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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Carmelite Monks in Wyoming #1

The post below was written by Deal Hudson on September 25, 2007 and orginally posted on his personal blog.

The Last Carmelite Monks in America
By Deal W. Hudson

The last eight Carmelite monks in America, perhaps even the world, live in a four-bedroom rectory in the mountains of northwest Wyoming.

With 35 candidates in various stages of discernment, they hope to move 70 miles away to a 492-acre property near Carter Mountain once owned by "Buffalo Bill" Cody as his hunting preserve.

"Buffalo Bill's house is dilapidated, but the newer lodge on the property was meant to be a monastery," said Rev. Daniel Mary of Jesus Crucified, the 40-year-old prior of the community.

"We are sleeping in all kinds of places all over the property -- one is sleeping in the library, one in the office -- we are going to have to be moving no matter what."

Father Daniel founded the community on October 15, 2003, when Bishop David Ricken of Cheyenne sealed their enclosure. For Father Daniel, it was a homecoming: His father, rancher Jerry Schneider, runs the Mt. Carmel Youth Ranch four miles up the road. The youth ranch, like the monastery, is starting to gain a national reputation. Parents who want help with troubled youngsters send them to Schneider.

Father Daniel exudes the same kind of can-do enthusiasm that animates his father, who is one of the most unforgettable characters you will ever meet -- a massive, soft-spoken cowboy with a deep devotion to the Mother of God. It's obvious to me where the son's determination comes from.

He left his life as a Carmelite hermit in Minnesota because they were losing their vocations. "Young men simply could not adjust to a solitary life; they needed a community -- that's why I asked for permission from the prior to start a monastic community."

Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of Minneapolis gave Father Daniel permission to contact Bishop Ricken in Wyoming, who had let it be known that he was looking for Carmelites to live in his diocese. Archbishop Flynn said to me, "This is meant to be, this is of God." After the meeting with Flynn, Father Daniel called Bishop Ricken, who immediately invited him to Wyoming.

"I think we are the only community of Carmelite Monks in the world that live a cloistered life." The eight brothers live in a "constitutional enclosure," which they can leave only for medical reasons, not even for a death in the family.

They do, however, foster relationships with their families, who can stay at the guesthouse. The only contact the brothers have with people outside the community are the special visitors they invite to stay in the "speak room."

Though they don't meet with very many people outside the community, they do sell them coffee. On their Web site there is a tab for "Mystic Monk Coffee." Click the tab and you will find for sale an array of coffee beans "roasted solely by real monks who are passionate about coffee."

You will also be offered the doubled-handled "Mystic Monk Mug." Father Daniel explained, "It is a longstanding tradition that Carmelites drink coffee using both hands in thanksgiving for the fruits of the harvest."

Why coffee?, I asked him. "Out here in Wyoming there's not much you can do. I have a brother, Michael Mary, who worked in coffee shops all his life and really has a lot of knowledge about coffee, so we just went for the gusto and tried it." They started selling coffee in June of this year, and sales are already brisk. "It was just meant to be, I guess," says Father Daniel.

It was just meant to be. That phrase was used a number of times by Father Daniel when I interviewed him. He told me that Buffalo Bill died a Catholic, receiving last rites on his deathbed, and so the new monastery and retreat center "is meant to be."

By Christmas, Father Daniel and his fellow monks hope to be celebrating the Tridentine Latin Mass and singing Gregorian chant in the shadow of Carter Mountain.

I will stay in touch with Father Daniel and his "last Carmelite monks" and will let you know if the move to Buffalo Bill's property "was meant to be."

* * *

Father Daniel asked me to request your prayers and your support. To send a donation, or some books for their monastery library, write to:

Carmelite Monastery
P.O. Box 2747
Cody, WY 82414-2747

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