VIDEO: USU project examines future of Huntsville monastery

Saturday , March 07, 2015 - 12:16 PM

By JESUS LOPEZ JR.
Standard-Examiner staff

HUNTSVILLE — With its numbers dwindling, and its remaining residents aging, the Abbey of Our Lady of The Holy Trinity may soon find itself empty.

The monastery’s superior, the Rev. Brendan Freeman, said the monks have no plan to close the Huntsville monastery, but who knows what the future holds?

To prepare for that future, the Trappist monastery’s residents contacted Utah State University’s Department of Landscape Architecture Environmental Planning to discuss possible options for the property.

“If we do close,” Freeman said, “the land can be used for some of these ideas.”

All through the fall semester, graduate students in the USU college studied the land and its history to complete a presentation for suggestions for the 1,850 acres of monastery land.

USU Assistant Professor Carlos Licon said the students took soil samples and measured land grades, but also spoke with the monks and surveyed their way of life.

“We were used to working with a lot of evidence-based information, slope of the land and soil samples, but adding the spiritual dimensions and working with such an interesting group of people was really exciting. We were working with something that wasn’t as tangible.”

The monastery opened in 1947. At one point, it had about 80 members, after an influx of men into religious vocations following the end of World War II.

Through the monks’ efforts, they developed farm land, raised a prized herd of Angus, as well as made and sold items such as bread and honey.

As the order dwindled to nine aging members, almost all of the monks’ products are gone. The farmland is leased out and production ceased on bread and honey.

With that in mind, the monks invited the USU program to explore a possible future for the abbey’s land.

“It’s kind of a special place,” Licon said. “I think people of the area have a strong appreciation for the monks.”

In the past, USU students in the Department of Landscape Architecture Environmental Planning program have worked with numerous communities around the state.

The monastery project, under the college’s Third Year Graduate Studio, fell to Chris Binder, Graydon Bascom, Grant Hardy, Stephen Peaden and Nick Tanner.

Aside from typical survey work, the students spent a weekend at the monastery to get an appreciation of the monastic lifestyle, including getting up at 3 a.m. for morning prayers.

Through their work, the third-year students developed a sense of how to proceed, by developing an understanding of what is the monks’ legacy in the valley.

Lincon said that legacy is to educate, inspire and heal.

“It’s been a very challenging and rewarding exercise, working with the monks,” Lincon said. “The monks trusted the students.”

In the proposal, the students followed the ideas of conservation, agriculture and development. They suggested using the land for a small development, farming or open space, as well as using the natural landscape with trails and small destinations to preserve the spiritual aspects of the land.

“There is a very strong spiritual dimension in the land and what the monks have done in the last 70 years,” Licon said. “I think we helped them by showing things that they were not considering.”

The USU students are not the only people that have communicated with the monastery.

Ogden Valley Land Trust Chairwoman Jody Smith said her group has spoken with the monks extensively about the future of the land.

Smith said she admires the work the monks have done over the years.

“It’s disheartening to see it slipping away after all of these years, piece by piece,” Smith said.

The land trust would like to see it come back to life again, with the chickens and the honey and the bread, Smith said.

“It would be nice to have it stay like it is,” Smith said. “It’s beautiful. They worked all their lives to make it what it is. It started out as a patch of sagebrush and they made it what it is today.”

As development grows in the valley, the land trust believes it is important to maintain an area of open space, a place where people can reflect and enjoy nature.

Some ideas the land trust put forward are to build a church on the land, bring in a convent, something that would honor the religious nature of the land.

“You get there and there is just this sense,” Smith said. “You go sit in that chapel. It’s so simple but it’s so beautiful.”

The monks are so gentle and so kind and they just bring a sense of peace, Smith said.

“Just getting to know them,” Smith said, “they’re witty, they’re intelligent and you admire them so much for what they’ve done for so many years and there is only one way to honor them and that would be to bring it back the way it was.”

The final decision for the future of the abbey falls to the monks.

Both Freeman and Lincon said ideally, it would be great to see the lands remain a monastery, but the possibility of such a future is unknown.

Either way, through the students’ help, the monks have more ideas of what that future can be.

“They understood our life and they tried to take our values and put it to the land,” Freeman said.

Contact Jesus Lopez Jr. at 801-625-4239 or jlopez@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @jesuslopezSE and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/JesusLopezSE.

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