- Associated Press - Monday, December 4, 2017

MARVIN, S.D. (AP) - The name has changed, but has the perception?

Two Abbey of the Hills leaders are wondering if people think the former Blue Cloud Abbey is still associated with the Catholic Church, the Watertown Public Opinion reported .

In 2013 the Order of Saint Benedict sold the Blue Cloud Abbey to six families who didn’t want to see the facility become anything less than what it had been for decades - a sanctuary for peace and tranquility located among the rolling hills of the Coteau des Prairie near Marvin.

Since then, the Abbey of the Hills has stayed open, hosting a myriad of activities centered around the spirituality of the large facility primarily built by the many Benedictine monks and brothers who resided there during their 60-year ownership.

The centerpiece of the facility is the cross-shaped church, which features beautiful stained-glass windows, a carved crucifix and canopy suspended from the ceiling, and a large pipe organ. The church is also known for its outstanding acoustics.



Concerts, family reunions, religious outings, arts and crafts gatherings and business meetings are a few of the events that are regulars for the abbey. But Director Paul Treinen and Events Coordinator Jill Adelman say there could be much more, and they’re wondering what people are thinking about the role of the nonprofit abbey. Treinen said he’s often heard people say they’re reluctant to volunteer because they believe the abbey is a for-profit business.

“That’s on us if that perception continues,” Treinen said. “We’re a nonprofit not owned by anybody. It’s owned by a board.”

Treinen is among the group that purchased the abbey. He’s also an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church and said the abbey’s new mission is not to go against the Catholic Church but is a way to create unity among the different religions of the country and world.

Adelman said the mission statement of the abbey is to foster the rediscovery of peace.

“We want you to walk into the abbey and feel the peace whether you’re Lutheran, Catholic or whatever,” she said. “Come here and feel the peace.”

The Benedictine monks began construction on the abbey in 1950. As the number of monks increased so did the abbey, and construction continued until 1967. By 2012 only 14 monks, all age 79 or older, lived at the abbey and the Order of Saint Benedict was seeking a buyer.

According to Treinen, the Benedictines arrived in South Dakota in the 1870s, sent from the archabbey in St. Meinrad, Indiana. The Dakota monks, led by Bishop Martin Marty, settled into Native American reservations in Dakota Territory. Their purpose was to teach the gospel and to educate the natives. Mount Marty College of Yankton, which also has a satellite campus in Watertown, is named for Bishop Marty.

By the middle of the last century the Benedictines were looking to expand in the Dakotas. They were on their way to North Dakota when they stopped near Milbank. They liked the area and asked a Milbank banker, whose last name was Benedict, if any land was for sale.

Benedict showed them a parcel of land that had become available, and when the monks saw the property they knew they had found their site.

The monks originally owned about 2,000 acres, most of which were sold to private interests. The core 85 acres that include the main structure, three cabins and well-maintained grounds went to the Abbey of the Hills group. And although the monks couldn’t walk on water, they did create a small lake near the abbey by damming a nearby creek.

After the change of ownership in 2013, the only staff members were volunteers. Now, there are six full-time and three part-time employees, but volunteers are still key to the operation.

“It’s important to say that even though we now have that help, we still need more,” Adelman said. “We’re always looking for people who are interested in volunteering.”

The need for assistance is due to the structure’s large size. The auditorium seats 200 and an adjoining room can seat up to 100. Meals are served in a large lunchroom and a restaurant-like room that can host 50. The room and equipment that the monks used to bake and cut their famous bread are still in use.

Sleeping accommodations include 69 rooms with nine different choices based on price and luxury. Some rooms have a scenic view of the Whetstone Valley to the east; a few do not have private bathrooms. All include a continental breakfast. Other meals may be served depending on the number of participants.

The abbey prides itself on using largely home-grown or donated products for its meals. On the grounds are a vegetable garden, orchard, a honey bee operation and 30-head of cattle. The abbey sells its own wine made from grapes at a nearby vineyard.

An indication of the abbey’s self-described mission is that none of the rooms have televisions. A quick tour of the facility found one TV for public viewing.

Adelman, who handles the scheduling, said she’s never refused an event but admits there are restrictions. Weddings and wedding receptions, for instance, are not allowed.

“We’re really in our infancy here at the abbey and we might be challenged by some groups,” she said. “We don’t have a list, but we may gently guide some groups and say this might not be the best fit for you.”

The abbey’s leaders would like to expand the facility’s uses without jeopardizing its fundamental mission. Treinen said he’s been approached many times by people who would like to live at the abbey.

“Some parts of the abbey aren’t being utilized,” he explained. “We’re trying to decide if we just let that space be or should we be transforming it into longer-term housing. I don’t know if we do that. It’s so expensive to rebuild or repurpose stuff like that.

“The buildings that encompass the abbey are well built, but everything needs maintenance, and that’s some of the challenges we have. How do we sustain what we have and maybe look to some (construction) in the future.”

Whatever is ahead for the abbey, its focus will almost assuredly continue to be a destination for people of all religions who are seeking peace and harmony in today’s tumultuous world.

___

Information from: Watertown Public Opinion, http://www.thepublicopinion.com

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