Deepening Union: A Benedictine Commitment

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In early July 1899, Oestreich traveled to England, the first leg of his return passage. Fr. Thomas was going home. On July 14, Oestreich sailed from Southampton to New York on the First Bismarck.30 Before returning to Maryhelp, Oestreich, with permission of Leo Haid, visited his mother in Reading. Typically, Fr. Thomas was quick to express his gratitude. Oestreich wrote his abbot, "My dear mother did not see much of me when I was home last time, and so I intend making up for it this time. I wish to thank you with all my heart for your great kindness."31

On returning to Maryhelp, Oestreich enrolled in the full expanse of his monastery and college's work. Such diversity would mark Fr. Thomas' labor thenceforth. One particularly important appointment was Oestreich's assignment as abbatial secretary. Although this office initially was not very challenging, its scope broadened progressively. At first, Fr. Thomas emphasized clerical duties only. But before long, Oestreich was enlisting his own Roman contacts on behalf of Haid's causes. Then, the abbot's agents grew in their regard for Oestreich's abilities. As a result, Fr. Thomas was able to expand his service by taking greater initiative when executing the tasks that fell to him. In the college and seminary, Fr. Thomas also accepted an increasingly prominent role. For example, during the school year of 1899-1900, he served as professor of Church History, Second Latin, First Greek, French, Italian, English, Sacred Scripture, Modern History, and Civil Government, all in the Classical Course. Oestreich also served as the college's librarian.32

In 1909, while maintaining his responsibilities as abbatial secretary, librarian, and professor, Oestreich was nominated to be Rector of the College and Seminary,33 their highest administrative office. Sharing his abbot's vision for the schools, Fr. Thomas devoted himself to this new chapter in Maryhelp's educational history. From the quiet familial institution of the earliest years, Haid and Oestreich began building up a strong liberal arts institution. In particular, they centered their attention on issues pertaining to each student's character and religion, not merely his intellect.34 Under Oestreich's guidance, between the years 1909-22,35 the seminary course of studies appears to not have had substantial changes. The college, however, was updated and restructured incrementally as its vision and philosophical foundation matured. Most significantly, in 1916 the curriculum and schools received a thorough and comprehensive re-organization. This charted the institution's improved scholarly integrity. It created three distinct departments: the Commercial, the Academic, and the Collegiate. Within this structure, the Commercial Department presented courses that gave students "a practical Business Education,"36 while the Academic Department supplied college-preparatory courses. The Collegiate Course was clearly established as the pinnacle of Belmont Abbey College's mission. It featured what Haid called "thorough" education, which he saw as the core of the Benedictine Order's academic vision. To encourage this educational objective, Oestreich devoted himself to providing "the breadth of studies and opportunities. . . so integral to good and thorough education."37

In 1921, the schools were reconstructed anew. Seeking an even more distinct definition, Oestreich devised a plan that advertised the seminary and college equally. Under his design, the school was divided into five discrete sections this time.38 This careful definition of academic life at Belmont also reflected Oestreich's resolute determination to raise scholastic standards and to ensure the intellectual integrity of the Belmont schools. The Haid and Oestreich's design for Belmont Abbey College won that institution its greatest merit and recognition to date.

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30AAM, B22 Thomas Oestreich, #1 RP. Letter from Fr. Thomas Oestreich to Leo Abbot Haid, May 28, 1899. return

31AAM, B22 Thomas Oestreich, #1 RP. Letter from Fr. Thomas Oestreich to Abbot Leo Haid, April 14, 1899. return

32AAM. B19 Thomas Oestreich, #1 RP. Report of the archivist, March 12, 1985. return

33For further information on Fr. Thomas as librarian cf. Donoghue, "Thomas," 33-34. return

34AAM, Catalogue. Belmont Abbey College 1917-18, p. 8. return

35Baumstein, "Belmont," p. 218. return

36AAM, Catalogue. Belmont Abbey College 1917-18, p. 17. return

37Baumstein, "Belmont" 218. return

38AAM. Catalogue. Belmont Abbey College (Belmont, N.C.). 1921-1922, p. 20. The divisions are as follows:

  1. A School of Sacred Sciences (the seminary).
  2. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (including degree courses in philosophical, scientific, classical, and literary studies).
  3. The Academy of Liberal Arts and Sciences (secondary school with focus on ancient and modern languages, English, mathematics, sciences, and history).
  4. A School of Commerce (offering accountancy, typewriting, commercial law, and social science).
  5. A preparatory course for students who lack the entrance requirements for the academy. return
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