|Traditional Benedictines Flourish in Eastern Oklahoma
By Jason Adkins
HULBERT, Oklahoma, 12 JUNE 2008 (ZENIT)
It’s been said that when the
revolution comes, you won’t read about it in the newspapers.
Indeed, when the history of this part of the world is written, it may
point to the recent establishment of a monastery amid the rolling hills
and lakes of eastern Oklahoma as an event of momentous consequence for
fostering a renaissance of Christian culture.
On my return drive to Minnesota after living for a year in Texas, I
chose to spend some time at Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek
monastery where an order of Benedictine monks, known as the “Clear Creek
monks,” is attempting to rebuild monastic life and Christian culture in
America from the ground up
There, along with sharing in the common life of the monks, I spoke to
the monastery’s prior, Father Philip Anderson, about the history and
mission of this new monastic community.
Father Anderson told me the Clear Creek monks’ story begins at the
University of Kansas. There, a Great Books program, funded by the
National Endowment for the Humanities, gave students the opportunity to
encounter the culture and ideas of Western Civilization.
This program run by John Senior was not a relativistic one
allowing students to pick and choose among various philosophical
— as is common among programs of that type.
Rather, the success of the program resulted from Senior’s willingness to
propose answers to the deepest questions, and point to Catholicism as
the source of the many fruits the West has produced. Senior also
stressed the importance of the Latin language as the medium through
which this common civilization and its achievements were bound together.
According to Father Anderson, the program became wildly popular and
produced not a few converts to the faith; then some prominent university
donors protested and the program was shut down. But Senior spawned a
small movement among students that did not end with the closure of the
great books program.
When some students, one of whom was Father Anderson, approached Senior
about how to rebuild a civilization being lost to modern technocratic
society, Senior suggested the students go find some monks in Europe
for there were few, if any, left in America
who were living a traditional monastic life.
The journey eventually led Father Anderson and his companions to the
medieval French Benedictine Abbey of Fontgombault, where they were
welcomed and received formation in the religious life according to the
Rule of St. Benedict. All along, these monks intended to return to
America to establish a new monastery on their native soil.
The wait would last almost 25 years, concluding in 1998 when Bishop
Edward Slattery of Tulsa invited the monks from Fontgombault to form a
foundation community of that abbey in his diocese.
According to Father Anderson, building the monastery in eastern Oklahoma
was the result of a fortuitous combination of an enthusiastic bishop, a
close to many of Senior’s original students who could contribute to the
— and the right piece of property. Father Anderson described the
rocky property as “perfect for the monastic life.”
Since 1999, the original American monks, along with some Canadian and
French brethren, have lived at the Clear Creek site near Hulbert,
Oklahoma, where they have slowly
but quickly, in monastic terms
been building a monastery.
Marking the Hours
The Clear Creek monastic life centers on liturgical prayer, particularly
the Liturgy of the Hours, which the monks chant in Latin eight times a
day. The monk’s life, says Father Anderson, is a life of prayer: “God
exists, and we have been created for him.” Praying the hours as a
community allows the monks to give constant praise and thanks to the
living, creator God.
The monks use the traditional
form of the Roman liturgy. Father Anderson told me that the monks
believe the traditional liturgy is more suited to the type of
traditional, contemplative monastic life they wish to live. It is a
symbol and embodiment, he said, of the type of cultural and religious
life the monks desire to preserve.
I asked Father Anderson how the monks financially support their quiet
life of prayer and praise. He said that unlike some monastic orders that
make only one product and often have to build an adjoining factory to
mass produce their goods, the Clear Creek monks engage in a variety of
tasks and trades. The monks earn their living by raising sheep, running
an orchard and vegetable farm, and making cheese, clothes and furniture.
Because the monks can perform many of the tasks needed to run the
monastery, operational costs are pretty low. But building a Romanesque
church for their monastery, which will be able to last a thousand years,
is another matter.
"Per omnia saecula saeculorum"
The Clear Creek monks are raising money to build their church
one they hope remains a landmark on the Oklahoma landscape for ages to
The monks believe their new church will be a sign of contradiction in a
consumerist culture where everything is transient or can be thrown away
when no longer useful. Change seems to be the only constant. The
destabilizing elements in our culture are “poison for the soul” Father
The monks believe that people will always need faith and a culture that
derives from that faith. According to the monks’ informational pamphlet,
people “need a place in which they can reconnect with creation and with
the silent center of their own being where God awaits them. The
monastery is such a place.”
“The church will represent something permanent,” Father Anderson
continued. “Architecture can have a spiritual effect on people. We hope
to build something beautiful that will give value to this region and the
people can be proud of.”
Father Anderson hopes construction on the church can begin sometime in
I asked Father Anderson whether the Clear Creek monks desired to rebuild
civilization in America. He laughed and said that the Benedictines had
“built Europe without even trying.”
“We focus on prayer,” he said. “We can only see the effects of our life
indirectly like we see the ripples from a drop in a pond.”
According to Father Anderson, the work of the monks operates like
concentric circles. Everything is centered on the interior life. But
that has an effect on everything else, particularly the work of the
monks. And the monastic way of life fosters a more contemplative way of
a life that explores the important questions and expresses itself
through art, music festivals and literature
that is, true culture.
Already, people have moved close to the monastery to share in the life
of the monks, just like in the Middle Ages. Many laity and families show
up at all times of day for Mass and to pray the hours with the monks.
Father Anderson said the diocese hopes to erect a parish nearby to
assist in serving the spiritual needs of these many newcomers.
The Clear Creek monks already number 30, with three or four more
expected to enter this year. The new residence they built is already
filled to capacity and new monks will have to be housed in sheds
adjacent to the monastery.
Father Anderson believes that the Clear Creek monks’ focus on the
traditional monastic activities of prayer and manual labor, rather than
following the path that many monasteries took by limiting their
liturgical life in order to focus on running schools, is the secret of
the monks’ vocational success.
As he said, “the life of a monk, hands folded in prayer, is a sermon
Hopefully, the story of the Clear Creek monks will inspire not only a
renaissance in monastic life in the United States, but inspire teachers
to be like John Senior and educate their students in truth, beauty, and
even at great professional cost.
With more teachers like Senior, and monks like those at Clear Creek, the
possibility of the renewal of authentic monastic and Christian cultural
life in America looks brighter.
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On the Net:
Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek Monastery:
"The Restoration of Christian Culture" by John Senior (IHS Press):