Monastery wins county's blessing

Posted 10/12/10

The facility will host the growing ranks of the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, who currently reside in a much smaller home outside Clark.

The design calls for a 150-foot spire and flying buttress to be constructed on land …

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Monastery wins county's blessing


{gallery}10_07_10/monkhearing{/gallery}New Mount Carmel Foundation attorney Michael LaBazzo speaks to the Pakr County Commission on Tuesday, as (from left) Brother Michael Mary, Father Daniel Mary, attorney Joey Darrah and Assistant County Planner Becky Conrad listen. Commissioners unanimously approved the foundation's plans for a large monastery and coffee-roasting barn west of Meeteetse. Tribune photo by CJ Baker A proposed monastery west of Meeteetse received the blessing of the Park County Commission Tuesday, with the commission unanimously voting to allow the project to go forward.The county granted special use permits to the non-profit New Mount Carmel Foundation of America to construct a 144,000 square foot French Gothic-style monastery and a 7,500 square foot coffee roasting barn.

The facility will host the growing ranks of the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, who currently reside in a much smaller home outside Clark.

The design calls for a 150-foot spire and flying buttress to be constructed on land the foundation is purchasing from rancher Dave Grabbert.

“The structure as it's proposed is for the glory of God,” said Brother Simon Mary, one of the Carmelite monks and the president of the New Mount Carmel Foundation.

Simon Mary said the generally secluded and solitary monks hope to live their lives of prayer and worship to God and be a blessing to the county, state and world through their intercessory prayer at the new facility.

The large structure is designed to accommodate the growing community of monks.

“Park County is really blessed to have this community that is blossoming,” said Simon Mary.

Father Daniel Mary, a Clark native, said some 250 young men inquired about becoming monks at the facility last year. They were only able to take in 10, bringing the total number of monks currently at the Clark facility to 18.

The planned monastery will house up to 40 monks.

The monastery site is located on the private Meeteetse Creek Road, about seven miles from the closest residence, and some 14 miles from the nearest public road.

A group of neighboring ranchers — MC Land and Cattle, LLC, Scott and Marjorie Justice, and Matt and Jessie Wagner — hired an attorney and raised objections to the monastery's impact on traffic and their existing easements across the property.

However, those concerns were resolved in a written agreement reached Friday, said Michael LaBazzo, a Cody attorney representing the foundation.

“We have taken to heart, as we said we would, the concerns of the neighbors,” LaBazzo said.

The settlement includes provisions to limit traffic — an issue discussed by commissioners on Tuesday.

The monks have said the monastery would generally not be open to the public. Foundation representatives said only a few times a year — for an event such as an ordination — would large crowds of up to 150 people be invited to the monastery.

“Aren't people going to want to see this?” asked Commissioner Tim French. “Aren't they going to want to come more often?”

Brother Simon Mary again restated that the monks live a life of solitude, and said the people who would want to drive 14 miles to reach the monastery would only be those who want to attend morning Mass or perhaps receive counseling.

Simon Mary said Catholic doctrine teaches that parishioners should generally attend Mass at their local parish rather than, say, at the monastery. He also said Catholics are taught to respect the monks' solitude.

French asked if there would be an open house when the structure is complete so people could “have their curiosity satisfied.”

LaBazzo said no.

“There will not be an ad in the newspaper saying we're having a grand opening,” he said, adding, “I have to apologize to the public in advance — that will not happen.”

LaBazzo said the settlement agreement reached with the objecting ranchers calls for signage asking people not to go to the monastery “unless they've been invited, to some degree.”

The foundation also reached a road maintenance agreement with Marathon Oil Co. to maintain the private road; Marathon, which accesses oil fields via the road, had previously voiced concern with impacts.

That left few objections on the table. Unlike previous public hearings, comments from citizens were relatively few and brief.

At the opening of the hearing, Powell attorney Joey Darrah, also representing the foundation, told commissioners they would likely hear complaints from residents who didn't live near the monastery but didn't like its design — a concern raised at previous hearings. Darrah asked the commission to consider, “If someone says they don't like how it looks, how are they going to be impacted?” he said.

However, there were no such concerns voiced on Tuesday, with enthusiasm being the presiding sentiment.

“I would just like to say... ‘Yahoo!'” said county resident Feather Woman, clasping her hands in celebration over her head.

“Sounds like you're in support,” quipped French.

Bob Jackson, a Cody resident and former Park County Planning and Zoning Office staff member, was the only member of the public to ask the commission not to approve the monastery's permit. Jackson asked commissioners to delay approval of the monastery until the state approves the pending applications for the project's septic and water systems.

LaBazzo said it was unnecessary for the commission to delay their approval of the project, given that construction can't begin without those permits anyway.

Construction is scheduled to begin in mid-April and continue for three years, with the monks ideally moving into the facility in 2014.

The Wyoming Game and FIsh Department had submitted a recommendation that construction be halted from Jan. 1 to April 15 to minimize disturbances to wintering wildlife — chiefly elk and mule deer.

LaBazzo said winter and spring weather would likely bring a halt to construction regardless, and that the foundation would work with the department, but he said the organization didn't want the condition as a requirement.

The commission left it as only a recommendation.

Commissioners waived a county requirement that at least 175 parking spaces be provided.

As Park County Planning and Zoning Commissioner Bob Swander put it at a meeting last month, “I think if they have 2,500 acres up there, they ought to be able to find a place to park.”

The foundation plans to have 50 parking spaces to handle special events, along with three spots in a garage.

In their motion approving the monastery on Tuesday, commissioners found the planned facility was in harmony with the area.

The vast majority of the land — roughly 2,490 acres — will continue to be managed as a ranch. The monks plan to maintain their agrarian traditions through raising cattle and perhaps growing vegetables.

After the meeting, Commissioner Bucky Hall compared the foundation's acquisition of the land to a conservation easement — which generally preserves land for agricultural use.

“And that's a good thing,” Hall said.

The coffee roasting barn will host the monastery's Mystic Monk Coffee operation, where beans are roasted for later sale to the public.

No sales will be made at the monastery; the foundation hopes to open a retail outlet in either Meetteetse or Cody.

LaBazzo said the purpose of the coffee roasting operation is to allow the monks to be “as close to self-sufficient as they can be.”

The monks, who take oaths of poverty, reportedly bring in more than $1 million per year from the coffee roasting business and associated sales.

Father Daniel Mary said some people think the coffee roasting operation will pay for the construction of the new monastery, but he said that's not the case.

“This is going to be built by people all over the nation that ... want to see this monastery built,” he said.