Thursday, September 02, 2010

Cowboy Carmelites.

The dispute over Carmelite mountain.
I can't recall where, but St. Teresa of Avila once stated she wanted her monasteries to be poor and not great monuments which would made a big noise as they tumbled down at the end of the world.  That isn't an exact quote of course, and someone can correct it if they wish, but I've made my point.

Though filled with admiration for the Wyoming Carmelite hermits, I myself wondered about their ambitious plans to build a huge, Gothic style monastic complex in the middle of pristine Wyoming ranch country.  Why so monumental?  When the Trappists first went to Snowmass in Colorado, they built a modest little monastery, and it has remained modest.  When John of the Cross established the first foundation for men of the reform in Duruelo, they had ramshackled quarters at best.  Presently, the hermits in Wyoming have a very nice monastery - primitive, but much nicer than what a lot of people with little means might own or live in.  I'm not criticizing - just making an observation.
As it turns out, neighbors of the monks are making observations as well, and they are concerned...
The New Mount Carmel of America
Planners in Park County are reviewing plans for a residence unlike any other in the Rocky Mountains — a 145,000-square-foot French Gothic-style monastery.
In a series of public meetings and private gatherings, debate about the project has touched on a wide range of hot-button issues, including land planning, taxes, traditional Western ranching and even religious freedom.
The stone monastery, to be built in a style dating back centuries, would house 40 men who are members of the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, a federally recognized religious order operating under the auspices of the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne.
Called The New Mount Carmel of America, the monastery would be built on the 2,500-acre Elk Meadow Ranch, traditionally used for raising cattle and sheep. The property, on Meeteetse Creek Road, is about seven miles from the nearest neighbor and 14 miles from Highway 120.
Some residents and neighbors have asked why the monks, who have resided for years in much smaller buildings in Clark, are seeking to build such an elaborate and sprawling structure near Meeteetse.
“I’m sorry the architecture is what it is. According to monasticism, we have to stick to our architecture,” said Father Daniel Schneider, prior of the 16-member monastery in Clark, who has taken the name Daniel Mary since becoming a monk.  “It is what it is. It has to be fitting to God because it’s God’s dwelling place, too,” he said during the hearing.  He said the public would be allowed to attend services or make confessions at the monastery daily between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., and that the monks would neither seek to attract visitors nor turn them away. - Billings Gazette
Monastic institutes and customs...
If it is God's will, I'm sure everything will go according to plan.  I'm not sure Father's defense is accurate however:  "According to monasticism, we have to stick to our architecture."  I never heard of that rule.  Perhaps he was misquoted.
As for accepting visitors, that would be in keeping with monastic custom.  I did visit the hermitage where Fr. Daniel resided when he lived in Minnesota.  I stopped by to introduce the Postulator for the cause of Ven. Matt Talbot to the Fr. Prior, only to learn he was away preaching a retreat at the time.  It was a blistering hot summer day, just over 100 degrees.  Fr. Postulator was elderly and frail and yet Fr. Daniel never offered hospitality, not an invitation to get out of the sun and come in to the community house, a visit to the chapel, or even a drink of water.
It is my understanding the monks in Wyoming live much like the Discalced Carmelite nuns and keep very strict enclosure.
May God give success to the work of their hands.


  1. I share concern with you, Terry; your observations and insights are well worth considering.

  2. Austringer2:17 PM

    In fairness to Father Daniel, the comment ""According to monasticism, we have to stick to our architecture", may have ben made in response to a question regarding the necessity of individual cells. Without the context, it's hard to say...

  3. +JMJ+

    The opening thoughts from St. Teresa remind me of the high school I used to teach in. The sisters running it had such an edifice complex I don't think you'd believe me if I gave you the details. Not a year went by without some new building being put up or some old building being torn down to make room for another new building.

    The whole campus will make a lot of noise when it tumbles down at the end of the world. Or when it's blasted away in some alien attack. You know that scene in Independence Day in which the White House blows up? Whatever Americans felt at the sight, the alumnae of my old high school will feel at a similar vision of the gymnasium being completely totaled.

    And I'm really starting to wonder at people who use the "God deserves the best" argument to give license to their own extravagant tastes.

  4. Austringer2:39 PM

    Enbrethiliel, I think it IS legitimate to say that God deserves the best -- doesn't He? What a joy it is to go into, say, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where Archbishop Burke clearly let that rule the architecture, art, and furnishings. (Granted, I am sure that that claim could be used and abused.)

    A monastery is a different kettle of fish, though, than a church or shrine. I'd have to learn more about how the monks plan to furnish their structure. But I can't say from the structure alone that the monks are giving "license to their own extravagant tastes"

  5. +JMJ+

    Oh, of course it's legitimate. I didn't say so because I thought it went without saying.

    It's also very convenient for religious people who think they deserve the best, too. And I'm not really talking about these monks, whom I don't know, but about the people I do know. Terry's post about the former made me see the latter in that light for the first time, and I thought "aloud" in the combox.

    (If it weren't so late over here, I think I could come up with an example of how some parents who say "My child deserves the best" take advantage of that in similar ways.)

  6. I think I know what Enbrethiliel means. There are many smaller examples I could point out as well, from luxury kitchens and hot tubs in renovated rectories to obsessive compulsive collecting of religious antiquities and objects of art and devotion. I'm not saying this is the case in Wyoming, although it does appear to be rather ambitious. Again - God bless them if it be his will and they have the funds to complete the project - obviously they must.

    If Father Daniel was referring to the individual cottage-cells, these are not typically monastic outside the Carthusian and Camaldolese traditions in the West - and were never really part of the Carmelite tradition, save for the very primitive layout of the first monks on Mt. Carmel. I'm not saying it shouldn't be done or it is inappropriate - just that it is not so much an essential of monastic observance as it seems to be a personal preference in Wyoming.

    One aspect of the Teresian reform was to do away with the grandiose convents and monasteries in order to live more simply and poorly. St. Teresa was edified by the living conditions at Duruelo and praised it in her writings.

  7. The Carthusians in their new statutes are very firmly against building anything that might attract visitors. I'm fairly sure none of the previous editions had anything about the desireability of glamorous great buildings either :)

  8. Austringer4:27 PM


    Thanks for your comments about the differing traditions of the various orders -- I didn't know any of that. I can imagine that it was heady stuff for Father Daniel and the other monks, sitting down with architects and looking at various plans....tempting stuff...

    Some years ago, it looked as if I was going to be receiving a great deal of money (stock thing...). So, we started looking at land out in the country....looking at home plans online.....researching barn plans for the horses I was going to have. Mond you, this was AFTER I had returned to the church, and I really did want to live a life that was pleasing to God. I was going to be generous with the Church, you know -- I hadn't forgotten her! All of this is to say that this sort of thing is intoxicating, even when one is trying to be reasonable, so perhaps the good monks lost their heads a bit.

    Enbrethiliel, you wrote: "It's also very convenient for religious people who think they deserve the best, too" -- I couldn't agree with you more, having seen that in varying degrees. I think, too, that some are prone to a kind of justification: "I've already given everything to God by virtue of my priesthood/vows. He doesn't expect me to have to put up with low-quality shirts when I can get these really nice ones custom-made in Italy." That kind of thing...I've seen it take many forms.

  9. Similar criticisms have been spoken re: the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, AL (Mother Angelica).
    I've been there several times;
    I just don't's difficult to reconcile the absolute simplicity and poverty of St. Clare with this;
    but I'm not in charge and I haven't been given the "gift" to discern.
    This Wyoming Carmelite enterprise is a bit of a mystery to me; I've studied the various contemplative does not seem "Carmelite" in the full meaning of the word and history of the order.
    More Carthusian; well, if this is a "new form", fine.
    But the monks are really getting the neighbors upset.
    That can be both good and bad; but when you're talking about the kind of infrastructure and needs of forty monks, as well as visitors, you're talking about changing the landscape of the whole thing.
    Some guy on Fr. Z's blog about this from the Philippines asked, "Why can't they just live in huts, portable homes, like the poor?"
    I don't think that is something far fetched, at all.
    And the very youth of this community; they were founded in 2003?
    To build this kind of complex?
    Ambitious, yes.
    And God bless them because they are living very a very fervent life.
    But if they don't get their "charism" right, the whole thing could fold; and millions of dollars could be wasted on someone's pipe-dream.
    Another comment on Fr. Z's mentioned the now-defunct (in exile) Society of St. John that was going to build a "Catholic village"...a bunch of predators, sex addicts and money-grubbing s.o.b.'s...they're in some South American country trying to do it all over again;
    I'm rambling.
    God is God.
    He will make all things right.

    And Austringer: just my thought:
    the Shrine of OL of Guadalupe is FOR THE FAITHFUL; a religious community is caring for the spiritual needs there, but Archbishop Burke envisioned and made very clear that this was for the faithful.
    It's different for a religious community; God knows I'd love a complex that was exactly made to order (but that would make ME not so good, I'm afraid...); but that's another story!

  10. "I'm really starting to wonder at people who use the "God deserves the best" argument to give license to their own extravagant tastes."
    I know what Embrethiliel is talking about. It's why our little early 1900's parish church now has 10 original oil paintings, but no additional seating; (and still has restrooms which resemble those of a 1950's era gas station). A previous pastor who has since left the priesthood pushed an agenda at considerable expense.
    There are several Benedictine establishments in our area; so I have been on retreats and seminars in those places many times. The Benedictines do hospitality well, it's one of their charisms. Their neighbors love them, even though one of the places is a big European-style abbey.
    I think it is likely that the Wyo. Carmelites' neighbors don't really understand them; they may be afraid there is going to be a Waco or Longing-for-Zion type of establishment.

  11. MelodyK: Very wise thoughts;
    in today's society, this kind of enterprise looks "cultish"; even if it is absolutely correct...they are under the jurisdiction of the local bishop and are not in any, way, shape or form looking like some kind of nutty bunch (I hope I didn't sound like I was comparing them to the Society of St. John; I was just commenting upon an example of a thing that "went wrong").
    Somehow, we, as contemplatives, in no matter what form, have to be willing to extend ourselves to our neighbors and to the faithful; the documents on contemplative life and the past two Popes have also encouraged contemplative religious, according to their charism and means, to be ready to assist the faithful who are hungering and thirsting for God, to share in the great riches of their liturgical and devotional life; it doesn't mean you have to have all kinds of contact...but it does mean "hospitality" in the form that the particular charism of the community espouses.

  12. And, Terry; your anecdote about taking the postulator of Matt Talbot to the Hermits of Carmel and being treated in this way just made my heart sink.
    No judgments; who knows what was going on, what Fr. was thinking?
    But that just makes me sad;
    we're probably TOO hospitable here...but darnnit...we live by the Benedictine spirit: "A guest is Christ".
    Probably why I'm not a Carmelite!!
    (And I LOVE the Carmelite nuns;
    the men...not so much!)

  13. "Golly Dr. Thorndyke, it's sure been quiet around the asylum lately, huh?" Nothing big has happened - no big cataclysm - nothing - YET! Da-ta-DAHHHHHHHHHHH! —T.Nelson

    Are there not a few such projects going on in the USA ...? One out East? and the Sister Servants in AL are building ... New Springtime coming? Or, Lord of the World ...

    T...just having fun with your posts ... bye bye ...

  14. When I was at my OCDS Congress this past June questions were raised to our Provencial concerning the Wyoming Carmelites...

    They are neither O.Carm (original Carmelites) nor OCD (Discalced Carmelites)...but their own spinoff.. so true they may embrace Carmelite spirituality but have no ties to either order.

    I do not know their history so I wonder why they could not be associated with either order....makes me wonder..perhaps they wanted to "do their own thing" and only be subject to their Superior....which kind of defeats the purpose of a religious order.

    For those who have strong feelings concerning specific religious orders, especially when those feelings relate to opening your wallets, be sure you check out the organization thoroughly...groups that "embrace the spirit of Carmel, or Benedict, or Francis, etc, " but are not formally accociated with the respective orders shouldn't be calling themselves the names fo the orders...just too confusing...

    Perhaps a better names for the Wyoming "Carmelites" would be "Little Brothers of St
    Teresa" or something along that in that name you know that they are associated with St Theresa and the Carmelite spirituality but not full fledged Carmelites.

    Just my two cents...

    Sara, OCDS

  15. P.S. We have a LOVELY Trappist monastery in Northern Utah, lovely mountains...plain Jane Monastery..they need vocations BAD BAD...they are dying off...I think they lost three just this past year. They do Latin Mass and Chant and have a HUGE ranch/property----they sure could use some strong young vocations especially with knowledge of ranching/cattle.

    Why are new monasteries stringing up when we struggle to support the existing ones??

    Here is their website--cut and paste into your browser...


  16. I'm with Sara on this 100%. We have way too much of this in the Franciscan Order(s).

  17. "It's also very convenient for religious people who think they deserve the best, too"

    Begone, Judas.

    I know of only one Traditional Roman Catholic Monastery in the United States.

    Catholics need to expose themselves to Roman Catholicism rather than simply ‘be’ Catholic.

    God and His Church are not open to democratic debate.

    The monk leaves the world. Like every Christian, he detaches himself from it. But even more, because of special vocation, he separates himself from it. He goes away into solitude. . . . When the Lord had disappeared in the cloud of His glory, the Apostles kept their eyes raised to heaven. Two angels came to tell them that they would not see Him again until such time as He would return. Soon would come the time for them to spread out over the whole world, to sow the seeds of the Gospel, to plant the Church. Monks, however, have the privilege of continuing the watch. . . . Their cross will be to love without seeing, and yet to watch constantly, to keep their eyes on nothing but God, invisible yet present. Their testimony before the world will be to show, by their existence alone, the direction in which one must look. It will be to hasten, by prayer and desires, the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.

    For your consideration:

    Only he who has been cleansed of sins sees things as they truly are.


  18. Sara - your Provincial is correct - the monks in Wyoming are not attached to the established orders - they are essentially a diocesean community - an offshoot of our local hermits in Lake Elmo - who generously set out to offer an authentic OCD-style life but have since alligned themselves with the O.Carm. - but that is not a problem. The Wyoming group is fully approved to live a rule based upon the Rule of St. Albert by the local ordinary - in fact they were originally invited by the diocesean bishop. So they are definitely legit. That said, the OCD Fathers would naturally disapprove of anyone attempting to live a 'reformed' Carmelite rule outside of the canonically established Constitutions of the O. Carm. or OCD. That's just the politics of religious existence.

    It is important to remember that authentic reform often comes from off-shoots of the major orders - it has always been the case with the Franciscans and Benedictines BTW. Eventually the Church catches up and corals the wild horses, and religious life gets reformed.

  19. I noted on WDTPRS that this may be on it's way to becoming an anti-Catholic issue. I thought they just wanted to be hermits?

  20. Mr. Nelson,

    I think you are right about the anti-Catholic statement.

    Three days before a Feast Day of the Holy Mother, the Devil shows up at the Monastery to do battle with the Holy Monks.

    This fight against the Monastery might be an attempt from Satan's children at stopping something they hate.

    The Monasteries are the backbone of the Church and a basis of support for the Priesthood.

    The Monastery is a perfect place to send someone that has been molested that they may receive spiritual direction and graces necessary to carry on in the manner they were supposed to before the molestations.

    It is absolutely imperative that no laity interfere with this process.


  21. I have to comment on the architecture.

    When I visited the Cistercians, I did some reading and learned that the structure of the monastery was indeed important in what it must contain and what it both symbolizes and fosters within a religious community.

    Look at it like this: you know how modern wreckovationists have decided that the "old way" of building Churches is impractical, "too expensive", things considered to be "ornamental" such as high altars and communion rails, etc are "extras that no longer have any value", etc came to be the dominant attitude?

    So in our current new-ish Catholic Churches we have forms of reformed Protestantism with a couple grudging Catholic accomodations? Yeah.

    What I see in the planned Monastery is the return to what has always been true. I don't think they are being extravagant. I think they are looking at their Vocations, they are looking to the future and, in a business model of very logical projection, looking to build what they expect so that they won't have to go through this again.

    I know the Cistercian Nuns in WI are looking for land to also build a Monastery according to their Tradition and Rule, for the structure is part of the spirituality and reveals Truth within it.

    I've probably stated this badly...I'll see if I can find the description I remember reading.

  22. I'm all in favor of beautiful churches, but this does seem a bit over the top for 40 monks. Better to have a design that can be added to if they grow than to sink all their energy into fund-raising for a palace and not have anything left for their real job.
    Beautiful doesn't have to be big.

  23. Hi Jeffrey! I miss you!

  24. Interesting conversation. I think the concerns of the "neighbors" are over-stated, severely - go to GoogleEarth or whatever satellite viewer you want, scan down Meeteetse Rd (on which the monastery will be built) from the junction of Hwy 120 and count the number of houses you can find within a mile of the road. The monastery is 14 miles from the junction of Hwy 120 and 7 miles from the nearest neighbor, according to the article - and judging by GoogleEarth, the nearest "neighbor" may be a strip mine.

    Now, that's one aspect. Some other aspects of the, ahhh.....concerns, voiced here. Very informative, I thank you for stating aspects of some of the different charisms. Regarding the OLA shrine in Hanceville, this is a very public place, I've been there, and I found it transformative. How many vocations have resulted from its presence? I don't know if anyone knows, but it is not an inconsequential number. Sometimes, the beauty of a space can help transmit the incredible, transcendent nature of God and the Mystical Body of Christ, something completely missing in so many of our Church structures today, which are beyond banal. Perhaps the OLA Shrine, and this Wyoming facility, are called to be antidotes to this trend, even if they are not entirely consistent with the historical charisms of their orders. And regarding those charisms, given how many religious communities have gone utterly off the rails, perhaps some modification to the established charisms might be in order? To build something that is both a monastery and a shrine, a call to the public to a greater awareness of our unworthiness before the Lord and how all things should be given to Him - I find that sentiment in these kinds of august spaces.

    While it is important to examine the motives behind any religious community and anything it builds, it is also important to look at our own motives. I pray none are motivated by any jealousy regarding a successful young community. And, there is a tendency to reduce the august nature of the Church as a institution serving to call us to serve the greatness of God, preferring to focus on the Church's mission of earthly works as a sort of social institution. Obviously, both are needed. I've been surprised at the reactions to this facility, I think it's unalloyed greatness, but apparently some think it could be a monument to someone's ego. I think this stems from some core view of the Church, as a convert, I am still overawed by the beauty, wholeness, and utter transcendence of Church doctrine and God's impossible love for us, and perhaps I like to see that reflected in physical Church structures. It could be my own weakness, an appeal to my own ego, so I have some things to think of. And thanks to Austringer, good comment.

  25. +JMJ+

    And now I'm feeling a bit of cognitive dissonance, thanks to my earlier comments. I live in a fairly wealthy parish with a beautiful church from which the religious images spill over into the landscaped grounds. And of course, I'm very glad that we always seem to have money for their upkeep. Thanks to my membership in this parish, I am a strong supporter of beautiful churches and don't buy the idea that such beauty is actually a distraction from God.

    But it might just be my own extravagant tastes which are pleased by this beauty and I might actually be more distracted from God than I think.

    Which has hardly anything to do with monks/friars. I'm sorry, Terry. I'll go away now. =P

  26. Building a church/oratory for the glory of God and the edification of His Faithful is one be supported, absolutely.
    The problem does arise, however, when the added "infrastructure" of a monastery/cenobium/hermitages along with whatever else is involved.
    Human nature is a funny thing; we can rationalize all kinds of everything when we need to.
    There is a very real temptation here, and I know I'm not going to be understood or appreciated by some;
    when a person renounces all through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, one may be prone to do what Fr. Thomas Dubay calls "compensation compromises" other words, to find a kind of compromise with "religious/worldly" pleasures/compensations/projections
    that instead of leading the soul towards God, hinder because an "apparent good" is sought rather than the Real Good, which is God alone.
    This is a monastery of contemplative Dominican Nuns who are struggling mightily, living in real poverty, regaining the Dominican traditions:
    Just look at their webpage.
    They are the "real thing"...not that no one else is.
    Help THEM, if you can...I've known them for thirty years.
    They are beautifully faithful to Jesus and His Church.

  27. LeoRufus9:47 AM


    I go to the Holy Trinity Abbey for retreat. I agree, it is a dying monastery the average age of the monks is over 80 yo. Why build some extravagance.

    Also the Abbey is built in post WWII Quonset hut architecture, nothing fancy. The Monks are too old to ranch or bee keep anymore but contract these works.

    I really think this sort of simplicty is needed.

    OH BTW they also offer the Tridentine Mass at 10 AM Sundat. Worth going to. Simple, no gaudy productions as folks have come to expect of the TLM.


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