The life of the Cistercian monks in the sacred valley of the Rockies

St. Benedict’s Monastery passes on Benedictine tradition in Colorado

At 4:30 a.m. the first bell rings in St. Benedict’s Monastery, marking the first prayer of the day. The lonely valley, still dark, encounters its first light, that of God in in the breeze of silence.

In one of the most beautiful valleys in Colorado everything seems peaceful and utopic, yet the Cistercian (Trappist) monks who live there well know the reality: Their life encounters the fullness of the human experience and is thus one of continued conversion, selflessness, prayer and work. It’s a life radically centered in the Gospel.

“We are attracted to the monastery because we feel a call to live a relationship with God according to the Rule of St. Benedict and the Cistercian life,” said Father Charlie Albanese, prior of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Snowmass, Colo. “But it’s not easy. We’re human, too.”

Nonetheless, its fruits are far more abundant than its suffering, he assured: The Cistercian monks don’t only keep watch for the Lord and the Universal Church, they also help all those who come to them grow closer to God in their daily lives and are in a continuous process to be more Christ-like through their joys and sufferings.

“We try to give expression to what everybody can do in their lives,” Father Albanese said. “It happens. The Spirit works. People experience the contemplative life when they come here. They encounter God and their experience starts to transform their own lives.”

St. Benedict’s Monastery is nestled in a valley deep within the Rocky Mountains. (Photo provided)

The monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey built the monastery with their own hands in 1956 from their mother house, St. Joseph’s Abbey, in Massachusetts. The first community consisted of about 30 monks who did cattle ranching to sustain the monastery.

Through the decades, the monks sustained themselves in different ways. Ten years after their foundation, they developed a chicken business having around 10,000 chickens. Two decades later they went into the cookie business, which is still part of their work, but to a lesser scale. Now, their main source of income is the retreat house. Other than providing for most of the material needs of the community, it has also become an opportunity to lead visitors closer to Christ.

“Our primary mission is contemplative prayer. It’s specifically what we give life to and try to share through our retreat house,” Father Albanese said. “Many people have an experience of God even before they meet us. When they make the turn into Monastery Road, we often hear that it’s like entering into a sacred place.”

The Cistercian monks take this seriously, so much that Abbot Joseph Boyle has coined the term “keepers of the sacred valley” for his community.

Dedication to Christ

Yet, these experiences of God can also lead people to have a delusion of the monastic life. According to Father Albanese, one of the greatest misconceptions of this vocation is that it’s perfect: “What problems can you have when you give your life to God? I had the same illusion, that all my problems would be answered because I was joining the monastery.

“But God has been very gracious and merciful in my experience. You cannot come into a monastery and not realize very soon that there’s going to be a lot of work. You’re living with 12 to 18 people who are very different from you.

“No matter who we are, we’re going to find out the longer we stay, what God knows of us and what he wants to show us.”

The monastic life is a human life. The problems that a monk encounters are problems that any person encounters in the many circumstances of life, whether married, single or consecrated, Father Albanese said.

Father Micah, one of the Cistercian monks at the monastery, works in the carpentry shop. (Photo provided)

Loneliness is a challenge of this kind: “Loneliness is part of our life but it’s not all of it. You can be in a crowded city and be lonely,” he said. “It’s something most of us have to go through to know what’s on the other side: Relationships. We have to learn to experience God’s love in one another.”

Relationships are key in the monastic life, he assured. The monks pray and work together. They can talk during work but not during prayer or after the great silence, which extends from Vespers to Mass the following morning.

A fear of silence or loneliness should not be an obstacle to answer a monastic vocation, the prior stated: “If we give a little more time for prayer during the day, we may actually hear an invitation from God to listen in a deeper way to what he’s doing in our life. You can discover that in a monastery.

“It’s a paradox. It’s not going into the world and becoming a diplomat or missionary. It’s an inner exploration of prayer and community. And you will learn about yourself when you live in community.”

COMING UP: Seeds of Hope, Catholic schools to host “2018-19 Around the AoD Tour”

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Seeds of Hope, in conjunction with Archdiocese of Denver Catholic schools, will present the 2018-19 Around the Archdiocese of Denver (AoD) Tour, hosting open-to-the-public school tours at each of the K-8 and high schools that will showcase the faith formation and learning taking place in each of the 36 Archdiocese of Denver schools.

The Around the AoD Tour kicks off on Oct. 2, 2018 and runs through Mar. 19, 2019. To commemorate the tour stops, each person who visits a school on the 2018-19 Around the AoD the Tour will receive a free 2018-19 Around the AoD Tour t-shirt. A representative from Seeds of Hope and a tour guide from each school will greet and lead visitors. This is a chance to see inner workings of the schools, ask questions of leadership and see up close the differences the schools are making in their communities every day. No matter where somebody is in the Denver Metro or Northern Colorado area, there is a 2018-19 Around the AoD Tour stop coming soon to their community.

“We want people in their communities to be able to see firsthand how our schools are building the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth,” said Seeds of Hope Executive Director Jay Clark. “Our schools are the future of our Church and seeing the students and teachers in action with school leaders is an incredibly inspiring way to spend an hour.”

Signing up for a tour is easy – just visit seedsofhopedenver.org, call 303-715-3127 or email info@seedsofhopedenver.org to choose a tour
date and t-shirt size.

2018-19 Around the AoD Tour Schedule

Tue., Oct. 2, 2018
Sacred Heart
1317 Mapleton Avenue, Boulder, 80304
11:00 AM

Tue., Oct. 2, 2018
St. Louis 
925 Grant Avenue, Louisville, 80027
1:00 PM

Tue., Oct. 9, 2018
Annunciation
3536 Lafayette Street, Denver, 80205
11:00 AM

Thu., Oct. 11, 2018
St. Stephen
414 South Hyland Park Drive, Glenwood Springs, 81601 11:00 AM

Thu., Oct. 11, 2018
St. Clare of Assisi
31622 Highway 6, Edwards, 81632
1:00 PM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. John the Baptist
350 Emery Street, Longmont, 80501
9:30 AM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. John the Evangelist
1730 West 12th Street, Loveland, 80537
11:30 AM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. Joseph
127 North Howes Street, Ft. Collins, 80521
1:30 PM

Tue., Oct. 30, 2018
St. Mary’s Greeley
2351 22nd Avenue, Greeley, 80631
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 6, 2018
Holy Family HS
5195 West 144th Avenue, Broomfield, 80023
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 6, 2018
Nativity of Our Lord
900 West Midway Blvd., Broomfield, 80020
1:00 PM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
St. Vincent De Paul
1164 South Josephine Street, Denver, 80210
9:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
Our Lady of Lourdes
2256 South Logan Street, Denver, 80210
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
Most Precious Blood
3959 East Iliff Avenue, Denver, 80210
1:00 PM

Thu., Nov. 15, 2018
Bishop Machebeuf HS
458 Uinta Way, Denver, 80230
11:00 AM

Tue., Dec. 4, 2018
All Souls
4951 South Pennsylvania St., Englewood, 80113
11:00 AM

Tue., Dec. 4, 2018
St. Mary’s Littleton
6833 South Prince Street, Littleton, 80120
1:00 PM

Thu., Dec. 6, 2018
Blessed Sacrament
1973 Elm Street, Denver, 80220
11:00 AM

Thu., Dec. 6, 2018
St. James
1250 Newport Street, Denver, 80220
1:00 PM

Tue., Jan. 15, 2019
Frassati Catholic Academy
3951 Cottonwood Lakes Blvd., Thornton, 80241
11:00 AM

Thu., Jan. 17, 2019
St. Rose of Lima
1345 West Dakota Avenue, Denver, 80223
11:00 AM

Tue., Jan. 29, 2019
Our Lady of Fatima
10530 West 20th Avenue, Lakewood, 80215
11:00 AM

Tue., Jan. 29, 2019
Notre Dame
2165 South Zenobia Street, Denver, 80219
1:00 PM

Tue., Feb. 5, 2019
Assumption
2341 East 78th Avenue, Denver, 80229
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 5, 2019
Holy Trinity
3050 West 76th Avenue, Westminster, 80030
1:00 PM

Thu., Feb. 7, 2019
St. Francis De Sales
235 South Sherman Street, Denver, 80209
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 12, 2019
Sts. Peter and Paul
3920 Pierce Street, Wheat Ridge, 80033
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 12, 2019
Shrine of St. Anne
7320 Grant Place, Arvada, 80002
1:00 PM

Tue., Feb. 19, 2019
St. Thomas More
7071 East Otero Avenue, Centennial, 80112
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 19, 2019
Our Lady of Loreto
18000 E. Arapahoe Road, Foxfield, 80016
1:00 PM

Tue., Mar. 5, 2019
Good Shepherd
620 Elizabeth Street, Denver, 80206
11:00 AM

Tue., Mar. 5, 2019
Christ the King
860 Elm Street, Denver, 80220
1:00 PM

Thu., Mar. 14, 2019
St. Catherine of Siena
4200 Federal Blvd., Denver, 80211
11:00 AM

Thu., Mar. 14, 2019
Guardian Angels
1843 West 52nd Avenue, Denver, 80221
1:00 PM

Tue., Mar. 19, 2019
St. Therese
1200 Kenton Street, Aurora, 80010
11:00 AM

Tue., Mar. 19, 2019
St. Pius X
13680 East 14th Place, Aurora, 80011
1:00 PM

About Seeds of Hope: The mission of Seeds of Hope is to cultivate minds and hearts for Christ by making a transformative Catholic education financially accessible to any family who seeks it. Seeds of Hope accomplishes it mission by providing tuition assistance to schools across the Archdiocese of Denver for families in need through fundraising activities. Seeds of Hope also partners with the Archdiocese of Denver’s Office of Catholic Schools on a Variable Tuition Program that helps calculate affordable tuition for families. Learn more about Seeds of Hope at www.seedsofhopedenver.org.