MISSION: To promote the exploration of Catholic thought and the restoration of Christian culture in the spirit of St. Benedict, our patron.

The Portsmouth Institute for Faith and Culture is a leading Benedictine center for the Catholic intellectual, contemplative, and liturgical life. Students, teachers, and lifelong learners are invited to encounter the Catholic intellectual, contemplative and liturgical life at the Portsmouth Institute’s beautiful campuses at Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island and Saint Louis Abbey in Missouri, in addition to experiences in Oxford (UK) and cities across the U.S. The Portsmouth Institute also publishes on Catholic thought and hosts virtual events for Catholics everywhere. The Portsmouth Institute is based at Portsmouth Abbey in scenic Rhode Island, 15 minutes north of historic Newport and an hour south of Boston

The Portsmouth Institute is an apostolate of Portsmouth Abbey (Rhode Island) and Saint Louis Abbey (Missouri). Both abbeys are American houses of the English Benedictine Congregation, and each operates a school: Portsmouth Abbey School is a co-ed boarding school in New England, and Saint Louis Priory School is an all-boys day school in suburban St. Louis. Both are rated among the leading Catholic schools in the United States.

Place of Learning

“Listen carefully, my child… and incline the ear of your heart.” St. Benedict exhorts his readers in the opening of his Rule not to take, but to receive. For listening is an act of receptivity rather than an act of possession. This quiet receptivity—in a word, this peace— is at the heart of what it means to be Benedictine. Speaking of the essence of the Christian, St. Paul tells us that “we have received…the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” Knowledge of God, his truth, his beauty, his goodness, are not possessed, but received as gifts of His Spirit, bestowed upon “those who love him.”

This disposition of open receptivity to truth, beauty and goodness defines the Benedictine life. Blessed John Henry Newman calls this Benedictine ethos “poetic”. He explains that the poetical mind “demands, as its primary condition, that we should not put ourselves above the objects in which it resides, but at their feet.” “Poetry,” Newman explains, “does not address the reason, but the imagination and affections; it leads to admiration, enthusiasm, devotion, love.” It is a love of truth, beauty, and goodness that enlivens us to true learning, and ultimately, true knowledge.

It was in the spirit of imagination, receptivity and devotion that Benedictine monasteries became centers for learning across Europe in the Middle Ages. The monks thus gave birth to a new, Christian form of learning: one where “Christ is all and is in all.” The belief that Christ could be found in prayer, the Divine Office, lectio divina, liturgy, exegesis, poetry, philosophy, art, sacred music, encounters with nature: this belief is central to the Benedictine life. It also animates the programs and publications of the Portsmouth Institute.

Place of Leisure

If this form of learning is to be the aim of the Portsmouth Institute, then a necessary precondition must be met, and that is, the Portsmouth Institute must be a place of true leisure. Leisure, rather than its opposite, idleness, is,” in the words of the great 20th century Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper, “a mental and spiritual attitude…a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality”. Pieper continues: “Leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.” Leisure is a contemplative wonder and delight at the goodness of God and his creation.”

Just as Benedictine learning is poetic, so the Benedictine life is one of contemplative leisure. The Portsmouth Institute, in its programs and publications, seeks to cultivate true leisure. We do this in several ways, the first of which is by hosting our programs at monasteries, where the monastic horarium governs the day. The monasteries of Portsmouth Abbey and Saint Louis Abbey also happen to be beautiful and serene places of prayer and solitude. Thus, the Portsmouth Institute promotes occasions for leisure by encouraging a respite from the pressures of the workaday world and the model of the monastic life.

These occasions for leisure, however, are only preconditions for the capacity to engage in leisure; thus, the programs of the Portsmouth Institute ultimately encourage participants to cultivate the capacity for leisure in their souls. We do this through sacred music, prayer, study, and through the celebration of feasts, which, Pieper again tells us, is the fundamental act of affirming the goodness of God and the world which he has created. We celebrate the feast at both table and altar: feasting with one another on the bounty of the earth, and feasting on the bounty of Christ in the Eucharist.

Place of Love

As the Benedictine theologian Dom Jean LeClercq, O.S.B. tells us, the Benedictine’s life is ordered by his love of learning and his desire for God. The love he is referring to is the Greek agape, the love that man feels for God and that God feels for man.

As Christians, we confront a secular world which is largely hostile to the way of faith. We must imitated St. Benedict and bond together in communities of love, and draw inspiration,  encouragement and friendship from one another. The Portsmouth Institute offers these intentional communities of love in all of our encounters and experiences.

One means by which we may enjoy loving encouragement is through shared learning. Agape inspires our desire to learn, to wonder, and to contemplate God and His creation. The purpose of an education, especially of a Benedictine education, is indeed to teach the student how to love. To provide an education in love—a love of learning and a love God— is the essential mission of a “school of the Lord’s service,” a phrase Benedict uses to describe his monasteries. As a Benedictine foundation, the Portsmouth Institute strives to be a place where Christians can learn to love God, and to radiate that love to the world. In so doing, we hope to restore civilization, as St. Benedict once did.