Who are the Cistercians?
Cistercian monks and nuns derive their name and origins from a place in France called Cîteaux (in Latin, "Cistercium"), where St. Robert of Molesme founded a seminal monastery in 1098. Today, two canonically distinct religious orders share the Cistercian heritage: the Cistercian Order (O. Cist.), sometimes called "Common Observance" Cistercians, and the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.), frequently called "Trappists". Our Lady of Dallas belongs to the first of these, the Cistercian Order (O. Cist.). Both orders have men's and women's branches. In America there is at present one monastery of Cistercian Order nuns, Valley of Our Lady Monastery in Wisconsin. Nuns belonging to the Order of Bernardine Cistercians of Esquermes are also part of the Cistercian family.
The Cistercian Order originated historically out of an abbey of the Benedictine Order. Leaving behind the Benedictine Abbey of Molesme, St. Robert and his companions sought a way of life more faithful to the simplicity of St. Benedict's rule. Their renewal at Citeaux expanded into a network of related but independent monasteries. This expansion led the early Cistercians to innovate a charter of fraternal communication that would hold the various monasteries together, one which soon emerged as a watershed in the history of federated governance. Key mandates of this "charter of charity" required each Cistercian abbot to make an annual inspection ("visitation") of his daughter-abbeys, as well as to convene annually with his brother abbots at Citeaux in a "General Chapter".
The humble beginnings of the new "order" were soon followed by spectacular expansion, owing especially to the spiritual leadership and saintly personality of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153). At his death, Cistercian abbeys numbered about 350. A century later that number was almost doubled with Cistercian houses extending all over Europe – from Ireland to Poland and Hungary, from Scandinavia to Spain and Sicily, and even to the Holy Land.