Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about the “Last Carmelite Monks in America.” At the time, the eight Carmelites and their novices were overflowing their four-bedroom rectory in the mountains of northwest Wyoming.
Since then, the monks’ numbers have grown quickly. By the end of the year, there will be as many as 18 members of the community, making already cramped living quarters completely inadequate.
Rev. Daniel Mary of Jesus Crucified, the prior, told me, “We are getting inquiries all the time, from all over the world, including Germany, England, and the Philippines. Men hear about us by word of mouth and through the Internet. If you type in ‘Carmelite monks,’ our name pops up.”
I told Father Daniel that his comment last year that his community contained the “last Carmelite monks” provoked some letters disputing the claim.
“Well, I may have overstated it a bit,” Father Daniel said with a laugh. “I’m pretty sure we are the only community living the strictly cloistered way of life, but there are some new communities of Carmelite hermits in Texas.” The Carmelite monks of Wyoming are committed to reviving the original tradition of St. John of the Cross. They do not take over parishes or offer retreat ministry. “We probably are the only monks, in the strictest sense of the word,” reiterates Father Daniel.
Father Daniel is 41 years old, but the rest range from 18 to 31. “A few older guys have tried this out, but it is very hard for them when they have to be obedient to younger monks who are only 19 or 20. Older guys are set in their ways.” Thus, they look for men who are younger and have sound character and a strong faith. The monks run a background check in addition to creating a psychological profile and family history.
The monastery is looking to buy the Irma Lake Ranch, once owned as a hunting lodge by Buffalo Bill Cody. There have been four owners since then, and the present owner is willing to sell for $9.75 million.
Father Daniel explains that the price tag sounds high, but the property can be made into a new Mt. Carmel immediately. The ranch “already has a monastery on it, a 16,000-square-foot lodge with a big industrial kitchen and 20 rooms, along with a guesthouse, and a caretaker’s house.”
“This is the perfect set-up,” says Father Daniel, “with a road, electricity, and water all in place.”
This new Mt. Carmel in America will be a place where pilgrims can come on retreat and hear the preaching and conferences of the monks, while not disturbing their community life. The monks chant the divine office eight times a day; their whole life is given over to the liturgy.
Bishop David Ricken helped with the founding of the community. Before he left Cheyenne, Wyoming, for Green Bay, Wisconsin, he inspected Irma Lake and blessed the monks’ efforts in seeking to purchase it. The bishop told them, “From this place you will be sending priests and monks all over the world to re-found monasteries, just as Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross did in 16th-century Spain. You are filling a void in the Carmelite order.”
A foundation has been formed to receive donations for Irma Lake Ranch. Their coffee business — the delicious Mystic Monk Coffee — helps to cover day-to-day expenses, but the monks rely entirely on donations.
As we got off the phone, Father Daniel said, “The ranch is an incredible place for our charism. The view of Carter Mountain is breathtaking, looking out over all the white-capped mountains of Yellowstone Park. Moose, elk, antelope, and a few black bears roam the property.”
I hope this time next year I can spend a few days in the guesthouse of the new Mt. Carmel monastery and listen to the monks chant their liturgy against the backdrop of Carter Mountain.
To contact Father Daniel directly, or Brother Simon Mary, write or call (there is no Internet connection at the monastery):
P.O. Box 2747
Cody, WY 82414-2747