Proposed Meeteetse monastery hearing continues

Posted 9/7/10

Some residents oppose plans for the monastery to be built on a private ranch about 16 miles west of Meeteetse, while others pledge their full support.

Opponents and supporters will gather tonight (Tuesday) for part two of a Park County Planning …

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Proposed Meeteetse monastery hearing continues


For a town of 351 people, Meeteetse has experienced an eventful year. Last month, the town found itself in the national spotlight when an escaped fugitive turned up on its quiet streets. About eight months ago, Hollywood released a film based on Meeteetse.Now, the town's residents are weighing in on a proposal that would put Meeteetse on the map as home to a 144,000-square-foot French gothic monastery.

Some residents oppose plans for the monastery to be built on a private ranch about 16 miles west of Meeteetse, while others pledge their full support.

Opponents and supporters will gather tonight (Tuesday) for part two of a Park County Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing. The 7 p.m. meeting takes place at the Park County Courthouse.

An August hearing on the project went late into the night and was continued after planning and zoning commissioners decided they couldn't hear all the public comments in one evening.

Commissioners again will consider two special use permits for New Mount Carmel Foundation of America, the nonprofit group seeking to purchase a 2,500-acre ranch off Meeteetse Creek Road and construct a monastery there.

The Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, who currently reside near Clark, plan to live and work at the monastery, which would house 40 monks. Monastery plans also include a chapel that could hold 150 worshippers, though project planners say it would be a rare occasion for the chapel to be full.

The foundation's proposal also calls for a 7,500-square-foot coffee-roasting barn at the property to accommodate the monks' Mystic Monk Coffee business.

Buildings are planned on about 5 acres of the ranch, and the monks plan to continue the cattle operation on the remaining 2,500 acres and pay taxes on the agricultural section, according to information provided by Dave Grabbert, who owns the ranch.

“They have to have a place to live, a place to worship and a place to work, and these are all intertwined in their faith,” said Joey Darrah, a Powell attorney representing the foundation.

Last month's crowded public hearing drew Park County residents in support of the project, many who praised the monks' character.

“They live in remarkable harmony, peace and respect,” said William Evans, a West Park Hospital surgeon who visits the Carmelite Monks in Clark as their physician. “I know them to be scrupulously honest and forthright in every area ... we should all be as fortunate to have neighbors such as these.”

Meeteetse resident Sherry Johnson's home is located along Meeteetse Creek Road, and Johnson said she “is very much in favor of having the monks as neighbors.”

“With these holy men, we know we're going to have good neighbors for thousands of years to come,” Johnson said in an interview after the hearing.

At last month's hearing, Johnson said she had some unanswered questions when she heard about the proposal, but after meeting the monks and getting more information, she gave the project her full support.

Johnson said she doesn't think other residents oppose the project because it's a Catholic monastery, but rather, because they have unanswered questions.

She believes once questions are answered for other landowners and the dust settles, they also will support the project.

At the public hearing, Darrah said opponents are against it because it's a religious endeavor.

Some have called the monastery proposals “foreign,” and Father Rick Malloy, a priest conducting Mass at Yellowstone this summer, said he was concerned residents believed “that the idea of a catholic monastery in the Western United States is a ‘foreign idea.'”

However, several Meeteetse residents stressed that their opposition isn't fueled by religious discrimination.

“I haven't heard anything about religious concerns among Meeteetse residents. Where is all this coming from?” asked Mary Elliott, following the hearing.

Residents do have concerns about the size and location of the monastery and traffic on Meeteetse Creek Road, but that would be the case whether it was a religious structure or not, she said.

Rancher Bob Model outlined some landowner's concerns in a statement during last month's public hearing.

“You have before you a request that will impact property values, affect wildlife migration corridors in a manner that can never be recaptured, further limit ranching opportunities in our community, erode our existing landscapes and Western traditions and compromise the values that make Park County an uncut gem in Western cultural landscape,” Model said.

Landowners have questioned the scope of the project, saying it will add increased traffic on Meeteetse Creek Road during construction and after it's open, attracting visitors to the remote site. The Grabbert ranch is located about 14 miles from the nearest public road, Wyo. 120.

Father Daniel Mary, a Carmelite monk, said the 16 monks who currently reside in Clark live a quiet, agrarian life of prayer and solitude, and the same would be true if they moved to Meeteetse.

“We're hermit monks — that's our way of life,” he said at the hearing.

The monastery would be open to the public from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., but generally for faith-based purposes, such as confession or Mass.

Due to the remoteness of the ranch and limited contact with the monks, project leaders expect few public visitors.

Still, the size of the monastery — 144,00 square feet with towers reaching 150 feet — makes some residents believe the public will flock to the monastery. By comparison, the old Cody Wal-Mart building is about 50,000 square feet.

“Please recognize that this isn't about a few folks living at the end of Meeteetse Creek Road. As proposed, this is a facility built for the masses … that will come to see the spectacle that will be the new Mount Carmel,” said Craig Geving, a Meeteetse rancher.

Neighboring landowners also questioned monastery's French gothic design. Those involved in the project's planning said the structure is designed to reflect the glory of God.

Father Daniel said the monastery's design aligns with the Catholic church's traditional architecture, and its grandeur is intended to reflect God's beauty and glory.

A statement on the foundation's website explained: “The monks believe that a Gothic monastery, far from being a contrast to the mountains, actually is the best compliment to this inspiring landscape.

“As the chapel and monastery do not look like a farmhouse, they are not meant to. It reflects rather the beauty of God's mountains, since this is place of deep and profound worship of God.”

Landowners who oppose the monastery asked the Park County Planning and Zoning Commission to delay its decision last month. If approved by planning and zoning, the special-use permits will then be considered by the Park County Commission.

“My clients have not asked you to deny it, but table it,” said Debra Wendtland, a Sheridan attorney representing Meeteetse landowners, at last month's hearing.

Darrah called requests for more time delay tactics and asked planning and zoning officials to consider the project's tight timeline, saying the purchase contract expires Oct. 1. The foundation leaders hope to break ground on the actual monastery within one year's time, according to its website,

Alan Siggins, chairman of the planning and zoning commission, said at last month's hearing that the board needs time to assimilate all the information.