CLARK, Wyo. - A 500-seat gothic chapel in the shadow of a mountainside dotted with hermitages, a stone monastery and a thriving community of 30 Roman Catholic monks, all located in rural Park County within the next two decades.
Impossible? Not with God on your side.
The Rev. Daniel Mary, prior of the rural Clark Carmelite monastery, realizes that his vision is enterprising, to say the least. But he says he and the small band of monks at the Carmel of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are up to the challenge.
"It's going to be a lot of work, and we're talking a chunk of money here, especially for just five monks," he said.
However, with a throng of would-be brothers all but banging down the door and what Mary calls a "thirst" for this type of establishment in Wyoming, spirits are running high.
"There's such a thirst for what is real, what is authentic," the prior said recently during a rare audience just outside the cloistered monastery's gate. "The idea is to hearken back to the medieval days when monasteries just flourished."
And though Wyoming's only monastery is on the verge of doing just that, its bright future does not lie on land at the foot of the Beartooth Mountains.
"All this is makeshift," Mary said as he pointed to the large wooden fence, the main structure and a new hermitage outbuilding just constructed by the Knights of Columbus in nearby Powell.
Mary said the plan was to find a new site closer to Heart Mountain within the next few years. In the meantime, he is on the lookout for a piece of property either to purchase at a reduced price or to have donated.
"Ideally, it would be good mountain property or close to the mountains," he said. "That way, hermitages could be nestled up in the mountains."
The hermitages planned on the face of the mountain would differ from the one currently standing in that they would be permanent homes for those monks called to the hermetic life - one of complete solitude. The monks' current hermitage is used as a place of temporary retreat.
The new site is where the brothers would construct their stone monastery and massive gothic-style chapel. The chapel would be open for use by the monks and the public.
"This will be the mother house," Mary said. "Other brothers could come and obtain their philosophy and theology training, people could come on retreat for a day or for a week - it will just be a place for spiritual refreshment for all who thirst."
And, by Mary's estimation, that includes quite a few folks these days.
"I believe that people are ready to go back to what's authentic," he said.
Evidence of that fact lies in the level of interest in the Clark monastery, not only from the general public, but from those looking to join the life, Mary said. The prior has 11 men "really interested in the life," and by this fall expects to add five additional brothers to the four already cloistered.
The anticipated increase in monastic population will require the construction of simpler hermitage-type shelters soon. Plans are already in the works to build two quadriplexes on site, as the main building holds only 15 "at the max," Mary said.
Funding for these projects will come from the Powell and Cody Knights of Columbus chapters, members of Our Lady of the Valley and St. Barbara's Catholic churches and individual donors. Future funding for the stone monastery and the 500-seat chapel would come from the sale of the monks' CD of Gregorian chant, scheduled to be released this fall, and various fund-raising ventures that likely would require Mary to leave the walls of his monastery and travel around the state.
"If it means me going out into the community to speak to people, then so be it," Mary said. "It's all for the glory of Our Lady and of God."
"We can do this," Mary said. "And what a glorious day that will be when it is done."
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