150 Years of Fine Woodwork

Our first 100 years

Woodworking at Saint John's is as old as the community itself. When the founding monks arrived in St. Cloud in 1856, they immediately began to work with wood to create a hospitable environment for the Benedictine monastic life they planned to live together.

The first carpenter shop was located on the first floor of what has become known as “The Old Stone House;” the very first building constructed when the monks moved to the forested northern shores of Lake Sagatagan. From there construction began on the first Abbey Church (now the Great Hall) and the first wing of the Quadrangle. While erecting buildings was a major part of the carpenters' work, it did not exhaust their craft. The early carpenters also produced furniture.

Tornado that Rocked the House (1894)

After a tornado took down the Old Stone House and the top floor of the first wing of the Quadrangle, reconstruction began and the carpenter shop was relocated. A flourmill and sawmill were constructed on the newly dammed Watab river. After both were consumed by fire, the sawmill became a portable unit pulled by horses to whereever the trees were felled and logs were being stored.

In 1903, Woodworking, along with the print shop, book bindery and blacksmith shop, moved to the two-story brick building it still occupies. The early work of the carpenters was directed by artisan monks such as Br. Leo Martin, OSB, Br. Andrew Unterburger, OSB and Fr. Gregory Steil, OSB and supplemented by a number of skilled lay-workers. Young monks were regularly assigned to learn the skills of carpentry.

Winter Fire of 1939

The disastrous fire of January 22, 1939, destroyed much of the new carpenter shop. The shop was subsequently rebuilt. The print shop became The Liturgical Press and, along with the book bindery, and paint and finishing operations, moved to other areas on campus. The offices of Physical Plant now occupy the top floor of the Woodworking building.

Renewal and Growth (1939 – 2005)

Brother Hubert Schneider, OSB ran the carpenter shop for over forty years. Under his direction not only did the renovation go full scale, furniture production also continued to grow.

The current lumber shed was constructed in the 1950’s and the sawmill was set up near where Saint Thomas Aquinas Hall now stands. After many years, the Abbey could no longer provide a sawyer to operate our own sawmill and the job has been outsourced ever since. Today our logs are sawn into lumber by the local Amish community and returned here to air dry before use.

The Carpenter shop was split into to separate entities in the 1970’s; Abbey Woodworking and University Carpenter Shop. Under the direction of Br. David Manahan, OSB, new furniture designs began to flow from Abbey Woodworking. Br. Gregory Eibensteiner, OSB was called home from our mission in Red Lake to take over the direction of Abbey Woodworking in 1975 and continued in that capacity until 2005.

These two worked along with monk-artists / craftsmen such as Fr. Roman Paur, OSB, Fr. Hugh Witzmann, OSB, Br. Frank Kacmarcik, OblSB, and dedicated lay men and women. With such talent and dedication, Saint John’s Abbey Woodworking has helped to build and maintain a rich, stable community at Saint John’s by designing and fashioning furniture and architectural detail for buildings on our campus; Saint John’s University, School of Theology • Seminary, Preparatory school, The Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library and Minnesota Public Radio (MPR – born on the Saint John’s campus). 

In 2005 Brother Christopher Fair, OSB assumed the Shop Supervisor position after his return from the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine. It became his task to rethink the operations of our shop. Abbey Woodworking underwent a major revamping and saw the addition of new equipment and a laser engraving studio. This past year Fr. John Meoska took over the leadership of Abbey Woodworking.  Today, Mr. Mike Roske, Mr. Robert Lillard, Mr. KC Marrin (consultation / design), other Benedictine volunteers and students from Saint John’s University assist him.