The New Carmel in Wyoming: the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel

Yellowstone National Park and its surrounding national forests is a vacationland that is world renowned, where untouched lands and alpine vistas dip down to sheltered fjords, rock-walled gorges and flower-decked mountain fields.  Located in the hinterlands near the edge is the New Mount Carmel Monastery in the Rocky Mountains just southwest of Cody, Wyoming.  The community is also known as the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.  The monastery site is currently under construction, an open construction site rising on scenic lands of rural acreage, unexcelled in beauty and solitude, with views of snow-crowned mountains on the horizon.  Wild flowers bloom beside a roaring glacial stream, the Meeteetse Creek, where cattle graze on the monks' ranch in wild scenic splendor.  In short, the monastery is a spiritual oasis in the Western wilderness, in many ways resembling the original Mt. Carmel in the Holy Land, overlooking the wilderness of ancient Israel and the mountains Lebanon.   

This land is straight out of eastern France in the Middle-Ages, perfect for a community of cloistered monks with tonsure and cloister.  There is a hidden solitude in the alpine region, fishing to gladden the heart and big game around the next bend in the stream.  The monastery is a holy array in the jeweled gleam of western sunlight, arising in the splendor of the French Gothic, an Olympian feat in the wilderness of Wyoming.  The site is fortuitously covered by hundreds of acres, reached by a windy, private road.  The acreage is a glorious tapestry of bloom extending from the mountain meadows to the lush green depths of the valleys.  In future generations paths through the cool green forests above no doubt will one day lead here, footpaths through the mountains, yet to be worn by itinerant pilgrims, wandering medieval minstrels in the imagination of Belloc, walking across tumbling rivers and snow-clad peaks towering in the heavens in order to reach a sacred space, the New Mt. Carmel of Wyoming.  

Image courtesy of McCrery Architects

The construction of the chapel is underway, slowly rising above the flat plane where the monastery is being slowly built in a succession of construction phases that are expected to last several years.  The above watercolor is from the architects of the project under the direction of James McCrery of McCrery Architects of Washington, D.C.  The buildings of the monastic foundation are made of solid quarry stone, a durable, lasting and permanent building material.  The young monks themselves have assisted with various stages of construction, including some stonework, training themselves and purchasing the proper equipment to become stone carving experts.  During the long winter months, members of the community have been diligently carving stone for the monastery complex, including most recently the outer walls of the chapter house and main chapel.  This is a difficult and precise work, costly and exact.  

The chapel is the center of the monastery, and rightly so.  The chapter house is also hugely important, resembling in many ways a mini-chapel.  Because of its importance, it is located very close to the main chapel, in what will be the cloistered monastery gardens.  This room, true to the medieval tradition, will play a crucial role in the life of the community.  Here new monks are clothed in the holy habit of Carmel with the brown scapular and white mantle and here they profess their vows.  It is also the place where the Chapter, or the governing body of the monastery meets frequently to discuss important matters of business having to do with community life and the needs of the monastery.  

The expression of collective monastic life and individual monastic countenance lived by the Carmelite monks is characterized by a radical separation from the world.  This is reflected in the purchase of rural acreage for the monastery as well as the monumental structure, which will remain hidden from the world.  These details bring to mind reminiscences of the memories of monasteries of Christian past from the Early Church and beyond.  The austere life of monks serves a holy purpose, although secret from the busy world.  This radical example shines as a beacon for all those who can see with the ear of their hearts.  For those few who visit, it nerves their courage to see the monks live a life of unmurmuring suffering for Christ and His holy Church.  Indeed, the monastery reflects the image of the Church, imperishable, as Christ built upon the rock.  

With reverential awe we observe the new construction, a triumph of Christian architecture.  The monks leave the world, family, riches and home, not for some selfish or fearful motive, but rather to give themselves completely to God, a unique vocation to implore the mercy of God by a total gift of self.  The reward is an abundance of countless graces and the joy that comes from peace of soul.  The monks abandon the world for something greater, in the words of St. Therese of the Child Jesus,  to become "Love in the heart of the Church."  It is the cloister of the far away monastery, the hidden life of the monks that is lived out as a proper vocation in obedience to the call of God, giving life to the Church through the oblation of sacrifice.  The allure is powerful: leaving all else in order to find everything, working out salvation through a life of prayer, work, obedience and community life under the approved Rule. 

The construction of the monastery, built in the bold confidence of a high Neo-Gothic style, speaks of unbreakable Faith, part of a distinct new movement sweeping across the land, a resurgence of traditional Catholicism.  For the first time in ages, a traditional Carmel for men is being built in the Gothic footprint, in an area where great beauty already exists, where nature has assembled intense wonders of the natural world.  Each year great progress has been made by the monks, milestones of construction and growth.  In 2019 the monks moved into the completed parts of their newly built monastery.  They live in little hermitages lined in rows, structured to accommodate a community of some forty monks.  Each monk occupies his own hermitage where he lives, a little house, complete with an outdoor garden.  Another key building completed in 2019 includes the refectory where the monks take their meals in silence.  The refectory, a three-story building, also serves as the common building of the monastery.  In addition, the porter's lodge was completed in 2019, enabling family and friends who visit the monastery to be welcomed and receive hospitality.  

Not to mention, that same year the workshop for the monks' famous Mystic Monk Coffee was completed, ensuring the monks a continued income to finance the life of the monastery and provide for their own needs.  The coffee production is done by the monks on the monastery property, a perfect cottage industry for the the monks, established by them in 2007.  The endeavor is a mammoth business enterprise that includes a significant apparatus of equipment for roasting and packaging the beans.  The monks work hard to keep up with the intense demand with speedy and efficient coffee production that is fresh and tasty.  Indeed, the coffee produced by the monks is famous and ships to all corners of the world with clients even in the Vatican.   

During 2020, the year of the epidemic, construction switched gears slightly, but nevertheless continued.  The monks build a large section of the outdoor enclosure wall.  This wall separates the monastery cloister, closed to the public from the visiting areas of the monastery where public visitors are received.  The wall, built twelve feet high, is an unmistakable testimony of the importance and mystery of the cloistered existence.  The guest house was also completed in late 2020 - the monks finished the stone and slate roof while skilled local tradesmen completed the finer interior and exterior details.  The guest house enables visiting families of monks to stay near the monastery within easy walking distance to attend services even at an early hour when they visit.  This will also allow the monks to house the growing number of young men who will visit to discern a possible call to this unique way of life.  A phenomena of our time is the flood of inquiries received by the monastery from young Catholic men from across the nation, serious in their Faith and advanced in the spiritual life, who may have a monastic disposition and are actively discerning a possible call to monastic life in the Carmelite tradition.  This is an important reality, a powerful sign of the allure of the cloistered life in the life of the Church and world.    

Since the community's founding on October 15, 2003 in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, God has blessed the monastic dream and endeavor of the monks.  The original founding monks were inspired by a call to return to the original spirit of the founders of the Carmelite Order in monastic enclosure, the "hidden life with Christ in God."  The two founding monks began their existence as a newly formed community in their first home, a rented house wile striving in earnest to conform to the original ideal of monastic life in the Carmelite tradition.  The monks have no vocations shortage, but instead have a housing shortage.  In 2010 they purchased the land of the future monastery, 2,500 acres of creek-fed land nestled on the side of Carter Mountain in northwest Wyoming.  Currently an additional 7,500 acres has been leased by the monks and hopefully will one day be purchased by them.  Construction began on site in 2014 and continues to this day.  By God's grace, men have come from various corners of the nation to discern and embrace this call while the monks have been blessed with the means to support this growth.  Souls discerning the Carmelite vocation often visit, encountering a community distinguished by its exuberant joy and ardent zeal.  

Currently there are about twenty-five monks.  Every one of the monks works hard.  The community offers the sacred rites of the Church according to the Carmelite Rite, the original rite of the Holy Sepulchre from the time of the First Crusade, first celebrated at the empty tomb of Christ in Jerusalem.  This rite is celebrated with various components of mystic spirituality related to the Holy Land.  Its rites and rubrics are arranged with respect to the tabernacle fixed to the altar of sacrifice - everything leads to the tabernacle, to Christ the lamb slain atop the altar of sacrifice, under the gaze of Our Lady and received by the faithful at the empty tomb of Christ, awaiting the final resurrection.  Indeed, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel's work continues through the existence of the community and its liturgy which is part of the living tradition of the universal Church.  This spirituality is immortalized and seen in a special way - a witness to the nations - by way of the community's beautiful new Gothic architecture, built in zealous splendor, a temple that informs the city.   

For those interested in donating, the New Mount Carmel Foundation, Inc. was founded to serve the temporal needs of the monks.  It brings together generous souls seeking to help in a spirit of largesse while facilitating donations and support from across the nation and beyond.  Construction of a proper monastery comes with a price tag.  The monks depend totally upon donations in addition to their coffee production and online store.  The monks are a public association of the Christian faithful within the Diocese of Cheyenne, and as such are set up as a 501(c)3, non-profit corporation.  All donations are tax-exempt.  Needless to say, the monks are eternally indebted to all those Christian faithful who have given in various ways over the years to support them in their ministry, the Carmel in Wyoming, a new foundation of the oldest religious order in existence, dating back to the time of the Prophet Elijah.  

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