Monastic Neighborhoods

Monasteries Attracting Neighbors

People are moving.  There is a growing dissatisfaction with life-in-the-desert-that-is-the-American-city, and it seems that more than a few families are seeking a life that is more rich and deep and free.  Near monasteries.

Clear Creek, Oklahoma is one such location.  There, a young vibrant community of Benedictines is building a monastery like the great ones of Europe and attracting a large number of Catholic neighbors in the process.  Catholic families are coming to from across the country to drink deep from the well of Living Water that flows from the holy silence of this place.  These families are deeply hungry for the community that springs from a life of shared faith, as well as the salubrious life to be found in the country.

Another such location appears to be Starfied, Missouri.  It is too tiny to be more than a blip on the map, yet families from around the country are moving to live near the very nascent convent of the Benedictine sisters there.  Devin and I recently learned this news first hand.  We thought we would be very bold and share with the Mother Superior our dream of living near a convent.  Afraid she would think we were crazy, but trusting the Holy Spirit, we wrote a letter in June and awaited a reply.  And, such a reply came last week with these words, “There are other families who have made the same inquiry, and though we are in a very early stage (we’re not even there yet ourselves!) a couple of these families have already moved to the area.”

We were stunned.  Because, we have been sitting in our little house in Austin dreaming big dreams and thinking that we must be alone among our fellow Catholics in having this vision.  And, suddenly, we caught a glimpse of the movement of the Holy Spirit, working silently among men to move their hearts in concert even unbeknownst to them.  We were stunned and excited.

Cautions to Ourselves

With that said, I want to offer two cautions.  First, any desire to leave one bad place for a wonderful new place is usually unrealistic; Devin and I know that, if we choose to move our family, it cannot be because we are fleeing city life to go build a utopian society somewhere in the country; because, such a society would cease to exist as soon as we arrived.  Second, if we do move to a country neighborhood populated with Catholic families, we would need to guard against insular-ity and self-satisfaction.  The last thing our dying culture needs is for the Christians to move into little communes where they cut themselves off in order to live a pure life.

Our faith is inherently missionary, and we want to be part of offering the Gospel in the midst of society.  But, we increasingly wonder if we cannot root our family in a community of vibrantly faith-filled families from which we run forth to share the Good News.  Time will tell.  As God so wills.

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10 thoughts on “Monastic Neighborhoods”

  1. I agree with the cautions that you’ve noted — often times these communities become very insular with little room for divergent opinions (even among Catholics.) My wife and I, who are both very dedicated Catholics, occasionally attend the Latin mass parish in our town but never quite feel like we’re welcome there. While the community is vibrant, the fact that we are only occasional visitors and my wife doesn’t wear the mantila get us quite a few dirty looks.

    Sometimes I see pictures, like those in the galleries posted, of young children in homemade dresses and chapel veils and wonder whether a family like ours would fit into a place like that. Maybe we would, but it gives me pause.

  2. Dear Steven,

    I totally agree. In fact, on big red flag regarding a possible future home for our family is what the women wear. Because, if the women only wear long skirts and mantilas, I will feel a little uncomfortable.

    I know that some women feel very strongly about “dressing for Mary”, and I respect their decision. But, at the same time, our Church does not mandate what women wear, beyond exhorting us to share with the world beauty, modesty, and dignity. The II Vatican council, among it’s many other amazing revelations, heavily emphasized the call of the laity to evangelize the marketplace, and part of the task of evangelizing is to look attractive to one’s missionary territory. I will be more readily believable to my non-Christian neighbors if I look like them, at least a little (now that the 80’s are back in style, however, I’m not sure how much I can wear what’s fashionable; the 80’s were the worst fashion era in my opinion!).

    So, I totally agree with your caution, and that’s why I think that your family should be our neighbors. Because, we would be culturally savvy agrarian Catholics together.

  3. Katie,

    A few years ago, a staunch Catholic community was built around Ave Maria University in FL. I haven’t read much about it lately, but, if my memory still serves, there were a lot of conflicts about what each one saw as a Catholic community. For sure, being a “planned” Catholic community which opened lots for the highest bidder couldn’t but result in this. Although I have no idea how things are over there at the moment. On the other hand, when Catholic families flock to a location it perhaps has better chances of succeeding in becoming a peaceful, Catholic community.

    When I visited Mr. Angelica’s shrine in Hanceville, AL, I did notice that some families had moved to its whereabouts. So this may be, as you realized, more common than we think.

    However, I still cannot fathom how to make a living in such places. As much as I think that my soul would be nourished, I wonder about how well my body would be. And if the body is malnourished, it’s very hard that the soul would be able to assimilate its food.

    I mean, what is a white-collar, city boy do in the remote countryside to live? Perhaps if we could telecommute, then it could be a much more viable alternative. As a matter of fact, I doubt that many white-collar jobs really require workers to be in the office. I think that many do out of tradition or because political games thrive only when people are around to be impressed on.

    Enough ramblings.

  4. I’ve loved reading your ponderings on living near a monastic community. I do have a major question though, one I’m left with after every post:

    If all of these families move into rural, monastic communities, what do they do for income? Do most of them engage in farming/self-sustaining agriculture?

    I’ve always thought it would be cool to move to a smaller town but, as a Mechanical Engineer, I doubted there would be any opportunities for work in these secluded areas.

  5. What a wonderful blog post! I never knew the benefits of living near a monestary until my 20’s. I actually worked in a monestary and still didn’t “get it”. 🙂 But my Fiance and I live near a Benedictine monestary (not far from a city!), and we have benefitted greatly from the spiritual direction of these monks as well as the availability of their monestary for retreats and events of all kinds. Not only is this monestary a haven for us lay people, but I get the sense their presence lightens the load for very strapped and stressed out parish priests trying to meet the needs of parishioners.

  6. Oh just wanted to clarify… my fiance and I don’t live together… just both happen to live near the monestary. 😉 We are receiving our marriage prep from the prior and occasionally visit their perpetual Adoration chapel (need to get better at visiting more often).

    Brandon – in our case the monestary, while secluded on their own land, is very very near suburbia and a major city. Not all monestaries are “rural.”

  7. Katie, I am sure that you are aware that families have been moving near Madonna House for over fifty years now. In fact, many of the little towns around here are kept alive by the influx of such families. We live only 15 minutes away and benefit greatly from being under Our Lady’s Mantle plus easy access to MH spirituality and excellent spiritual direction. Nevertheless, there have been many families that moved to this area with the idea that they were moving to a blessed area that would be protected come end times. Such thinking brought much dissension and strife. These families so often arrived with a siege mentality (i.e. we are under attack and must protect ourselves) as well as a female uniform of sorts. These families were not trusted and were disliked by the local community. They arrived with a holier than thou attitude that broke up a parish and tore apart a community. The families that have lasted are the ones that truly took up the MH spirituality and lived their faith but did it amongst the locals, learned from the locals and approached in humility and willingness to learn. Such families have enriched the area immensely in a variety of ways. We are lucky because Dave’s family is local to the area so we garner immediate repsect by having the same last name as the shoe store but we are also trying to live our faith as much as the families from ‘away’. In the 1970s a group of families tried to start a family community in Combermere and Catherine Doherty warned them strongly that God does not want such things. In her words, “Marriage is your sacrament not family community.” The other CD warning was to respect the local culture to which you move because the monastery etc. would not be there in the first place were it not for the locals who built the community.

  8. Wow, these are all such great comments. Thanks, everyone, so much for sharing about your experiences and questions. I really want to write more but the children are just about to awaken from naps, so I have to run. I will try to write more later.

  9. Okay, the children are now in bed for the evening, so I am free to write. Let’s see…

    Augustine, I am loosely familiar with the Ave Maria village, as well as the Catholic neighborhood that has grown up around Hanceville. Both Florida and Alabama are too hot for our taste; in addition, I don’t love the idea of a Catholic mandated town like Ave Maria. Makes me a little uncomfortable and feels a little theocratic.

    Augustine and Brandon, as for what sort of work is possible, one could work remote from home for most software positions, as well as for many forms of white collar work that are digitally based. Also, as Sara pointed out, many rural monasteries are just a few miles from a good-sized town.

    Sara, thanks for posting. Can I ask in what city/state is the Benedictine monastery near which you live?

  10. Elena, thank you sooo much for commenting. Your words are sobering and also help to clarify what I am trying to relate regarding the dream that Devin and I have for our family.

    We don’t want to move into an area and start a commune. We don’t want to be holy-roller neighbors who isolate ourselves from the locals. We simply want to be good neighbors and have good neighbors, preferably many who are within walking distance. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be if the people I see once per week at Mass lived nearby, such that I did not only see them once per week. Living in a very large city like Austin, any visit with friends requires loading all the children in the car (which takes at least 20 minutes) and driving somewhere (which takes at least 15 minutes). Our neighborhood is largely a bedroom community, and is super quiet and empty during the day, such that if I stay home with the children, I can go a whole day and see no other adult but my husband. With that sort of social-less environment, I might as well live in the middle of nowhere so that I could at least have the benefit of enjoying lovely trees and grass.

    I agree with your caution about moving into a small town and trying to fit in. I grew up in a small town, and my family was always “new in town”, even after 20 years of living there. But, in a mobile society such as ours, I can only hope that we would have equally transitory neighbors and would not stick out quite so much.

    And, finally, with regard to the words of our beloved Catherine Doherty, I laughed when I read them because she said just those words to the man who founded the covenant community in which I grew up. And, after growing up in such a community, I heartily agree with her. The sort of intentional community in which I spent my childhood really messes up families because it fosters competition between the family and community with regard to financial contribution, where one spends free time, and how decisions are made; it endangers the autonomy of the family unit and forces a collaborative model upon the family which is really only appropriate for a religious community.

    I heartily agree with all that you wrote, and hope that we can be just the good neighbors that you describe. We will have so much to learn from the locals, especially with regard to farming, and hope that they will suffer our bumblings and ignorance of local customs and give us a chance to become friends.

    Blessings to you and baby!

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