Share |

All Good Things Must End

Jun 15, 2012

South Dakota's rural solitude is church-like to many of us. I don't know how many farmers and ranchers have told me through the years that they've felt closer to God on the land than in a pew.

When cowboy troubadour Kyle Evans sang "I'm in Heaven on a horse on the wide open prairies of Dakota ..." he spoke for everybody who has ever chewed on a blade of blue stem.

But as church-like as the prairie might be, it seemed even holier at Blue Cloud Abbey in Grant County — a picturesque little monastery that grew into a popular retreat center for all sorts of people, including South Dakota's reflective writer Kathleen Norris.

The true story of how the monks came to locate near Milbank is as sweet as the prairie grass. The priests and monks at St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana wanted to establish a new monastery in the Dakotas so they sent four brothers to scout the area in 1949. They liked a spot above the Missouri and James Rivers near Yankton, but WNAX's tall radio towers obstructed the view so they decided to drive to Fargo, North Dakota.

On the way (this was before I-29 was built) they stopped outside the tiny town of Marvin and saw a rolling, wooded string of hills above Grant County's Whetstone Valley. The land was rocky but they liked it so they went to nearby Milbank to inquire. They were directed to the Milbank banker, who told them that they land had just been listed for sale within the last 30 minutes. He offered them 300 acres at $22 an acre.

Their good timing and the banker's name were signs they couldn't ignore, so the Benedictine monks immediately inked the deal. The banker's name? Effner Benedict.

There were 40 founding members, but their numbers have now dwindled to a dozen and three are over 90. "What else can we do?" asked Abbot Denis Quinkert, as he solemnly spoke of the monastery's plan to close the doors.

Abbot Denis hopes a religious group will take over the monastery, but no one knows what will happen to the beautiful facility. The only thing we know for certain is that the same spiritual quality that was discovered by the Indiana monks 63 years ago — a spirituality that is very familiar to all who love the land in South Dakota — will be there to await the next tenants.

 

 

Comments

08:36 pm - Sat, August 4 2012
Patrick Stehly said:
What a wonderful and magical place, spent time as a child, an adolesnt and as an adult there. I will greatly miss it but mostly the great men who commited them selves to it. Unforntunallly no tear is large enough to sprout a seed. God Bless.
06:52 am - Mon, September 24 2012
Anthony Armbruster said:
What a holy and great place to be. I always wanted to join it since my great uncle was a monk and one of the founders of the monastery. It makes me so ad that his creation is no longer in use. Long live the Spirit of Blue Cloud Abbey.
05:10 pm - Sun, January 20 2013
Marcia Vrbka-Olson said:
Would love to buy the place and do something with it. I have lots of ideas but do not have the money. Does anyone want to help with that?
11:07 pm - Wed, August 21 2013
marjorie [meidl] grossmann said:
my brother went to camp years ago through the abby, cant remember the name. we also had a tour of parts of the abby in the 60's. my father knew, some of the brothers, that lived there, i just remember, it was so beautiful.
06:01 pm - Tue, September 10 2013
Jim Englert said:
When the monks first proposed locating near Marvin, their decidedly non-Catholic neighbors were leery of such a papist incursion. A town hall style meeting was called, with speaker after speaker warning of the most dire consequences. This sentiment almost carried the day until a highly respected elder gave this ringing endorsement: "Let's give the sonsofbitches a chance."

Just over sixty years later, I dare say, there is nothing but sadness in the neighborhood at their departure.
08:24 pm - Tue, September 10 2013
Bonnie Bryde Malmberg said:
Great memories of Blue Cloud Abbey! A particular monk would wiggle his ears and make me laugh at the dinner table. Sad to hear the news of it closing...
02:47 pm - Sat, March 22 2014
Richard Sterling said:
We spent a day & night at the Abbey in 2006 on a cross country trip. Very peaceful and beautiful place. Made us reflective even we are not strongly religious. Brothers were very pleasent. We toured the site, took a canoe ride on the little lake, said Vespers in the chapel and enjoyed a meal with the monks. we totally enjoyed the experience. Hope the new owners keep it to the spirit of what it has been for 60 years.

Share your thoughts, post a comment to this story:

Your Name:
Your Email Address:  
Your Website:
Comment:  
2000 characters remaining
Captcha
Web Design by LVSYS