Sounds of Silence

I wrote this article in 1982 for a throw-away publication of the agency I work for:

Situated in an isolated valley east of Ogden UT is the home of 37 Catholic monks.  They live in an austere quadrangle of quonset buildings in the foothills near the small, predominently Mormon community of Huntsville.  According to a promotional leaflet, the monks live a “gentle balanced life in the peaceful solitude of a mountain valley.”

Father Virgil, who is in charge of the monastery’s visitor center, explains that life at the abbey is centered around God’s work (or the Divine Office) and farm work.  Seven times each day, with the first office beginning at 3:30 am, the monks gather in their large chapel to chant their praises to God.  Each monk is required to do four hours of self-sustaining labor each day.

The Huntsville abbey sits on a 1,860-acre farm.  The farm makes the abbey financially independent.  The agricultural projects of the monastery are diverse.  Father Virgil speaks proudly of the monastery’s dairy operation:  “It’s the most productive herd of any in the State of Utah and 112th of 1,855 surveyed nationally.”  The monastery also has 300 beef cattle, a large egg industry, a bakery for bread, and an honey processor.

The Huntsville monastic development is a farmer’s dream.  A glance around tells even the casual observer that the farm is carefully maintained.  It is stocked with modern equipment.  The only television in the abbey is a closed circuit system to monitor developments in the calving pens.

The monks came to Odgen Valley in 1947 as part of Catholic missionary effort of prayer, work, and example in an area where members of their religion were in a minority.  The abbey is an off-shoot from a Kentucky Monastery.

While the monastic farm has all the latest equipment, the monks live simple quiet lives.  They belong to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, commonly called Trappists.  They live the Benedictine Rule requiring celibacy, poverty, and humble obedience.  Trappists also follow a strict dietary regime which allows no meat.  The monks also live by a rule of silence.  Up until the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in the 1960s, the rule was almost absolute in forbidding verbal communications.  But since Vatican II, the rule calls for a spirit of silence and allows for necessary verbal communication.

But silence is still a prized commodity.  According to Father Virgil, each monk is expected “to respect the solitude of fellow monks.”  Meals, for example, are eaten in silence.

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One Response to Sounds of Silence

  1. Roger Hansen says:

    I work in a cubical, albeit a large one. My only door is a home-made one. Our office has a PA system. There is a lot of ambient noise. If you throw in my telephone, there are a ton of distractions. Frequently it is hard to concentrate on any one subject for very long. I think the importance of silence (or at least quiet) is very underrated

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