- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2009

For some unknown reason, I recently began getting slick advertising brochures for “mystic monk” coffee.

Reading further, I realized these 14 monks living at the Carmel of the Immaculate Heart of Mary monastery in Clark, a small town outside of Cody, Wyo., had a sense of humor.

“Yes, we are REAL monks,” one of the brochures assured me. Names for their brews ranged from “Hermit’s Bold Blend” to “Midnight Vigils Blend,” referring to matins and lauds, two nighttime prayer services observed by cloistered monks worldwide.

And one of the discount codes they offered was coded “MARYQUEEN333,” a combination of the Virgin Mary and the Trinity, I am guessing.

Why the push to raise funds? Vocations (the term for people called to the religious life or priesthood) are increasing, they say, and they need more room than their packed-to-the-gills single-family home can provide. In the past year, their numbers have nearly doubled to 20.

“It’s almost constant, the flow of young men who are coming,” said Brother Peter Joseph, a native Kentuckian who joined up in 2004. “When a religious community is faithful to its tradition, God will send the vocations.”

But according to the Cody Enterprise, the monks have lost out to a fearsome adversary: billionaire Bill Gates.

Here’s how: There’s a patch of land 21 miles from Cody and not far from Yellowstone National Park known as Irma Lake. It’s got great views of the trout-filled South Fork of the Shoshone River Valley and the Absaroka Mountains, and is in the best elk hunting region in the state.

The area is named after the daughter of Buffalo Bill, whose original hunting cabin is preserved there. A 15,000-square-foot lodge, plus a five-bedroom cabin, is on a portion of the 500 acres; a perfect set-up for the monastery, convent and retreat house the monks envision for the property.

In September 2007, they made an offer on the $8.9 million property, but their financing fell through. Then, this past May, the Cody newspaper said, a holding company representing Mr. Gates snapped up the property, just as the monks had secured new financing.

I’ve yet to get a response to my e-mail to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but I have since learned Mrs. Gates was schooled by the Ursulines, a Catholic religious order for women. Her husband was brought up a Congregationalist, but his most recent remarks on religion indicate he’s an agnostic.

So it seems the ball is in her court as to donating the land or selling it to the Carmelites, who’ve been in the 98,000-square-mile Diocese of Cheyenne ever since its former bishop, David L. Ricken, brought them there in 2002.

“Bishop Ricken is a believer in the power of prayer, so the bishop thought to have the monks here in Wyoming would be good for them and good for the diocese,” said Tim Stransky, the diocesan development director. “The order of Carmel is attractive. The more conservative orders are bringing the youth back. We are getting more requests here for the Latin Mass.”

The Carmelites, who occupy the state’s only Catholic monastery, are looking at other pieces of land but nothing has suited their needs as well as Irma Lake.

“We just have to trust the Lord is working through all this,” said Brother Simon Mary, secretary to Prior Daniel Mary (all the monks have taken on Mary’s name in addition to their religious names). “It’s still a blessing that in 2009 so many Catholic men are seeking the cloistered life.”

Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Sundays and Thursdays. Contact her at jduin@washingtontimes.com.

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