Huntsville monastery closes after 70 years, monks donate $400K to Lantern House

Tuesday , April 04, 2017 - 5:00 AM2 comments

JANAE FRANCIS, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — The monks at the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity in Huntsville may be preparing to leave, but evidence of their presence will remain.

In honor of a $400,000 donation the monks made to the Lantern House homeless shelter, they now are honored with a 7 1/2-by-28 1/2-foot sign above the serving area in the Ogden shelter’s cafeteria.

The monastery is closing because fewer people are interested in becoming monks these days, said former abbot, The Rev. Casimir Bernas. Aging and dwindling populations in monasteries are forcing some of them to close. A monastery of nuns in South Ogden, St. Benedict Monastery, closed in 2012.

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The Rev. Brendan Freeman, who now is the monastery’s abbot, and Bernas attended a free lunch for shelter clients Monday to see the sign and to share in the environment created by the new cafeteria.

“We’re happy to help,” said Freeman. “We’re happy we have the means to do it.”

There are a tremendous number of homeless people, Freeman said. “You never know what’s going on in their lives.”

Freeman and Bernas said the large donation was not from the sale of the monastery. Funds from the sale of the monastery are being dispersed to other monasteries around the world and to other causes, Bernas said.

The donated funds came from profits from 70 years of selling honey and bread at the monastery, and from running a cattle ranch and a dairy there.

“This was from our blood, sweat and tears,” Freeman said. “These men earned money on the farm and never spent it on themselves.”

According to the Rule of Saint Benedict, living a frugal life is important, Freeman said. The monks who earned the funds did not want anything for themselves.

“I have been buying honey from these wonderful people for decades,” said Dan Nixon, vice chairman of the board at Lantern House. “I think it’s wonderful what they have done.”

The sign honoring the monks reads: “In the reception of strangers and pilgrims, every care, solicitude ... and courtesy should be shown because it is especially in them that Christ is received. ... For he is going to say ‘I was a stranger and you made me welcome.’ ”

The sign quotes both Matthew 25:35 in the Good News Bible and the Rule of St. Benedict, said Bernas, who chose the words for the tribute.

Bernas thanked Ogden residents Allan and Kay Lipman for suggesting the monks donate to the Lantern House. The two have been key fundraisers for the shelter.

“Over the years, we made regular financial contributions to St. Anne’s,” Bernas said, referring to the shelter’s name before it was relocated in June 2015.

“Our main mission is to be a witness to Christ both to ourselves and the Christian and non-Christian world, to show a vibrant and well-lived Christianity.”

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“I am happy to have the monastery still have a presence in Ogden,” responded Kay Lipman, pointing to the sign.

Lipman remembers clearly three years ago when she had to sit down to receive news that the monks were giving $400,000 of the $7.5 million needed to build the shelter.

Shelter director Jennifer Canter said honoring the spirit of the monks in the cafeteria is appropriate, since the facility is designed to give homeless people a break from their situations.

“For alot of them, this is their only meal of the day,” Canter said. “A lot of them won’t talk to anybody when they leave. This is their only interaction.”

Leaving difficult

Freeman, who was hired specifically to prepare the monastery to close, said leaving the area is difficult for the monks. Some have been in the area for much of the 70 years the monastery has operated.

“We want the people of Utah to know we are sad to have to leave them,” Freeman said. “We worked very hard to leave a legacy.”

Although the large donation is part of the monastery’s legacy, a museum is a possiblity.

The legacy includes having sold the 1,860 acres making up the monastery so that it will be required to be left mostly as open space, Freeman said.

The monastery has left 25 acres to the Catholic Diocese of Utah for a future parish. Freeman said population studies indicate an expected 20,000 new homes in the Ogden Valley in the next 20 years. Catholic leaders believe a new parish will be needed.

Freeman isn’t positive about the exact date the monastery will close. He guesses it will be around September.

Although the land where as many as 65 monks once lived has sold, Freeman said the buyer has agreed to allow the monks to live there as long as they would like. The buyer is a local attorney, said Kay Lipman.

Two processes remain before the six remaining monks leave.

First, the monks themselves have to vote to leave. Second, an international body of abbots has to vote to close the monastery.

Monastery closure likely in September

Freeman doesn’t know when the first vote will happen. He believes the second vote will take place in September during a three-week gathering of abbots that occurs every three years.

At least until September, area residents can visit the monastery and purchase items in the gift shop.

No longer are the items produced at the location, but the feeling of the store remains somewhat as it has been for decades, Bernas said.

Praying in the monastery’s chapel also remains open.

“People can still come and talk to a monk if they need to,” Freeman said.

Bernas is not among those monks who are available at the monastery.

He has retired from full-time service and relocated to an assisted living facility.

Bernas came to Huntsville in 1949, two years after the monastery opened. In that time, he said he came to love the people of Utah.

“In general, people here are wonderful,” he said. “They are open to others.”

You may reach reporter JaNae Francis at jfrancis@standard.net or 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or like her on Facebook at facebook.com/SEJaNaeFrancis. 

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