History & Traditions
In the spring of 1924, four newly professed members of the Order of Saint Benedict began their lives as monks in a farm house on Sargent Road in the Brookland section of Northeast Washington, D.C.
Thus was born St. Anselm’s Priory. The small community’s leader was Fr. Thomas Verner Moore, OSB, a researcher and professor at nearby Catholic University of America with degrees in both medicine and psychology.
In 1930, the monks moved around the block to a new monastery atop a hill on South Dakota Avenue, and their community was thriving. Fr. Thomas knew from his work with adolescents that some of the most underserved students in the American secondary school system were the most gifted. So, in the long tradition of Benedictine education, the monks forged ahead to establish what was then known as the Priory School, a four-year high school dedicated to scholarship.
On September 15, 1942, eighteen ninth-grade students enrolled at the Priory School under Headmaster Fr. Austin McNamee, OSB. The school soon began to grow, and in 1955 the seventh and eighth grades were added, along with a new academic building for the expanding student body. Keeping with its English heritage, the school began using the form system: instead of grades 7 through 12, the classes became known as Forms I through VI.
When in 1961 the Holy See elevated the monastery from a priory to an abbey, the school’s name changed accordingly. The school continued to grow in both size and reputation over the succeeding decades, establishing itself as one of the Washington area’s most academically rigorous institutions. Following a major expansion to the academic building, Headmaster Fr. Michael Hall, OSB, added a sixth grade class in 1990, known as Form A.
St. Anselm’s Abbey School has continued to thrive in the twenty-first century. In 2003, the school completed a $9 million athletic and performing arts complex under the leadership of Fr. Peter Weigand, OSB, the eighth Headmaster and current President of St. Anselm's. This included the construction of a state-of-the-art athletic facility and gymnasium, as well as the conversion of the old 1945 gym into the Devine Performing Arts Center, containing classroom space, faculty offices and a theater with seating for 400. Academically, the school remains among the best in the region: recent graduating classes have had average SAT scores near 2,100 (on a 2,400-point scale), and the curriculum remains one of the most challenging in the Washington area.
Today, the St. Anselm’s Abbey School community consists of roughly 250 young scholars in Forms A through VI and their families, more than 50 Benedictine and lay faculty members and over 1,500 alumni. More than 70 years after the first freshman class enrolled at the Priory School, the school continues to pursue its mission “to create an atmosphere of peace, a sense of service to community, and a willingness within our students to work toward a balance in mind, body and spirit.”
The House System
Upon entering St. Anselm’s, each student becomes a member of one of four Houses named for important figures in the school’s history: Alban House, named for Fr. Alban Boultwood, the first Abbot of St. Anselm’s Abbey; Austin House, named for Fr. Austin McNamee, the school’s founding Headmaster; Main House, named for Fr. John Main, the school’s fifth Headmaster; and Moore House, named for Fr. Thomas Verner Moore, founder of the monastery and school.
Each House is led by two members of the Sixth Form and is made up of students in all Forms. The four houses compete each year for the House Cup, winning points for their performance in intramural athletics, academic achievement, and participation in extracurricular and community service activities.
St. Anselm’s Invitational Basketball Tournament
Each year, St. Anselm’s Abbey School plays host to the Washington region’s longest-running interscholastic basketball tournament, the St. Anselm’s Invitational. The tournament was established in 1948 by longtime basketball coach Bob Dwyer and Fr. Hugh Monmonier, OSB, who later became the school’s third Headmaster.
The post-season tournament traditionally begins on a Friday afternoon in late February, when the entire student body, faculty and staff join parents, friends and alumni in the gym to cheer on the varsity Panthers. The three-day event concludes on Sunday evening with the championship game, followed by an awards ceremony and banquet for participating teams. The winning team’s name is inscribed on the Dwyer Trophy (named after the tournament’s founding coach), which is held by the winning school until the following tournament.
Each spring, Form IV students must complete a unique assignment as part of their Physics class: construct a vessel which, when dropped from the roof of the athletics complex, can hold an egg and keep it from breaking while hitting a target area on the sidewalk below. Students must construct their entries using only a single predetermined material, which changes each year and is revealed just weeks before the Egg Drop.
Physics teachers Dr. Herb Wood, who established this tradition more than two decades ago, and Mr. Bryan Taylor grade each vehicle based on its size and dimensions, as well as its ability to keep the egg safe and intact. The student with the fewest deductions is named the winner of the coveted “Egg Drop Award”—and, more importantly, receives a perfect score on his assignment.
Fr. Thomas Verner Moore, OSB
Founder, St. Anselm's Abbey and School
Fr. Austin McNamee, OSB