- Associated Press - Sunday, July 19, 2015

SCHUYLER, Neb. (AP) - The outstretched arms of St. Benedict are an inviting sight.

The statue is perched on a pedestal overlooking a lake in the backyard of a retreat center named in his honor. The gesturing of open arms welcomes the guests - some 15,000 annually - who visit the St. Benedict Center near Schuyler, the Columbus Telegram (https://bit.ly/1HArO18 ) reported.

Hospitality is one of the values of the Benedictine community, and one of the reasons why the center was established by the monks.

It was 80 years ago, in 1935, that three monks from the Muensterschwarzach Abbey in Germany came to the United States. They were in search of donations to help fund missions in Africa.

Their first stop in America was the Big Apple, but New York City proved to be too crowded with other religious groups that also were seeking financial support. An invitation by the archbishop of the Omaha diocese, who also happened to be of German descent, brought the monks to Nebraska.

A vacated house in Schuyler that was used by religious sisters became the new home for the Benedictine monks where they were able to operate fundraising efforts.

Using the money collected over the past decades, the monks have been able to establish churches throughout the world, including Africa, Tanzania, Columbia and Cuba.

As a way to give gratitude to people who have given to their missionary efforts, the retreat center was opened in 1997.

“The basic idea was we wanted to give back to the Americans what we received from them. We have received so much over the years. We wanted to do something for the people here,” Fr. Mauritius Wilde said.

Wilde is one of the newcomers to Christ the King Priory, which is located across the street from the center located a few miles north of Schuyler. He has lived there for five years with nine others in his community, and was among the group welcoming guests to the center Saturday for a festival celebrating the 80 years the monks have been in America. The day also marked the Feast Day of St. Benedict.

The 90,000-square-foot retreat center is used by a variety of people from all denominations. Some go there to seek a deeper relationship with God, while others use space there to host meetings.

It is made up of 60 guest rooms with 102 beds and can accommodate up to 300 people a day for an event. Throughout the building are pieces of religious artwork, like a wooden carving of Mary holding Jesus created by a tribe in East Africa and an octagon-shaped “Fountain of Life” created by an artist in Omaha.

Also on the grounds is what Fr. Thomas Leitner, administrator at the center, said is the heart of the facility - the main chapel and an adoration chapel. There is also a library in a solarium, meeting rooms, dining room, media room and a gift shop.

Outside, there is a lake with a walkway with a posted Stations of the Cross, which is a series of pictures depicting Jesus on the day of his crucifixion.

The center is meant to be a place where people on retreat can be in a peaceful, quiet setting. Wilde said the need for time in solitude and with God is increasing.

“We are living in a fast-changing world on all levels,” he said, from technology to shifting values. “There is so much going on, and that is confusing to some people, so they want to assure themselves of who they are.”

Being able to offer a place where people can find clarity and healing is satisfying for the monks. Since moving to the area, the group has felt well received by the community and hopes to continue to have a presence.

“The fact that we have been here for 80 years already shows that we feel at home and are very much welcomed,” Wilde said.

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Information from: Columbus Telegram, https://www.columbustelegram.com

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