950 Years of a Living Monastery

380 Years of Admont Abbey School

Admont Abbey Grammar School - exterior photo © Thomas Sattler


The multifaceted history of the Stiftsgymnasium

380 years of Stiftsgymnasium Admont: Looking back on the founding of the grammar school by Abbot Urban Weber prompts us to celebrate not only the 950th anniversary of the abbey next year, but also the "round birthday" of the school. Nonetheless, a cursory glance at its development, characterised by numerous breaks, ups and downs, is enough to show that it is by no means a straightforward history of uninterrupted continuity.


Within the long tradition of scholarship at Admont Monastery, whose educational mission dates back to its foundation, the period of 380 years may seem surprisingly short. As early as the 12th century, in addition to the theological teaching for the monks, lessons were also given to selected sons of the nobility. Records from the 16th century show that provision was also made for the education of "chorales" (choirboys) and "scholares" (boys for the lower church service).
Nevertheless, the foundation of the (first) grammar school in 1644 represented a fundamental paradigm shift in the monastery's educational tradition. While the educational institutions had previously been "by and large held for the sake of the monastery" (Lachowitz 1958, p. 4) and primarily focussed on the monastic offspring, Abbot Urban took a decisive step to think even more broadly about the educational mission: a generally accessible educational institution was to be created for the benefit of the entire region.
The grammar school form was modelled on the educational standards of the Jesuits, with the existing schools in Graz and Leoben serving as role models.

Abbey Archive - Abbey Library, Cod. 368
Admont Abbey - Abbey Archives - School dramas like the phoenix 1775
Abbey chronicle - Group photo

In the first years of the school, around 20-30 pupils attended Admont Grammar School, and after corresponding expansions, the number of pupils at the beginning of the 18th century was already over a hundred. A convict (boarding school) was also opened when the school was founded, but "external" pupils were also able to attend the grammar school from the outset. As education was still a privilege of the nobility around 300 years ago, aristocratic pupils made up the vast majority (78% in 1708). The others came from the neighbouring catchment area (mainly from Styria, with a few from the Kirchdorf/Krems area). In addition to religion and comprehensive Latin language studies, the curriculum of the grammar school, which was organised into six grades, also included mathematics, physics, geography and ancient Greek.
Rhetoric (as the discipline of the highest class level) and the performing arts, which flourished in the Baroque period, were also particularly important. Richly equipped theatres were available for performances. The school's development into a prestigious educational institution in the 18th century reached its peak when it was granted public status by court decree in 1777. However, just a few years later, the school, which was thus elevated to the status of a princely grammar school, headed for the first significant break in its history, triggered by the reorganisation in the course of the Josephine Reforms. In 1786, the school authorities ordered the Admont grammar school to be relocated to the site of the recently closed Jesuit grammar school in Leoben, as a school was desired for the town of the bishop's see. As a result of this forced closure, only the choirboys and a small number of external pupils continued to receive private tuition in Admont.

Abbot Gotthard Kugelmayr's efforts to re-establish the grammar school remained unsuccessful for a long time. Instead, the Admont Benedictines were given an additional (albeit honourable) task: according to a decree of 1804, the majority of the professorships at the grammar school in Graz were to be filled by monks from Admont. It was only when the Leoben grammar school was dissolved again in 1808 that Abbot Gotthard took the initiative and set about creating "the largest school and educational centre in Upper Styria and one of the most important in the country" (Tomaschek 1983, p. 14). Skilled teaching staff and extensive investment ensured the quality of teaching and helped the school to regain public status as early as 1812 (possibly favoured by the abbot's good relations with Archduke Johann).
In 1818, however, a difficult economic situation forced Abbot Gotthard into retirement, whereupon an external administrator was appointed and an austerity programme was imposed on the monastery, which also provided for the (renewed) closure of the grammar school. However, in order to prevent the closure of the only higher education institution in northern Styria, the then district capital of Judenburg intervened and applied to the Prince for the Admont grammar school to be relocated there. The application for a change of location was granted and the school opened in Judenburg in 1820.
Even in this phase of history, a small private school remained in Admont, which was to develop a special life of its own in the decades to come: the hundred-year era of the Admont Boys' Choir Institute followed. From the 1840s, in addition to the "Regens Chori", who was responsible for the musical education of the mostly 5-7 choirboys, other monks were employed for teaching and administrative activities. The number of pupils, supplemented by a few external students, was always around a dozen. The expansion of the Latin school, which was limited to the lower grades (from 1848 "Privatuntergymnasium"), promoted by Abbot Benno Kreil, was given a new boost by the closure of the Judenburg grammar school. The expertise of the teachers available in Admont again from 1857 led to increased interest and a growth to around 30 pupils. At the latest under Karlmann Hieber, who was elected abbot in 1861 and had previously worked as headmaster in Graz, the declared aim must have been to convert the school back into a full grammar school. However, the fire disaster of 1865, which destroyed a large part of the school and convent premises, thwarted all expansion plans.

Again, most of the pupils had to leave Admont and only the choirboys remained behind (in emergency accommodation). School and boarding school operations can be said to have resumed from 1870. Under the musically demanding direction of Regens Chori P. Marian Berger, the number of pupils quickly grew back to the level before the fire. In addition, the abolition of the obligation to send Admont monks to the grammar school in Graz meant that an expanded and highly qualified teaching staff was once again available. It was not only Abbot Zeno Müller (1869-1885) who was extremely keen to build up the grammar school; the exceptional scholar Fr Gabriel Strobl, who was appointed headmaster in 1893, also endeavoured to achieve the highest possible academic standard. However, external circumstances once again turned against these endeavours.

Around 1900, the monastery began to experience a considerable shortage of new recruits, and the outbreak of war in 1914 meant a massive economic burden. When the situation came to a head again in 1920-21 due to a series of deaths in the convent, the reorganisation that had become unavoidable created a new perspective, especially for the school agendas in the midst of the deepest crisis: due to correspondence with the Innsbruck-Innrain Benedictine priory, which was about to be dissolved, some of the monks living there considered transferring to Admont and thus counteracting the acute problem of new recruits. However, the "Innrain Benedictines", who had previously run the grammar school in Volders and were fully committed to the educational mission, only offered this on the condition that a full grammar school was re-established in Admont.

The convent under Abbot Oswin Schlammadinger gave its approval, and as early as autumn 1921, Father Heinrich Schmaus from Innsbruck was entrusted with the management of the school and the expansion project. After successive expansion of the premises and the teaching staff (including secular teachers for the first time), the school successfully applied for the right to open the lower school to the public in 1926, thus putting an end to a period of over a hundred years in which Admont pupils had to take examinations at state-recognised schools (including Seitenstetten, Kremsmünster, Graz and Leoben) at the end of the school year in order to obtain legally valid certificates.

As the aim was also to expand the upper school, but there was insufficient space and staffing capacity to run eight year groups in the long term, the concept of alternating classes was implemented: in future, a first class would only be formed every second year, but the year groups once admitted would be taught up to the Matura. This meant that 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th or 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th classes were taught alternately each year. The introduction of the same system in Seckau (from 1934), with the same year groups in opposite years, also created an alternative for the repeaters.

Following the extension of the right of public access to the upper school, the first school-leaving certificate was awarded in 1931. In the 1930s, the total number of pupils again exceeded 100, but once again the conditions were favourable in the midst of political and economic instability. After the resignation of Abbot Oswin in 1935, the reform course of the administrator and later Abbot P. Bonifaz Zölß, who was appointed from Kremsmünster, stabilised the situation for a short time.

However, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany meant that the monastery and school also experienced the most significant turning point in their history. The grammar school was dissolved, the priests were withdrawn from the school and finally expelled from the monastery altogether (see the articles by Prior Fr Maximilian in previous issues of PAX). Works with Christian content and "books with Austrian ideas" (Lachowitz 1946, p. 17) were removed from the pupils' and teachers' libraries by the Nazis. However, some of the pupils and individual members of the secular faculty continued their education at the "Franz-Ebner-Oberschule für Jungen" (Franz Ebner Secondary School for Boys), a state school run according to National Socialist educational principles, which was established in the monastery premises in 1938. When this was converted into a "German residential school" in 1942, one of the former monastery teachers was promoted to headmaster. Nazi slogans and songs, German heroic sagas and military exercises were just as much a part of everyday school life as National Socialist racial teachings. Among the up to 200 students at the secondary school and home school were (contrary to the name) also girls, who had probably received permission to attend classes due to individual circumstances (e.g. the distance to the nearest girls' secondary school). When the end of the war saw the immediate dissolution of the "German Home School", only a fraction of the pupils remained in Admont, most of whom had long since been called up for military service. The graduating classes of 1944 and 1945 were given a "maturity clause".

When the Admont Benedictines returned to the monastery, the re-establishment of the grammar school was given top priority. Thanks to the initiatives of Abbot Bonifaz and Fr Hildebert Tausch, Admont Abbey Grammar School was one of the few private institutions with a boarding school to start operating in the 1945/46 school year and enjoyed so many applications that a large number of pupils had to be turned away. After an unforeseen delay due to the removal of 58 convict beds by the British occupying forces, the school year did not begin until 3 November 1945. As in many other areas, a makeshift solution had to be found. In addition to the purchase of teaching materials and the furnishing of rooms, a key challenge in the post-war period was to repair the damage caused by Nazi education. Although the political behaviour of the pupils no longer showed any National Socialist influences, according to a report by the director P. Engelbert Lachowitz, there was a considerable need to catch up in the classical languages and to compensate for the alienation from church traditions among the former pupils. Since the alternating operation with a 1st and 3rd class had been resumed in 1945, a year group took the Matura again for the first time in 1951. During the first post-war decade, the school once again experienced a rapid upswing. Abbot Bonifaz was demonstrably very keen to provide the school and convict with friendly, modern facilities. In the early 1960s, Grete Straka became the first woman to join the teaching staff, but it was another ten years before the school was opened to girls.

As part of the preparations for the 900th anniversary of the monastery, the comprehensive expansion of the grammar school was finally tackled fifty years ago: Under Abbot Koloman Holzinger and (his later successor) headmaster Fr Benedikt Schlömicher, a new, separate school building was constructed in 1972-1976 to ensure capacity for the annual intake of first classes. This "jubilee gift for the population of Admont and the surrounding area" (Neubauer 1983, p. 5) was so well received that two first classes were admitted in 1972/73, including girls for the first time.
The school, which has been in "full operation" with eight year groups since 1978/79, then experienced more than two decades of continuous growth and reached its peak of 777 pupils in 1999. With the new millennium, however, the numbers began to fall again. In the two most recent school years, fewer than 500 pupils attended the grammar school again for the first time.
In the 1988/89 school year, the number of female pupils in relation to their male colleagues had already exceeded the 50% mark; since then, it has remained stable at between 55% and 60%. Since the 1970s, there has also been a major change in the catchment area, which is directly linked to the development of the Konvikt: While 80% of pupils were still accommodated in the Konvikt in the post-war years and the number had levelled off around 60-70% by 1972, by the 1982/83 school year it was already only accommodating a fifth of the pupil population and was finally destined to be phased out in 1995. Due to the increasing number of pupils travelling from the surrounding areas, the grammar school gradually became the local school for the district of Liezen and, since the 1990s, has also seen an increased influx of pupils from the Kirchdorf district. Today, the proportion of Upper Austrian pupils is already 30%.

Following further structural extensions, the latest wings of the building were opened in autumn 2004 under the leadership of the first secular director Josef Marte. The general refurbishment, which began ten years later and finally gave the school building its current appearance, completely renovated inside and out, and modern technical equipment, was carried out in preparation for the 375th anniversary celebrated five years ago.

In the light of centuries of tradition, the current diversity of the school's curriculum must be seen as an extremely recent development. In the 1985/86 school year, in addition to the grammar school with Latin in the lower school, a further educational path was offered for the first time, which is already deeply rooted in the school's identity: In the musical Realgymnasium, additional hours are devoted to music education, instrumental lessons and choral singing. Science, another key pillar of the school's profile, was given its own branch as part of the reorganisation in the early 2000s: the Realgymnasium with specialisations in geometry, laboratory and computer science is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary - as is the option to choose Italian in the (language) Gymnasium from Year 3. However, ancient Greek lessons had to be discontinued from the 2008/09 school year.

Bibliography (selection)
Krause, Adalbert. 1946. "The Benedictines of Admont in school and teaching" In Annual Report of the Admont Abbey Grammar School 1945/46, 3-12.
Lachowitz, Engelbert. 1946. "The Admont Abbey Grammar School in Reconstruction" In Annual Report of the Admont Abbey Grammar School 1945/46, 13-18.
Lachowitz, Engelbert. 1958. "A grammar school catalogue from 1708 and notes on the history of the old Admont Abbey Grammar School." In Annual Report of the Admont Abbey Grammar School 1957/58, 3-12.
Lachowitz, Engelbert. 1959. "Notes on the history of Admont Abbey Grammar School. Part II (1777-1938). In Annual Report of the Admont Abbey Grammar School 1957/58, 3-14.
Marte, Josef. 2004. "School organisation - a preview". In Annual Report of Admont Abbey Grammar School 2003/04, 17.
Neubauer, Remigius. 1983. "Zum Geleit" In the annual report of the Stiftsgymnasium Admont, school year 1982/83, 5-7.
Schamberger, Florentin. 2022. The Admont Abbey Grammar School 1938-1945. Admont Abbey Grammar School: Pre-scientific work.
Tomaschek, Johann. 1983. "From the Boys' Choir School to the Abbey Grammar School: Contributions to the Pre- and Early History of Admont Abbey Grammar School. Part 1: The History of the Boys' Choir School from 1820 to 1865." In Annual Report of the Admont Abbey Grammar School, school year 1982/83, 13-21.
Tomaschek, Johann. 1984. "From the Boys' Choir School to the Abbey Grammar School: Contributions to the Pre- and Early History of Admont Abbey Grammar School. Part 2: The history of the Boys' Choir from 1870 to 1920." In Annual Report of the Admont Abbey Grammar School, school year 1983/84, 11-21.
Tomaschek, Johann. 1985. "From the Sängerknabeninstitut to the Stiftsgymnasium: contributions to the pre- and early history of the Stiftsgymnasium Admont. Part 3: The founding history of the "new" collegiate grammar school (1921-1931)" In Annual Report of Admont Abbey Grammar School, school year 1984/85, 28-40.
Wichner, Jakob. 1880. History of the Benedictine Abbey of Admont from 1466 to the present day. Vol. IV. Graz: self-published by the author.

Stiftsgymnasium Admont - Children in class© Thomas Sattler
Stiftsgymnasium Admont - Children in music lessons © Thomas Sattler
Stiftsgymnasium Admont - Child on the climbing wall © Thomas Sattler
Stiftsgymnasium Admont - End of school pilgrimage
Stiftsgymnasium Admont pilgrimage end of term

From Year 5 onwards, pupils therefore study either French or the short form of Latin as an additional foreign language and, thanks to the upper school course system implemented in the 2006/07 school year with numerous subject-specific variable courses, can also focus on specific interests. The wide range of educational programmes offered by the Stiftsgymnasium should provide pupils with the best possible conditions for developing their talents. The successful careers of countless graduates from the music, secondary school and language programmes have underpinned the effectiveness of this educational approach for many years.

Nevertheless, looking at history should not consist solely of opening up the glorious chapters. It is precisely the painful chapters that are deeply engraved in our memories. The school year twenty years ago in which the school community was shaken by two student suicides within a few months is unforgettable. The pain, the bewilderment and the feeling of failure became an even heavier burden due to the increased public attention. The suicide of a pupil fifteen years ago once again left a deep wound for pupils and teachers alike.

The shameful chapters must not be ignored either; no cloak of silence should be wrapped around the long history of corporal punishment, which should not be glossed over, and which casts a shadow over the past of many (monastery) schools and boarding schools and has increasingly been the subject of public debate in the recent past. What may have been regarded as an educational measure in the 1960s must be condemned in the strongest possible terms from today's perspective. In an open, forward-looking educational institution, the top priority must be to name offences and mistakes as such and to strive for transparency and clarification.

This maxim must be upheld not only out of responsibility towards the pupils, but also out of respect for all those teachers whose high-quality work is the reason why there is so much to be proud of at the school every year. The outstanding achievements of the students in competitions, sporting events, performances and concerts speak for themselves, but special attention is also paid to activities and projects that contribute to strengthening the school community in addition to the acquisition of knowledge. In order to continue to fulfil its centuries-old educational mission in the future, the school strives to keep up with the times. A comprehensive digitalisation offensive and the more climate-friendly design of school operations are the core objectives for the coming years - so that the history of the Stiftsgymnasium can continue to be written for many decades to come.