By Jeremy Moorhead, CNN
Manchester, New Hampshire (CNN) – The staging ground for Monday night’s Republican presidential debate – the first of 2012 presidential cycle in the critical early voting state of New Hampshire – is connected to a history so deep that it predates American politics by a millennium.
Saint Anselm College, in Manchester, New Hampshire, was founded and is run by the Benedictines, a Catholic order founded in the 6th century. It claims to be the world’s oldest religious order.
The school has hosted Republican and Democratic presidential debates in previous election cycles, sometimes drawing criticism for appearing to get involved in partisan politics.
But Dale Kuehne, professor of politics at the college at Saint Anselm, defended the school’s role in the political arena.
“Why I think it makes sense to have a debate at a Benedictine University is that the rule of St. Benedict says every visitor should be treated as Christ himself,” Kuehne says.
“If you talk to people about the events at Saint Anselm, they would of felt that hospitality… regardless of their political or religious position.”
Kuehne, who is the founding director of the New Hampshire Institute for Politics, notes that Saint Anselm students are preoccupied with the economy, the top issue of the 2012 presidential campaign.
“Students are really concerned about the future of the U.S. I think they are also concerned about whether or not they will have a job,” he said.
Thirty monks live in the abbey at Saint Anselm.
One of the goals for the so-called Anselmians is providing pastor care for students at Saint Anselm, a liberal arts school.
“What we try to do is develop the spiritual side of the faith dimension, to integrate their beliefs with their life so [students] have an active faith,” said Rev. Anselm Smedile, a longtime priest here.
The school’s website says that “Saint Anselm shapes the kind of leader the world is hungry for; not only smart, but good.”
Saint Anselm was an 11th century Italian Benedictine monk whom Smedile calls “the greatest Christian philosopher or thinker between Augustan and Thomas Aquinas.”
Anselm’s definition of theology was “faith seeking understanding.”
Two of the candidates in Monday night’s debate are Catholic: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is a convert, and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.