Recently workers repaired the nativity-scene stained-glass window in the sanctuary part of the Saint Leo Abbey church. The church portion of the abbey is 66 years old, begun in 1936 and finished in 1947. It's a beautiful place for contemplative prayer.
Saint Leo Abbey is a Catholic Benedictine abbey in Pasco County, Florida, located about 45 minutes north of Tampa (map). It welcomes all visitors as Christ. Benedictines are known for their hospitality. You can walk the quiet grounds although sometimes you might find repairs going on like the ones to the windows. Seeing the repairs helps me understand what it must take to keep a 125-year-old abbey operational and why Floridians are so fortunate to have Saint Leo Abbey.
The abbey’s stained-glass windows, architecture, and statues can the thought of as an extensive library of stories and information about the Catholic church going back more than 2000 years.
Like a repair to a valuable book made by a bookbinder, last week the abbey’s priceless book needed a minor repair to its outside cover. The only difference was that the repair required a JLG orange-colored boom lift that took up most of the driveway.
The nativity-scene stained-glass window is on the west side of the abbey church getting the full afternoon light from the hot Florida sun. That bright light makes for a vivid account of the Christmas story when seen from the inside of the Saint Leo Abbey church.
The nativity-scene windows are part of salvation history told in the sanctuary portion of the abbey church. The sanctuary of the abbey church is where the altar and crucifix are located. To the left of the altar and high on the west wall is the three-panel stained-glass windows showing the nativity of Jesus Christ, the one repaired last week.
On the east wall of the sanctuary are three-panels showing Jesus after the resurrection. The altar and crucifix are in the middle of the church. Visually and theologically they describe the account of Jesus’ birth, crucifixion, and resurrection.
Outside the sanctuary area of the Saint Leo Abbey Catholic church is the nave, where all the pews are located. Along the top of the west and east side walls of the church are sixteen saints, eight on each side. The ones on the east (right side) are the sunrise saints:
Beginning at the back of the church are four groups of two saints, side by side:
- Walburga of Heidenheim
- Gertrude the Great
- Dominic Guzman
- Francis of Sales
- Francis of Assisi
- Charles Borromeo
- Paul of Tarsus
- Simon Peter
Likewise, on the west wall (left side) of the Saint Leo Abbey church are the sunset saints:
- Therese of Lisieux
- Teresa of Avila
- John Bosco
- Aloysius Gonzaga
- Thomas Aquinas
- Augustine of Hippo
- Patrick of Ireland
- Gregory the Great
The abbey’s Catholic stained-glass window saints, the whole abbey really, tell remarkable chapters in the history of the Catholic church and the Benedictines, stories of heroic virtue. If you need a good book to read, visit Saint Leo Abbey and its rare-books collection, just look up and around, it's all there.
A favorite of mine is Saint Walburga, a Catholic Benedictine nun. She is the stained-glass saint farthest away from the Christmas-story windows that received work last week. The nativity stained-glass windows are on the west wall, she is on the east wall. She is in the back of the church, the Christmas-story windows are in the front. But what a story Saint Walburga tells from that position close to every visitor who enters the abbey church. She is tucked out of the way, a little difficult to spot when you first walk into the abbey church and look around. And she's quiet most of the time, high up on the wall.
Saint Walburga was born about 710 in England and died in 777 in Germany. Her feast day is February 25. She received one the best educations available and was of royal birth. Most of her family are saints. Her uncle is the great Benedictine missionary to Germany, Saint Boniface. Saint Boniface called Saint Walburga to be a colaborer in that great work of evangelism with him in Germany.
It is said that Saint Boniface was the first to call women to assist in such evangelization.
Later, Saint Walburga was made abbess of a women’s monastery. Her bother was the abbot of a nearby male monastery. When he died, Saint Walburga was given charge of both the female and male monasteries because of her sweetness and sound judgment.
She is often depicted holding an abbot’s crosier because she served in that capacity. The Saint Leo Abbey stained-glass windows show Saint Walburga holding a crosier -- a curved staff of church authority.
After Saint Walburga died her relics and shrine were cared for by Benedictine nuns at the Abbey of Saint Walburg in Eichstätt, Bavaria, which was founded in 1035.
In the 1930s the nuns in Eichstätt were concerned about the rise of Hitler and they sent small groups of nuns to the USA to found additional houses. One group was sent to Boulder, Colorado where it still exists today. They are contemplative Benedictine nuns. These spiritual sisters of Saint Walburga show her same sweetness and prudence. As contemplative nuns, their work is some of the most important in the Church. Visit their beautiful website which says, "There will be no evangelization, without the contemplation, which is the heart of the Benedictine life. ~ Blessed John Paul II"
It is always good to be greeted by Saint Walburga when entering the abbey church, to think about all these great saints and what they may say. They are not that distant even if they lived in the eighth century. Their lives easily span the time and distance.
For more information about Catholic Saint Leo Abbey and its oblate program for lay men and women who want to live a more balanced spiritual life under the Rule of Saint Benedict, email the oblate office. Map and directions to Saint Leo Abbey. You do not need to be an oblate to pray with the Benedictine monks or to visit Saint Leo Abbey.
See also this Examiner.com article about the November 1-3, 2013 oblate spiritual retreat weekend. It is open to anyone interested in Benedictine spirituality and contemplative prayer.