is unassuming.  The grounds are large yet appropriately modest, but the Church of the Holy Cross is simply stunning to walk into.  It feels every bit the historic place that it is.  The stone, the stain glass, the saints lining the walls, the movement of the monks coming and going.  It is simply a beautiful place, a million happy miles from modernity.

Judge Edmund Dunne

While historic, at the same time it is a place in the world with modern problems.  Presently they are having to fend off those who think that they should pay additional property taxes.  This despite the fact that they already pay taxes on much of their land.  Indeed they lease land to a golf course and a tavern, which perhaps rightly incur taxes.  Still, the Abbey and its grounds are such a rare and beautiful place and should very much be protected instead of subject to additional challenges.  (See the somewhat biased recent story on this in the Tampa Bay Times.)

With governments at all levels increasingly emboldened by a modernist society to remove the protections provided to religion, the action to force the Abbey to pay ever more taxes seems right in step with the times.  But it is a shameful thing, a thing that people of conscience should help to resist.  In the history of mankind monasteries, not unlike this one, have held the truths of civilization while the world surrounding them lost hold of those truths.  They must be protected in case such a thing happens again, which hardly seems outside the realm of possibility.

Medal of St. Benedict
Medal of St. Benedict

The Abbey has its Oblates–lay Catholics who dedicate themselves to the principles of St. Benedict.  Their website can be found here, their blog here and their Facebook page here.  Down the street is the Holy Name Monastary, a convent of Benedictine nuns whose site can be found here.

While named after Pope St. Leo the Great, the monks and nuns are of the Order of St. Benedict.  Some 1,500 years ago St. Benedict of Nursia wrote the Rule of St. Benedict, which speaks to the life of the Order to this day.  The Order is one of the oldest in the Church, and its members largely withdraw from society to dedicate themselves to a life of praying for the world.  (See more on the history of the Order here, and more on the meaning of the medal here.)

It only seems right to stop by and thank them, if you’re in the neighborhood.


(Any original content is Copyright 2013 JD Pierce, but feel free to ask if you need it.)

2 thoughts on “A Visit to St. Leo Abbey”

  1. JD, thank you for your excellent and comprehensive article on Saint Leo Abbey. Many people do not know about the abbey, what it does, and that it is open to all visitors of any faith. Saint Leo Abbey is a place to seek God and pray the ancient prayers of the early Church. I especially liked your comments about retreats. The abbey’s retreat guests include people with so many interesting reasons for wanting to spend time at Florida’s only Benedictine abbey. From Protestants, Buddhists, to people of no or little faith, to Catholics who are active in the parishes, but come periodically for the abbey’s unique tranquility, to graduate students working on their PhD thesis. Thanks again JD.

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