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The Benedictine Congregation of St. Ottilien

In Beuron, (one of the formative abbeys working for the restoration of Benedictine life in Germany) in the 19th century, there was as a young monk called Andreas Amrheim (1844-1927). After reading a paper on Benedictine monasticism and its affect on the evangelization of Europe in the Middle Ages, he conceived of a project to renew this missionary dimension for the evangelization of Africa.

    Against numerous and difficult obstacles, Fr. Amrheim received permission from his abbot in 1883 and began his monastic project. He first established his community in an old Benedictine monastery called Reinchenback (near Ratisbona).

    There was a lot of work in order to organize such a community. Negotiations with the government of Bavaria and also with the Holy See were complicated. Finally on the 29th of June 1884, Pope Leo XIII formally approved the establishment of the Missionary Institute in Reinchenbach. The authorities in Bavaria approved the foundation on the 11th of April 1885.

    When developing what type of community life he would create, he modelled it essentially on monastic discipline and prayer with the denial of the self coupled with physical work in order to prepare candidates for mission work.

In the autumn of 1886, Amrheim moved his mission house to an old estate at Emming (between Munich and Augsburg) which is now known as St. Ottilien.

    On the 20th of October 1886, Armrheim received a letter from German authorities in support of all forms of missionary work in its German colonies in Africa. It was not only for evangelization, but also for the spread of German culture and civilization in their eyes.

The first group of missionaries left St. Ottilien on the 11th of November 1887. This group was formed of eight brothers, four religious and one priest (Boniface Fleschutz-named Apostolic Prefect). Their destination was the Apostolic Prefect of Zanzibar, an area of 300,000 square kilometres. They first travelled to Rome, where, in the presence of Amrheim, they pronounced their vows. There they received their grey habits, black scapular and missionary crucifix.

    At the end of January 1888 the first group of missionaries arrived at their destination and immediately began to build a monastery in the area of Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania) and it was subsequently called Pugu. The life in this first community was strictly monastic in custom and traditions. They began to teach, instruct the catechism, care for slave children and till the soil. And so the community began to gain the respect and confidence of the people.

    In 1889, there was a revolt in the German colonies and two monks and a sister were taken prisoner, along with the monastery being destroyed completely. This was the end of the first missionary project. The group returned to Germany to study the situation, but they kept at the forefront the necessity of keeping mission work at the centre of their vision. In 1889, another group, headed by Boniface Fleschutz established itself at Dar-es-Salaam; however, climatic conditions as well as tropical illnesses crippled the members of this missionary expedition.

With the passage of time, there were new attempts. Between 1887 and 1895, no less than seventy missionaries were sent to the east of Africa. At the beginning of the century, thanks to the flourishing number of vocations, the missions were able to intensify the work. Monasteries such as Peramiho (1927-1931), Ndanda (1931) or Hanga (1971) are clear testimonies to the efforts of the Congregation of St. Ottilien to plant the seed of Benedictine missionary life in Africa. The life of the Congregation has enriched by the foundation of various new monastic communities on various continents, which gives it a window onto the world.