At first, one hears the silence.The distinguishing attribute of the monastery in Huntsville, Utah is the surrounding quiet. But unless blessed by a miraculous turn of events, Our Lady of the Holy Trinity Abbey and the soothing rhythm of the monks’ sacred chanting will soon become very silent.
Founded in 1947 by the Roman Catholic Trappist order, this 1,800 acres of pristine land in Ogden Valley offered the monks solitude, silence and separation from the world, qualities unchanged in the spirit of the Trappists since being founded by St. Benedict in the Middle Ages.
Father Patrick arrived in 1950 and remembers a vibrant time when upwards of 80 men constituted the monastic community-at-large. Now there are more crosses in the cemetery than monks living in the quarters. Collectively these men form a living body of considerable wisdom regarding the human experience. They spend their time in individual and communal prayer that they believe, “has an effect on individuals and society.” Monks provide counseling for the greater community and Father Patrick delivers Hail Marys over the phone to callers as he minds the gift shop on Saturday. “Currently there are only 15 men who live, work and pray at Our Lady. Two are recovering from hospital procedures, and of the 13 monks on-site, 11 are over the age of 80. “We buried four more last year,” Father Patrick remarks.
In years past, farm work at the monastery included growing and harvesting hay, raising cattle, making cheese and running a dairy operation (Trappists in America have never brewed beer). Father David recalls bucking 30,000 bales of hay a season. The monks made and sold whole wheat bread for 50 years. For 45 years they produced Trinity Abbey honey. Visitors to the gift shop are disappointed to learn that four months ago the monks ceased making their acclaimed honey. “We didn’t run out of bees,” Father Patrick quips. “We ran out of monks!” Which raises the question, where are the new monks?
Recently the monastery’s governing body has closed the novitiate and no new monks will be joining Our Lady’s Trappists. “We’re too old,” acknowledges Father David. “It takes six years to prepare to take final vows and we don’t have the manpower or time to train new people.”
“Also,there is so much noise in the world today that the subtle, divine voice is not heard,” Father David adds. Father Leander agrees and astutely comments from his 87-year old perspective that in addition to the distractions of modern culture “the opportunities young men have for employment these days are much broader.” With no youth to re-infuse vitality into the monastery, the Huntsville landmark has a lifespan fewer in years than most of the current residents. “This particular community,” Father Leander reflects, “will dissolve.” As for what will happen to the monastery property, Father David embraces the unknown. “The Lord’s plan is unfolding, and we watch it unfold.” But Father Patrick is ready. As he turns to say good-bye, his eyes sparkle as he smiles, “Well, I’ll see you in Heaven! I’ve got my bags packed!” §