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Westmoreland County Historical Society gives tours of St. Vincent Basilica and Gristmill

Dawn Law
| Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
(from left), David and Mary Ann Stahl, of Uniity Township, and Carolyne and Ed Sparber, also of Unity Township, mingle near a retired Buhrstone, during a tour of the St. Vincent Gristmill, hosted by the Westmoreland County Historical Society on Tuesday evening, December 11, 2012.
Kim Stepinsky | For The Tribune-Review
(from left), David and Mary Ann Stahl, of Uniity Township, and Carolyne and Ed Sparber, also of Unity Township, mingle near a retired Buhrstone, during a tour of the St. Vincent Gristmill, hosted by the Westmoreland County Historical Society on Tuesday evening, December 11, 2012. Kim Stepinsky | For The Tribune-Review

Westmoreland County Historical Society on Tuesday coordinated tours of the historic basilica and gristmill at St. Vincent Archabbey and College in Unity.

When Bavarian monk Boniface Wimmer established North America's first Benedictine monastery in 1846, he envisioned a self-sufficient place grounded in the teachings of St. Benedict, where people would live, learn and serve God as part of a community.

Kelsey Harris, 20, a history major at the college, led tours of the gristmill, which was constructed in 1854, and is still in operation.

“As someone who appreciates history and faith,” Harris said. “I couldn't have picked a better college.”

Brother Joachim Morgan and Brother Basil Alexander, assistant managers of the mill's general store, waited on customers who perused displays of pottery, ornaments and sundries.

First-time visitor Amy Faith of Salem, with her husband, John, was excited about the prospect of baking “holy bread” with flour ground at the mill.

The Rev. Athanasius Cherry spoke to the groups touring the 107-year old basilica.

Cherry pointed out the original pews, and shared the history behind the coats of arms and the figures on the pedestals under the 10-ton marble altar.

He showed where the monks sing and pray daily and where they are laid out when they die.

Cherry answered questions, like one about tunnels running beneath the campus. “Yes, there are tunnels, but they don't go to St. Xavier,” he said, explaining the tunnels, once used to transport food, now serve as a storage area. “They only go down the hall to the next building.”

As for what monks do in their spare time, Cherry, a nurse practitioner who is responsible for seeing that the basilica runs smoothly, said the monks like to golf, participate in league sports, visit friends or relax and watch a movie.

“We live a normal life,” Cherry said. “It's like living in a family, and that's what St. Benedict wanted.”

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