Over the centuries Benedictine monasteries have played a vital role in evangelization. Although the followers of St. Benedict have sought to imitate their founder in living cloistered lives, nevertheless monasteries in Europe were frequently used as bases for missionary work throughout the Middle Ages.
Through this missionary work, monasteries became central in the development of European culture through education and the promotion of the arts and sciences. In the nineteenth century this work was carried through to England, the monasteries there having being suppressed by King Henry VIII in the sixteenth century, and to the Americas. Indeed many of the traditionally more cloistered monasteries in Europe set up foundations in the United States during this time, with the primary purpose of education. They set up schools and universities and ran parishes which continue to flourish there.
Today Benedictine monasteries throughout the world seek to continue the work of evangelization which began as a small seed in the person of St. Benedict and his monks. Although he never set out to form a religious order, the seed planted by St. Benedict and his disciples has sprouted to become a worldwide family of monasteries with a wide spectrum of charisms. The spectrum ranges from the strictly cloistered contemplative monasteries to the very active ones directly engaged with groups at local and global levels. But they each play their part in spreading the Christian faith, enabling it become incarnate in all cultures and yet transcending them, helping all peoples to grow in universal brotherhood and solidarity, for the advancement of global and community development. (Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Caritatis in Veritate no. 59)