When in Rome

Abbot Primate Gregory Polan reflects

Abbot Primate Gregory Polan is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his abbatial blessing in 1996 and the 50th anniversary of his monastic profession in 1971. Now in his fifth year as Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation in Rome, he shares here the type of work he does and how he has grown in his foundation as a Benedictine monk during this assignment.

Read about all the Monastic Milestones at Conception Abbey →


When people get an inquisitive look on their face, I know the next question that is coming: “Just what do you do as Abbot Primate?” To answer this question simply and directly, there are three main responsibilities that belong to the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation: 1) Work for the unity and well-being of the Benedictine Confederation; 2) Serve as chancellor for our university in Rome; and 3) Relate to the Holy See (the Vatican) in the name of the Benedictine Order.

As the Benedictine Confederation has 19 congregations, and each of these congregations has an abbot-president, these are the men with whom I work most closely. Each year, there is a Synod of Abbot-Presidents during which we discuss matters that relate to the well-being and care of the Benedictine Confederation. Every four years, all the abbots of the world meet for a Congress of 10 days; our next Congress will meet in 2024. The agenda for this international meeting is set by the members of the Synod of Abbot Presidents and my Council. The topics usually range from matters directly related to Benedictine life, to matters of importance in the life of the Church.

The headquarters of the Benedictine Confederation are located at the Abbey of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, on the Aventine Hill. Here we also have a university, where I serve as its Chancellor. In our university we have the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy, a Faculty of Theology, a Faculty of Philosophy, and a Monastic Institute. Most of these programs are at the graduate level of study. I work closely with the rector of the university and his Council. One of my challenges is finding new Benedictine professors and officials to serve here at Sant’Anselmo; this is done in cooperation with the Rector and Deans of the University, and the officials in the areas of administration. The residence for Benedictines here at Sant’Anselmo is under the guidance of the prior of the collegio (the residence), with whom I work closely.

As Abbot Primate, I relate to the Holy See (the Vatican) in matters concerning both the Benedictine Confederation and our University. Primarily this would include the Congregations for Consecrated Life, Catholic Education, and the Oriental Churches (as I serve as the Procurator General of the Pontifical Greek College in Rome). It also has been very interesting to work on matters in the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Pontifical Council for the Unity of Christians, the New Evangelization, the Secretariat of State on international matters relating to our Benedictine monasteries, and most recently, serving on a Commission for the forthcoming Synod of 2023.

Now I am five years into an eight-year mandate as Abbot Primate. While I miss living in my home monastery of Conception Abbey, I hope to return there someday. It was there that I learned a great deal about relating to monks as a spiritual father, carrying through on tasks of administration, and relating to different groups of people important to the life of the monastery. But my work in Rome is very different— different tasks, different people and cultures, and different responsibilities. These five years have been a very enriching and broadening experience as Abbot Primate. My travels have taken me around the world to visit different Benedictine communities, to experience the strength and vibrancy of the monastic tradition as it is lived in a variety of cultures and settings. And at this particularly challenging moment in history, Benedictine men and women have inspired me by their deep faith, loving trust in God’s providence, and fidelity to the Benedictine way of life.


— Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, OSB
Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation



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