Powell, Wyo. — Father Daniel Mary of Jesus Crucified is fond of saying that his Carmelite community doesn’t have a vocations shortage. Rather, it has a housing shortage.
That may begin to change when Father Daniel Mary’s Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel celebrate Holy Thursday next year.
On the same day the Carmelite monks commemorate the Last Supper with a breaking of the bread, they hope to break ground on a magnificently designed French Gothic monastery.
It not only will help a community bursting at the seams with vocations, but also will include hermitages, a Carmelite convent and a retreat center.
“This is going to strengthen the whole Church in America and be a spiritual oasis for America,” Father Daniel Mary said. “A spiritual oasis for monks, nuns, priests and laity.
“Lives are going to be changed by this.”
The monastery will rise on 10,000 acres of creek-fed land — 2,500 purchased and 7,500 leased — nestled on the backside of Carter Mountain in Wyoming’s northwest corner. It sits about 80 miles northwest of the monks’ current home in desert-like Cody, Wyo. The new property, Father Daniel Mary says, “is absolutely exquisite,” featuring pines and aspens, an abundance of wild flowers — and plenty of solitude.
Why so much land?
“We are striving to recover the monastic and agrarian way of life, so much of this land will be used for our cattle, livestock, fields and gardens,” said Father Daniel Mary. “The forested areas will be logged. In keeping with the rich monastic tradition and identity, we have lay brothers and choir monks (priests or seminarians). The lay brothers work the land, both in the fields or forests, as part of their manual labor for the community.”
He added that the 2,500-acre ranch will “marvelously support our beautiful monastic tradition in Carmel in a setting that is solitary and so conducive to prayer.”
“It is not unusual for cloistered, monastic communities of men who are geographically enclosed to have large tracts of land, many times far greater than even what we are contemplating here,” he said.
The Wyoming Carmelites have come a long way in the seven years since they began in 2003. Father Daniel Mary came to the state with $400 and the blessing of then-Bishop David Ricken of Cheyenne, Wyo.
“He said, ‘Well, God can do anything. He’ll multiply that,’” Father Daniel Mary recalls.
The multiplication began with monks: There now are 14 of them at various stages of formation living a cloistered life of contemplation, prayer and manual labor. The monks receive up to 250 inquiries into the community each year, most from men between 15 and 25. The community accepts only men ages 18 to 30, and the average age is 24.
“I believe the number of candidates showing an interest in the community is one of the strongest indicators of God’s providence at work,” said Cheyenne Bishop Paul Etienne. “The monks are a unique community committed to the truth of Jesus Christ, and there are young men in our culture today discovering this truth and the deceptions of our present culture. It is no wonder they are so attracted to a community that embodies a total commitment to Christ and his truth.”
In part because of the austere life, Father Daniel Mary says, his community only takes “the cream of the crop.”
“We have guys who pound the door down, crying about getting in here,” he said. “We cut a lot of guys.”
Still, he added: “I could be building three monasteries at the same time and filling them up at the same time. It shows the big interest in what we’re doing among young guys.”
The monks mostly provide for themselves through sales of their increasingly well-known Mystic Monk Coffee.
But that doesn’t generate the kind of cash flow to pay for Wyoming mountain property. The monks previously had tried to purchase land near Yellowstone National Park that once was owned by Buffalo Bill Cody. Bill and Melinda Gates bought that land — listed for $8.9 million — in 2009.
“We ended up with something far better,” said Father Daniel Mary.
He said the land will be paid in full by “a few donors,” but declined to provide a purchase price. The monks expect to close on the land purchase in October.
Money is not the only obstacle to building the new monastery. There has been opposition from some local residents, who express concern about the size and location of the monastery and environmental impact, among other concerns.
“You have before you a request that will impact property values, affect wildlife migration corridors in a manner that can never be recaptured, further limit ranching opportunities in our community, erode our existing landscapes and Western traditions and compromise the values that make Park County an uncut gem in Western cultural landscape,” said rancher Bob Model in a statement last month.
Plans are before the Park County Planning and Zoning Commission. Buildings are planned in separate phases — the monks’ monastery, a retreat center, then a convent — all built in the French tradition of Gothic architecture.
“It’s always the style that monks prefer over any other,” Father Daniel Mary said, pointing to its beauty, functionality and versatility.
At the center of everything is the Church.
“All the various components of the monastery are arranged with respect to the chapel; and the chapel is arranged with respect to the altar; and the altar is, of course, arranged with respect to the sacrifice of the Mass,” said the project’s architect, James McCrery of McCrery Architects in Washington, D.C. He is a frequent lecturer on Church art and architecture, and his firm is involved in other Catholic projects across the United States.
The monks celebrate and cherish the extraordinary form of the Latin rite, but are not exclusive to the older form of the Mass.
“The monastic tradition cherishes Gregorian chant and the Latin liturgy,” said Father Daniel Mary. “As monks, we hold this form of liturgy dear to our hearts. … When our bishop or other priests visit, we welcome the celebration of the new rite.”
The Church will accommodate 150 persons in addition to the 40 monks at choir stalls. The public entrance at the front will include a cloister, a small gift shop, a coffee shop for Mystic Monk Coffee, extern quarters, a guest master’s office and rooms where monks may meet with family.
On one side of the church, plans call for an octagonal chapter cloister, where Carmelite monks traditionally profess their vows. The cloister will be surrounded by an infirmary, offices, kitchen and dining room, sacristies and library. The other side of the church will abut a novitiate wing, where novices will be formed in dogma, Carmelite traditions and the particular manner of life of the Carmelite monks of Wyoming.
To the rear of the main altar is a smaller chapel. It will be surrounded by hermitages for 40 monks. Each hermitage will feature a small plot at its rear where monks can garden and spend time in prayer.
Eight single rooms will be built for family members of the monks. Father Daniel Mary stressed that the buildings surrounding the church are modest and small.
“The church has all the beauty,” he said.
Nothing will be more austere than the other buildings in the plans — small cottages scattered about the property where some monks will live as hermits in isolation.
“The crown jewel of the whole thing is the hermits living up in those mountain ravines, totally hidden and alone with God,” Father Daniel Mary said. “St. John of the Cross said if just one soul reaches that transforming union, the highest of unions, they’re doing more for the Church and the world than all these other people out there in the acts of apostolate that are not in that state of union. They become a huge channel of grace for the world, and I think that’s very important for us to establish that way of life.”
The second phase of construction will focus on a retreat center with its own chapel. After that, a convent for 20 to 25 nuns, either from an existing Carmelite order or one to be founded by the monks. Land for the convent already has been identified, situated more than 2 miles from the monks’ monastery.
Built to Last and to Fill
All of it will be built to last. McCrery said drafting instructions for potential contractors initially included language conveying the need for the property to last hundreds of years.
“One of the monks corrected me in the language and said, ‘Thousands,’” McCrery said. “Nowadays, architects and builders, we design for 30 years. And that’s not an exaggeration. Forget it. In order to build for 1,000 years, you have to go to a tradition of architecture that was designed to be built for 1,000 years. It’s yet another reason we’ve gone to the medieval tradition.”
Added Father Daniel Mary: “That’s in keeping with our poverty: building something to last for quite a few centuries.”
Contractors had not yet provided bids, so Father Daniel Mary could not provide a cost for the construction. But, he said, “We all know it’s going to cost a lot.” He also said he intends for it to be built in four years.
“I think I lose some people, but you know what … like Mother Angelica, unless you’re willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous.”
As he sees it, though, he has little choice.
“I have all these young men coming,” Father Daniel Mary said. “I have to build this huge monastery now” — for those who want to be monks, for nuns seeking a similar life, for priests and laity seeking to hear God’s voice on retreat and for the Church.
“T he contemplative cloistered life is in the heart of the Church here on earth,” Father Daniel Mary said. “Right now, the Church needs the heart to be strong so that grace can flow to all the other vocations in the Church, all the other works of the Church, and all the other missions of the Church. I think it’s crucial that this monastery be built so these young men can finally enter.”
Anthony Flott writes from Papillion, Nebraska.