The Benedictines

St. Benedict lived in central Italy around 480-537. He studied for a while in Rome, but found the student life there unappealing and left to live as a hermit, aided by a monk named Romanus who supplied him with food. He was invited to be abbot of a monastery, but the monks tried to kill him with poisoned wine, and he had to leave another monastery when a jealous local priest sent him poisoned bread, which was disposed of by a friendly crow. Throughout these years he grew in holiness and discretion. He established a monastery at Monte Cassino. He wrote a Rule for Monks which Pope Gregory the Great, his biography, described as lucid and discerning. His Rule drew on earlier rules, particular one called the Rule of the Master, which was much longer than the Rule Benedict that wrote. The Rule of St. Benedict spread slowly; for several centuries it was often used in conjunction with other rules. The Carolingian Rulers (ca. 800) encouraged the use of Benedict’s Rule by monasteries in their territories. For the next 300 years it was the monastic Rule. During these centuries Benedictine monasteries were pre-eminent centers of culture, theology and evangelization. Sts. Bede, Boniface, Anselm, and Hildegard are outstanding representatives of the vitality of Benedictines at this time.

New religious orders spread rapidly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. They had centralized organizational structures and were usually founded for very specific purposes. Benedictine monasteries were independent and the order had no special mission other than to be a welcoming, prayerful Christian community. In the 14th century monasteries were organized into regional congregations, as they still are today.

Monasteries shared in the currents of renewal and reform in the Church during the fifteenth century. Although perhaps half the monasteries in Europe were closed at the Reformation, Benedictine monasticism continued to thrive in Catholic countries. Monasteries in German lands were centers of Baroque culture, and in France monks of the Maurist Congregation pioneered the techniques of modern historical scholarship.

At the French Revolution and during the decade after it, most monasteries in Europe were closed. Only some in Austria and the Catholic parts of Switzerland survived. From that remnant the order again flourished during the 19th century. The monastery of Engelberg in Switzerland founded Mount Angel Abbey in 1882, and monks from there founded the monastery of the Ascension in 1965.

Our Monastic Community

The phone and fax number for the monastery is 208-324-2377. When callers reach that number they are asked for an extension number. Here are some key phone numbers, including all the monks:

  • Prior Boniface Lautz - 207
  • Fr. Hugh Feiss - 202 (cell: 208-761-9389)
  • Fr. Kenneth Hein - 205
  • Fr. Meinrad Schallberger - 203
  • Fr. Ezekiel Lotz
  • Br. Sylvester Sonnen - 213
  • Br. Tobiah Urrutia - 210
  • Br. Selby Coffman - 215
  • John Wasko - 219
  • Kitchen (LuAnn Stites-Kraft) - 212
  • Business Office - 256
  • Prior Boniface

    Prior to 1987 I lived most of my life in western Oregon. I joined the monastic community at Mt. Angel in 1954 and after ordination in 1960 pursued additional studies in theology at the University of Ottawa, Canada. I was involved in seminary work at Mt. Angel. I have also been involved in clinical pastoral education and spent considerable time in health care ministry, especially with the fragile elderly. In 1987 I came to be part of the monastic community here at the Monastery of the Ascension, where I served as prior from 1988 to 2009. Besides my daily activities here at the monastery I help in local parishes on weekends when the need arises. I also give retreats and parish missions. One of my favorite pastimes is fishing. In October 2016 Fr. Boniface was re-elected prior of the monastery.

    Fr. Hugh

    I was born in Lakeview, OR, and lived in Baker and Grant counties before moving to Eugene, where I attended grade school. I entered Mt. Angel Abbey in 1960 and was ordained to priestly service in 1966. I did most of my subsequent graduate work in philosophy and theology at The Catholic University of America and Sant' Anselmo in Rome. I taught humanities, philosophy and theology for 30 years at Mt. Angel Seminary, and directed the abbey library at Mt. Angel for 10 years, before coming to Ascension Priory in 1996. Here the time not devoted to liturgy and other community activities, I spend teaching, writing and doing pastoral work, which along with my friends are my great loves in this world. During the school year I am chaplain at St. John's Catholic Student Center at Idaho State University in Pocatello, ID. I coordinate the monastery's oblate program and the Road Scholar Programs offered in the monastery's retreat house/ministry center. My academic interests center on medieval religious thought and practice, monastic history, and theology about Christ and creation. I am very interested in ornithology and natural history generally.

    Fr. Kenneth

    Just before Thanksgiving, 2003, the monastic community welcomed Fr. Kenneth Hein into their midst. Fr. Kenneth came to the Monastery of the Ascension in November, 2003, from Holy Cross Abbey in Canon City, Colorado, which is closing because of lack of personnel and vocations. He is a native of the Intermountain West and wished to be part of a Benedictine Community in this region. He chose the Monastery of the Ascension because it is a place where I could become fully immersed in the life of a religious community of men and their ministries in and for the Church. I am very pleased that I have been accepted into a very friendly and active monastic community. I look forward to getting more acquainted with Idaho and its people and with the Diocese of Boise. Fr. Kenneth was born June 2, 1938, in Longmont, CO. He joined Holy Cross Abbey in 1960. He studied at St. Benedict's College, Atchison, KS, and then at the Anselmianum in Rome and at the University of Tuebingen in Germany where he earned a doctorate in theology. Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, who was to become Pope Benedict XVI, was his thesis director. He was ordained a priest in 1969. Fr Kenneth has taught theology at the high school, college, and seminary levels. He has served as a chaplain in a prison, an abbey of nuns and a medical center, and was the associate pastor in a parish. He was elected prior of the monastery on Nov 9, 2009, and served in that capacity until October 2016.

    Fr. Meinrad

    Fr. Meinrad was born April 3, 1937, in Mt. Angel, OR. His father, an immigrant from Switzerland, had gone first to St. Gertrude's in Cottonwood, but then went to Mount Angel Abbey where he worked at their printing press. Fr. Meinard was professed a monk at that abbey on September 8, 1958, and ordained a priest on May 7, 1964. After his ordination, he served as a priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Portland until 1969. Then he managed the abbey press where his father had worked. He was sent to Ascension Priory on March 9, 1982. Through all these years he was helped in parishes on weekends, and for many years was active in ministry to divorced people. He was chaplain at Monastery of St. Gertrude from 1999 to 2007. He writes that he lives the monastic way of life for one reason only - to seek Christ.

    Fr. Ezekiel

    Fr. Ezekiel Lotz comes to Ascension on assignment from its founding house of Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon. As a monk of Mount Angel for the past fifteen years, he has served as an organist and Choir Master in the monastic community while also teaching Church History, Humanities, and Comparative Religion at Mount Angel Seminary. Along with these liturgical and teaching duties, he served as Academic Vice President to the seminary and Academic Dean in the Graduate School from 2006-2010. In 2005 Fr. Ezekiel was awarded a D. Phil. degree from Oxford University with a specialization in the history of late medieval monasticism and contemplative life in Burgundy and Flanders. From 2005-2008, he served as an officer on the Board of Directors of the North American Commission for Monastic Interreligious Dialogue. He maintains a strong interest in the 20th-century European avant-garde and its influence on the development of Post-Modern Catholic culture. While at Ascension, he hopes to assist the community with those various aspects of ora et labora that constitute the daily regimen of Benedictine life and to deepen his own personal commitment to contemplative prayer as spurred on, in part, by the breathtakingly broad vistas of the Magic Valley.

    Br. Sylvester

    Br. Sylvester was born in Greencreek, ID, on March 13,1945. He is one of 8 children. He became a monk in 1966, and is the only member of the Monastery of the Ascension to have been connected with it from its beginnings. Br. Sylvester has done many tasks at the monastery; he worked in maintenance before taking up his present housekeeping duties in the Ministry Center, the monastery's retreat and guest facility. He has been involved in the Knights of Columbus, Cursillo, and Search. His favorite occupation is decorating. He also likes to do woodworking.

    Br. Tobiah

    I was born in 1941, and monastic life is a second vocation for me. I entered the monastery after many years in secular life. I have been married and have one son. I thought as a teenager I might have a vocation, but never really went for it. I entered the monastery in 1986. I served many years as kitchen master and was also manager of the bookstore. Currently I help in the kitchen and not the grounds. I like the balance of work, prayer and leisure. Most of my leisure time I spend with chickens which I am breeding for show. They help me realize that all of us are God's creatures and that we should be sensitive to the needs of our brothers and sisters and all God's creatures.

    Br. Selby

    I made my final vows on July 10, 2004. I grew up in North Carolina and Kentucky, graduated from Oberlin College, OH, in 1973. For 20 years I was involved in peace and social justice work of various kinds, most notably in support of nonviolent human rights efforts in Central America. I also have been trained in music for the dying, using voice and harp, to provide pain relief and spiritual comfort. Currently, I do volunteer work, playing music for the dying. I am in charge of cleaning the common areas of the monastery and I look out for a shelter belt we are growing on one edge of the monastery land. My time here at the Monastery has been the most spiritually rich and quietly joyful period of my life.

    John Wasko

    John Wasko was born in California in 1970. His family moved to Filer, ID, in 1974. After graduating from Filer High School he studied electronics in Phoenix and Boise for two years. He worked in grocery stores in Ketchum and Twin Falls. After a collision with a semi-truck in 2000, he recuperated for a year and then studied computer software and repair at the College of Southern Idaho, but his back required several fusions and he couldn't work anymore. He spent the next decade helping his parents and his elderly uncle, and being very involved at Immaculate Conception Parish in Buhl, ID, where he did maintenance, served as Eucharistic minister to the sick and was a photographer for parish events. In recent years, he has spent more time volunteering at the monastery. His interests include computers, maintenance, and photography.

    Our Deceased Community Members

    Fr. Simeon was born July 27, 1927, and named Wilber Paul. He served in the army for two years high school and then attended De Paul University where he obtained a degree in business. He entered Mt. Angel Seminary in 1953, graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1956, and entered Mount Angel Abbey where he was received the name Simeon. He was ordained a priest in 1961. He earned a MA in speech from the University of Washington in 1966. Fr. Simeon taught in the schools operated by Mount Angel Abbey from 1961 to 1967 and 1972 to 1980. He was appointed prior of the Monastery of the Ascension from 1967 to 1972, and from 1980 to 1987. Thereafter he served in several parishes in the diocese of Boise, and was serving at chaplain at St. Paul's Catholic Student Center at the time of his death on January 9, 2007.

    Br. Jose Francisco Echanove died unexpectedly on July 12, 2013. He was born on December 22, 1946, in the Basque Country of Spain. After completing high school in his home town and compulsory military service, he worked in a restaurant near his home and on the family farm. In 1974 he came to America to cook for a sheepherding crew in Hagerman, ID for three years. Then he worked for nine years for the Tupperware factory in Jerome. He was professed as a monk of the monastery in 1990. He became an American citizen in 2002. Br. Jose was a man of many talents. He worked most of his monastic life in the monastery kitchen. He sewed and knitted. Fluent in Spanish and Basque, Br. Jose volunteered for many years at he local Catholic Churches, advising people of immigration issues. He was outgoing and friendly and maintained close ties with his family in Spain.

    Fr. Eugene was born in 1928. He grew up in Mt. Angel, OR, and entered Mount Angel Abbey in 1949. After completing his studies for the priesthood, he was ordained in 1954. He studied and taught mathematics before coming to the Monastery of the Ascension in 1971. He was part of the move of the monastery from Twin Falls to the current location. After that he served as chaplain to the sisters in Mesa, ID, and as parish priest in Glenns Ferry, ID. He was a dedicated gardener. Fr. Eugene passed away March 2nd, 2017.

    Fr. Norbert came to the Monastery of the Ascension in 1997. He had joined Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon in 1957 and was ordained a priest in 1964. He studied theology at Mt. Angel Seminary, in Rome at Sant' Anselmo during the Second Vatican Council, and at St. Paul's in Ottawa, Canada. For six years, he taught theology at Mt. Angel Seminary. There followed a variety of pastoral assignments including parish work and chaplain to the Benedictine sisters in Yankton, SD. For almost twenty years, he was a priest/chaplain and a health care ethicist for the Providence Health System in Oregon. Fr. Norbert died Nov. 27, 2017.

    On June 2, 2020, Fr. Andrew died suddenly, but peacefully. He took ill while praying in the chapel and, at the beginning of night office, was helped to his room by several confreres. He died before the office was finished. It was a fitting death for a dedicated monk who had faithfully prayed the divine office for more than 65 years and had just celebrated the 6Oth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

    Father Andrew was born March 12, 1934, and spent his early years on the family farm near Genesee, ID, in an area that was heavily Catholic and has been a fertile source of religious and priestly vocations. His family moved to Mt. Angel, OR, and from there he entered the minor seminary operated by Mount Angel Abbey as a high school freshman in 1948.

    After six years in the minor seminary, he entered Mount Angel Abbey and was professed there, with Fr. Prior Boniface, on September 8, 1955. He was ordained May 26, 1960. Thereafter, he served in many capacities at Mount Angel: Associate pastor in Mt. Angel and mathematics teacher at the local Catholic High School while also serving as associate pastor in the town parish. He earned an advanced degree in mathematics at Colorado State University and taught mathematics in the seminary for many years, where was also rector of the college seminary. In the abbey he was organist, junior master, subprior for 13 years and business manager for 15.

    He spent nine months in 1979-89 helping to build the Ascension Priory, but was then called back to Mount Angel to be business manager, a position he held for 15 years. During his time at Mount Angel, he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada twice and was doing it for a third time when he had a heart attack.

    In November 1995 he was assigned to Ascension Priory, where he lived until his death, serving as business manager and subprior. When he arrived at the Ascension Priory he quickly became involved in Cursillo, and was still a member of a 4th-Day Group when he died.

    In later years he became very involved in prison ministry, working with the ecumenical Kairos group active in Boise. He truly loved that difficult work. He continued hiking here in Idaho and made many friends in the process. He used to walk around our property each day (a four-mile walk) and to the day he died he took a walk every afternoon.

    He is survived by a sister, Dorothy Diehl, who lives in Mount Angel, and several nieces and nephews and their children. In his last years he liked to reminisce. His recollections were usually happy ones, giving the impression that he was grateful for many blessings. He was, in the best sense of the word, a simple man, guileless, and satisfied with simple things. We and his many friends will miss him.

    Because of the COVID-19 epidemic, his funeral was held privately at the monastery on June 13, with burial in the monastery cemetery.

    Monastery of the Ascension
    541 E 100 South
    Jerome, ID 83338
    208 324-2377 Ext-210