An Inside Look at the Villanova Monastery

Vicky del Rio

“Dong, Dong.” The church bells reverberate throughout campus signaling to students that it is 2 p.m. On cue, students head to their last class of the day or dart to the Pit to indulge in a heaping plate of nachos. However, among all of this hustle and bustle, no one stops to notice the majestic

St. Thomas of Villanova Monastery that stands stately next to Tolentine Hall.

The sun playfully strikes the stained glass greens, blues, yellows and reds of the enormous windows that frame the entire chapel. The glass walls of the monastery make the interior workings of the building completely transparent to passersby, but few take the time to notice. Those who do will realize that life in the monastery is not that different from their own.

“Recently I got to watch Round 2 of the NCAA tournament with the priests” says junior Tara Martin, who works in the monastery. “It was fun to see that they are even more attached to Villanova than the students are.”

The monastery is home to about 54 priests, including Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A., former University president. According to Rev. Augustus C. Sandmann, O.S.A., some of these priests are Villanova professors who live in the monastery.

“Many of them used to be professors, and they’ve offered to tutor me in lots of different subjects,” junior Karalyn Dennis, who also works in the monastery says, “Unfortunately, none of them can help me with my nursing homework, but I have a feeling I might be taking them up on the offers for help when I start my theology class in the fall.”

More commonly, however, the priests are retired from their parish lives and have come to the monastery to complete their life of worship and dedication to God. A good number of these men have lost their health over the years and are now bedridden, Sandmann says. For them, the monastery has become a favorable alternative to a nursing home, acting as a personal infirmary where a nursing staff, including some of Villanova’s own nursing students, who are on duty 24 hours a day.

“When it’s warm outside, they like to sit on the patio or go for walks around campus,” Dennis says. “They also have game watching-parties for the basketball games – some of them also have season tickets and go to the Pavilion for the Villanova home games.”

The monastery never used to double as a retirement home. The priests in the monastery were at one time responsible for providing oversight of the University, a role they filled until Villanova formed its own corporation, making their role on campus less integral than it once was. The monastery, once cloistered, is now open to the public.

The architectural components of the monastery have changed along with the role in the community. A fire ravaged the building in 1932, causing damage that took two years to repair. And, more recently, from 2003 to 2006, more renovations were completed.

But the face of the monastery is changing.

“We’re growing older as a community,” says Sandmann, who retired to the monastery two years ago.

The interior is reminiscent of a scene right out of the Harry Potter books, with long hallways, large gold-framed portraits and many different private dining, sitting and prayer rooms hidden throughout.

Although worship is central to the lives of these priests, it is not their only pastime.

“A few great memories I have from my time at the monastery include the time one of the priests loaned me a comic book that we both like and the time I got to take Father Driscoll to the dedication ceremony for Driscoll Hall,” Dennis says.

When priests are not swapping comic books or watching basketball, their day revolves around schedules, meals and prayer, specifically the 11 a.m. daily mass, which is held in the chapel. Even priests who are no longer ambulatory come to this mass.

“Students don’t know anything about the monastery,” Sandmann admits.

Not everyone follows the schedule so rigidly, however.

“You won’t want my schedule,” Sandmann jokes, adjusting his glasses and his dark blue Lacoste sweater. “I woke up at 10 o’clock this morning. I went to the play ‘Cabaret’ last night with some of the priests, and, boy, was it fantastic.”

With a kitchen staff, a cleaning staff and a laundry staff, these men are truly able to focus on their worship and their hobbies.

“God bless you, watch over you and keep you well,” Sandmann says before adding, “And watch the basketball game.”