In Genesis 18, Abraham and his wife Sarah welcome three strangers who turn out to be divine visitors, one of them the Lord. In Luke 14, Jesus gives instructions on how to invite and receive guests, and Hebrews 13:2 directs, “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.”
Later in the sixth century, St. Benedict wrote in one of his Rules that his followers should “welcome guests as Christ,” thus making hospitality a basic part of their identity.
“Any hotels in the hospitality industry can trace their histories back to St. Benedict and Benedictine monasteries who gave lodging to pilgrims and travelers,” said Benedictine Brother Edward Blanzmann, of the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Chicago.
The welcome continues.
Brother Blanzmann, novice master for the community of six contemplative monks, is assistant to Brother Ezekiel Brennan, guest master for their Benedictine Bed & Breakfast, the oldest of three guest facilities at Benedictine monasteries in the United States. The others are the Inn at St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho, and the Robertshaw Country House Bed & Breakfast in Greensburg, Pa.
They are more than retreat and guest houses. They are inns for travelers in the tradition of European monastery hospitality, and guests are welcome to immerse themselves in the community experience. If they choose, they can attend daily Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours, spend time alone in the chapels, or experience other religious and secular attractions in the inns’ environments and surroundings.
The Chicago monks founded their monastery in 1991 in an old church and rectory. They started accepting bed-and-breakfast guests about 14 years ago, but the people didn’t like sharing space and time with retreatants. So, the monks moved the retreat lodging to other space in the monastery and turned the former retreat accommodations into two bed-and-breakfast apartments.
The Garden House has two bedrooms, bathroom, living room, dining room and a fully equipped kitchen stocked with self-serve breakfast. The Loft apartment has three bedrooms, kitchenette, dining room, living room and bath, and includes breakfast prepared and served by the monks.
“People really like the breakfasts, and it’s not uncommon for some guests to stay for five or even 10 days and get a different breakfast every day,” Brother Blanzmann said.
“The guests also like the quiet neighborhood and the spiritual aspect of the monastery,” he said. “Even though people come here for sightseeing or business, they want to come back for this haven and to be able to join the monks in prayer. They pray with us, and we pray for them.”
Nearby sites include Holy Name Cathedral and shrines of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, St. Jude, St. Joseph and Our Lady of Pompeii. The monastery is minutes from downtown Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and Gold Coast, the Loop, shopping, beaches, parks, sports facilities, Chinatown and Greektown.
Visit to the prairie
The four rooms of the Inn at St. Gertrude opened in May 2010 at the Monastery of St. Gertrude on north-central Idaho’s Camas Prairie. The Hummingbird Suite has a view into the forest. The Bluebird Studio looks out on spring wildflowers, summer skies, glorious autumn and the illuminated snows of winter. The Meadowlark Studio faces the hill leading to the monastery forest, and the Pheasant Suite overlooks the prairie and the mountains beyond.
“There are no big cities nearby,” said Sister Corinne Forsman, who, with Sister Chanelle Schuler, tends the inn. “We are in the center of the universe.”
The monastery was founded in 1907 by Swiss Benedictine sisters who mostly taught and served in hospitals. Today there are 57 members.
Some guests there are travelers, but many consider the monastery their destination. Both retired vacationers and adventurers are drawn to local rivers and lakes for fishing, boating and white water rafting, or for just watching and photographing nature. There are year-round outdoor activities and opportunities on the prairie, in the Gospel-Hump Wilderness and the nearby Seven Devils Mountains.
“People rave about how quiet it is here,” Sister Corinne said. “And everyone is impressed with the sounds of nature because the sounds of nature quiet them down in themselves.”
Architecture and antiques
The community of nine sisters at St. Emma Monastery in Greensburg, Pa., opened the Robertshaw Country House Bed & Breakfast in May 2011.
“It’s another way of extending our Benedictine hospitality,” Prioress Mother Mary Anne Noll said. “It’s also part of being good stewards in utilizing the facility we have, and it’s another way of trying to incarnate our love of God and love of neighbor.”
The sisters came from Bavaria in 1931 to work in the kitchen of nearby St. Vincent Archabbey and College. In 1943, they purchased the country home built by John Robertshaw, a local prominent businessman. Later expansions included a new monastery, retreat house, chapel and monastic guest house.
B&B guests have access to the entire sprawling home that’s richly appointed with fine architectural details. There’s a kitchen, formal living room, dining room, breakfast room, library and a grand staircase in the center hall. The upstairs has one suite and three bedrooms, each with private baths, and all furnished with antiques and treasures gleaned from storage or donated to the sisters. The walls are covered with fine art.
Guests can visit the St. Walburga shrine, meditate at the outdoor Stations of the Cross, or pray along the Rosary path. They can also join the sisters for daily Mass and the sung Liturgy of the Hours.
“We hope that people come not only for a place to lay their heads, but also for a place to renew their spirit, whether or not God is ever mentioned directly,” Mother Noll said. “We say an extra prayer for whoever comes so that they are blessed by the experience and that they leave with a greater sense of peace.”
Nearby attractions include art, theater and other cultural sites and events in Greensburg, Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, Seton Hill University, St.Vincent College, numerous historic sites and museums, the historic and cultural Ligonier Valley, the Laurel Highlands, Flight 93 Memorial, ski resorts, and a number of state and local parks. Pittsburgh is 35 miles away.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.