By Woodeene Koenig-Bricker - OSV Newsweekly, 4/3/2011
“French-style Gothic monastery” and “Rocky Mountains” aren’t phrases you normally associate with one another. But then neither are “Carmelite monks” and “world-class coffees.” However, the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel outside of Cody, Wyo., are nothing if not traditionally untraditional.
The only monastery of contemplative, cloistered monks within the Carmelite order, they live a lifestyle little changed for 1,000 years, yet they make their livelihood by roasting small batches of coffee beans and shipping them all over the world under the label Mystic Monk Coffee.
“We are the only Carmelite monks that have returned to a strictly cloistered monastic life,” founder Father Daniel Mary told Our Sunday Visitor. “We harken back to the monastic hermit way of life which is why we have individual hermitages — to foster the hermit part of life.”
Carmelites are one of the great hermitical, or solitary, orders of the Church, along with the Carthusians and Camaldolese. Drawing from tradition dating back to the early Desert Fathers, members spend most of their time engaged in solitary work and prayer, living in individual hermitages or cells, coming together only for communal prayer and sometimes meals and recreation.
But even hermits have to make a living in today’s world. “We realized all the people around us are poor ranchers struggling to make it,” Father Daniel said. “We knew we couldn’t support ourselves ranching, so we asked how we could support ourselves with a simple ministry.”
After brainstorming several ideas, the concept of roasting coffee beans percolated to the top. Now the monks order beans, including fair trade, from all over the world and roast them every day except Sundays and holy days, often flavoring the prayers of Vespers with the aroma of fresh coffee.
“We roast hundreds of pounds a day,” Father Daniel said. “It’s like a well-oiled machine, so automatic we can easily do it in our work hours.” The mail-order business ships worldwide.
While the 15 current monks live in a “big family home with eight bedrooms” and several portable hermitages, vocations are rapidly outstripping available space. “We are getting inquires all over the world from guys who want to pursue a vocation with us,” Father Daniel said, “It’s a tough screening process; the guys we get here want to give everything to Our Lord, devoted to this beautiful, monastic life of Carmel.
“What I’m seeing as prior to this community is a real thirst for holiness in young people today. Basically there are two paths: the way of the world — being swallowed up by the world — or giving their life to Christ. ... With everything that is happening in the world, we need strong, powerful channels of grace for the world. That’s why we are getting so many vocations,” he told OSV.
Although the community is attracting vocations, the current living arrangement is hardly conducive to a true hermitical way of life. Ever since the community was established, the monks had dreamed of owning mountain property that would allow them to grow the number of monks at the monastery to 40 and still live a solitary, hermit lifestyle.
While the monks themselves were praying, several laymen came together to found the New Mount Carmel Foundation to raise funds to purchase land and build a monastery.
After various failed attempts, the foundation was able to purchase a substantial tract of undeveloped mountain land outside Cody. Almost immediately, the monks began to envision vaulted ceilings, chantries and flying buttresses.
While the monks saw their plans for a church, hermitages, chapels, cloister, novitiate and chapter house as a way to honor God in the midst of nature, their homespun Wyoming neighbors weren’t so sure.
“Wyoming people don’t like newcomers,” Father Daniel said. “They like their solitude and don’t want places that have never been developed to be disturbed. It was a shock to them that people would come to their area.” Some of the neighboring ranchers objected rather strongly to the idea. “Those that really objected [did so because they were afraid we would] bring more traffic to their private road that goes right through all those ranches,” Father Daniel said. “We showed them that we would be good neighbors and that, in the end we were the better deal. They realized we were going to keep the land as it is, running it as a ranch. They saw we were good men who want to work with them.”
According to information provided by the foundation, in addition to continuing to roast coffee, the monks will also be involved in cattle grazing, logging dead timber, training horses and other works of manual labor. Since the monks treasure solitude, at most only 15 acres will be affected by any sort of development.
“Most monks will live in hermitages around the church, with another 10 in the monastery. We probably will have another five hermitages in Hermit Valley,” he added. “The crown jewel of our charism is the hermit life. We may allow older monks who have been tried in community life to live a completely solitary life. They could profess to live as a hermit for life and be able to live that solitary life in the mountains with the lay brothers bringing in supplies on horses and mules.”
But why a Gothic-style monastery?
As the foundation’s website reports: “The Carmelite Monks feel that the mountains are God’s natural cathedral. The peaks and valleys echo God’s majesty and inspire awe in the beholder looking at them. The monks believe that a Gothic monastery, far from being a contrast to the mountains, actually is the best complement to this inspiring landscape. As the chapel and monastery do not look like a farmhouse, they are not meant to. It reflects rather the beauty of God’s mountains since this is a place of deep and profound worship of God. The building is styled to reflect its purpose and the beauty of the area.”
Father Daniel expanded by explaining: “Gothic works very well with monasticism. It’s very gracious. The tall, ribbed vaulting goes very well with Gregorian chant. You need a lot of reverb for chant. If you go to a lot of monasteries, the most beautiful chant is in those (Gothic-style) churches. This design helps our whole monastic life for it is a form of architecture that needs to be revived, especially for our liturgy. It helps form a monastic culture, and speaks of God. It’s very elevating.”
One of the goals of building a traditional Gothic-style monastery is its endurance. Although it will not be a public church, the monks hope that just as the monasteries of Europe have sustained the faith for thousands of years, so, too, their New Mount Carmel will be a witness in Wyoming and the West for years in the future.
It’s all part of being Carmelites, Father Daniel told OSV. “We are really trying to recover that pristine charism of Carmel. … Young guys are longing for this. … Once I decided to return to the full, pristine charism, all of a sudden all these guys started coming. ... We are going to live the life of Carmelite saints; go back to the authentic way of life of the Carmelite saints.”
The foundation has been working with architect James McCrery of Washington, D.C., to create the monastery design. A frequent lecturer on Church art and architecture, he is also involved in the renovation of cathedral churches of Manchester, N.H., and Charlotte, N.C. With respect to the monks of New Mount Carmel, he writes: “To be able to exercise my firm’s talents in service to the Church is unquestionably the highest and best use of God’s gifts. What better act than to render one’s ability back to the Giver of all abilities?”
Woodeene Koenig-Bricker writes from Oregon. Visit www.newmountcarmelfoundation.org for more information.
Groundbreaking for New Mount Carmel will be at 10 a.m. May 11. For more information on the ceremony, check the foundation website at www.newmountcarmelfoundation.org.
The Carmelite order has been the spiritual home for some of the greatest saints of the Church.
John of the Cross (1542-1591): Doctor of the Church, reformer and poet, St. John is best known for writing about the “dark night of the soul.”
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582): Mystical writer, reformer and Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa is the patron saint of those suffering from headaches.
Edith Stein (1891-1942): St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was a brilliant philosopher and Jewish convert who died in the ovens at Auschwitz. She is the patron of those who have lost parents.
Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897): The “Little Way” of the “Little Flower” has been a source of consolation and inspiration for many, including Pope John Paul II. She is the patron of missionaries and AIDS victims.
Blessed Titus Brandsma (1881-1942): Priest and journalist, Blessed Titus was executed by lethal injection on July 26, 1942, at the Dachau concentration camp.
Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (c. 1614-1691): A lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris, he is best known for his teachings in the classic “The Practice of the Presence of God.”
Although their website calls him Brother Java, the roastmaster for Mystic Monk Coffee is actually Father Michael Mary. To support themselves and their ministry, the monks offer a wide selection of caffeinated and decaf coffees as well as mugs, brewing equipment, brown hoodies and even a CD — “Mystical Chants of Carmel.” Prices for either whole bean or ground coffee are about $9.95 a pound with special holiday and limited editions occasionally available. Gift sets such as Fair Trade Organic Midnight Vigils Blend containing special-blend coffee and a matching mug start at $31.25. For orders, visit www.mysticmonkcoffee.com or call toll free: 877-751-6377, or click here to order from Amazon.com.
A mountain range in Israel, Mount Carmel is closely associated with the Prophet Elijah. The Carmelite order was founded in the 12th century at the supposed site of Elijah’s cave. In the First Book of Kings, Elijah challenges the priests of Baal to a contest to see whose God is indeed the Lord by mystically lighting a sacrifice on fire (see chapter 18). Mount Carmel is considered a holy site by Jews, Christians, Muslims and Bahá’í. Its name in Hebrew means “God’s vineyard.”
The origins of the Carmelite order are a bit obscure, but legend holds that St. Berthold, a former Crusader, gathered a group of like-minded believers on Mount Carmel about 1155. By 1190, a monastery was present on Mount Carmel, and sometime around 1210 the monks received the Rule of St. Albert, which states that it is fundamental for a Carmelite to “live a life in allegiance to Jesus Christ — how, pure in heart and stout in conscience, must be unswerving in the service of the Master.” As early as 1245, the order spread to England and France.
The primary charism of the Carmelites is focus on contemplative prayer with a special devotion to Our Lady. St. Thérèse of Lisieux called the Carmelite vocation as being “love in the heart of the Church.”
Today, the Carmelite family is made up of friars, cloistered nuns, sisters and lay members, including the Carmelite Third Order and the Scapular Confraternity of Carmel.
For more information, visit www.ocarm.org.
Two types of monks live in most monasteries. Lay brothers are those members who are involved mostly with physical labor while choir monks are primarily concerned with prayer and the Liturgy of the Hours. At New Mount Carmel, Prior Father Daniel Mary said that the five lay brothers in the community only have to come to the three major hours of the liturgy. For the other times of prayer, they pray Our Fathers in their workplace.
“Their life is more of manual labor and working with hands,” he said. When the new monastery is completed and some monks are permitted to live alone in hermitages, the lay brothers will bring them supplies and check on their health.
This distinction between choir monks and lay brothers lies at the heart of the Rosary. In the Middle Ages, when the choir monks were singing the 150 psalms, the lay brothers prayed Our Fathers instead, keeping track of the number on a string of beads. Gradually the Our Fathers were replaced with Hail Marys and the prayer practice evolved into the Rosary.
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