From Jason John Edwards, Obl.S.B.’s continuing series on monastic saints.
Copied from The Compass News:
Robert, the son of Thierry and Ermengarde, was born near Troyes, Champagne, France. At age 15, he entered Montier-la-Celle Abbey, near Troyes, and was named prior after finishing his novitiate. He was later appointed abbot of St. Michel-de-Tonnerre, where he failed to reform lax practices and returned to Montier-la-Celle. Later, he became prior of Saint-Aiyoul, a community he sought steadfastly to reform. Though members of the community refused to change, they wanted him to remain because his reputation for holiness made them famous.
In 1075, Pope Gregory VII allowed Robert to found a monastery at Molesme, Burgundy, France. Life was spartan, as Robert liked it. They lived in huts made of branches and had little food or clothing. Life centered around the chapel and work, and, gradually, Molesme became known as a place of piety and sanctity. Robert’s renown as a saintly man spread.
Because people believed strongly in the power of prayers, they gave land, churches and even villages to Molesme, which soon became a feudal stronghold. Fame led to increased vocations, but many new members were not cut out for the strict monastic life Robert required, which caused a division among the monks.
Twice Robert tried to leave Molesme, but both times the pope ordered him to return. Then, in 1098, he and several monks left Molesme for an isolated valley in a forest near Dijon, where Renaud, viscount of Beaune, had given them land.
Here Robert, along with Stephen Harding and St. Alberic, both from Molesme, started the new Citeaux abbey with Robert as abbot. The monastery strictly followed the Benedictine Rule, especially poverty and frequent retreats. Under the subsequent leadership of Alberic and Stephen Harding, the new foundation became the Cistercian Order, which grew in prominence under St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153).
Robert stayed at Citeaux only a year before the monks of Molesme asked him to return and promised to follow his interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict. The monks also appealed to Pope Urban II, who ordered Robert to return to Molesme, which became a major Benedictine abbey under his leadership.
Robert died on 17 April 1111. Pope Honorius III canonized him in 1222. His feast day was at first observed on 17 April, later transferred to April 29, and finally combined with Alberic and Stephen Harding to be observed on 26 January.