“Oh give me a home….” Nuns on the range.

For your Just Too Cool file…

From CNS:

Benedictine nuns make their home on the range

By Jim West
Catholic News Service

VIRGINIA DALE, Colo. (CNS) — Sister Maria Walburga Schortemeyer is at home wading through the mud and manure of a barnyard in boots, work pants, a fleece jacket, and her white veil.

Minutes later, in the black-and-white habit of a Benedictine nun, she is equally at home singing psalms and praying the Divine Office in a chapel with other nuns.

Sister Maria Walburga is the ranch manager at the Abbey of St. Walburga in Virginia Dale. The town sits in the arid and isolated foothills of the Rocky Mountains, almost within shouting distance of the Wyoming border.

This community of 24 Benedictine nuns is a semi-cloistered contemplative order. They view their main work as prayer, coming together in the chapel seven times a day. What makes them unusual is their ranch. They raise beef cattle on 250 acres that they own and another 1,500 acres where they have grazing rights.

The abbey was originally established in Boulder in 1935 by Benedictines from Eichstatt, Germany, who fled Adolf Hitler’s growing power. Benedictines have always been associated with agriculture, and the Boulder community established a dairy and grew alfalfa, corn, oats and barley for the cows. When the abbey needed to expand and with Boulder growing into a crowded city, the sisters moved to Virginia Dale in 1997 on land donated by a Denver couple.

As they moved, the sisters changed from raising dairy cattle to beef. They keep 40 female cows and a few bulls and steers. Calves stay until they are ready for slaughter at 2 years old. The cows all have names, which Sister Maria Walburga maintains is not an issue when it’s time for slaughter. The processing is contracted out to a commercial operation.

St. Benedict said to treat everything “as vessels of the altar,” she explained in an interview for Catholic News Service. The nuns treat the animals with reverence, she said, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be consumed. “We feel God gave them for the use of man.”

Treating the animals with reverence, said Mother Maria Michael Newe, the abbess, means not “pumping in hormones and things of that nature to make them be more than they are supposed to be, and just for the pure purpose of using them for money.”

The abbey’s beef is in such demand that it can only be purchased when an existing client drops off the customer list.

Besides cattle and chickens, the sisters also keep bees, raise water buffalo and a few llamas, and have five cats. The llamas guard the cattle from mountain lions.  [Llamas can be nasty.  I wonder if one of them is named “Ralph”….]


Read the rest there.

I’ll bet none of them want to be priests, ride on a bus, or belong to the LCWR.

Also, the Benedictines in Missouri who have made the great audio CDs also have some farming going.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Kerry says:

    Water buffalo…? I read that water buffalo milk can make excellent cheese. Oh boy!

  2. bbmoe says:

    I have a young friend who is there right now discerning. Please pray for her vocation!

  3. benedetta says:

    Fascinating! Ora et labora! So needed: “not just use them for money”. Indeed.

  4. Random Friar says:

    Our nuns in B.C. used llamas as well as their “sheepdogs.” They will stomp the living daylights out of any beast that dares to attack their sheep.

  5. greenlight says:

    A moose once bit my sister.

  6. yatzer says:

    A few years ago I turned a corner in the livestock section of our state fair and came face to face with a llama. Nothing happened, but I will never forget the totally aggressive look on that beast. Didn’t know they could serve as sheepdogs. Interesting.

  7. Latin Mass Type says:

    Locally someone lost a guard llama as well as some goats to a mountain lion. I’ve always felt that the llama’s long neck would make a good target…

    Now, as far as the nuns go–I wish I had known about them when I was younger! My life might have been very different!

  8. Gerard Plourde says:

    “St. Benedict said to treat everything ‘as vessels of the altar,’ she explained in an interview for Catholic News Service. The nuns treat the animals with reverence, she said, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be consumed. ‘We feel God gave them for the use of man.'”

    Amen to that sentiment. Is there information where the resulting steaks can be bought? Or is it possible that some of the results of their labors is anonymously available at my local supermarket already?

  9. lmo1968 says:

    I’ve prayed the Liturgy of the Hours with these nuns at the Abbey. They are really wonderful, devoted, welcoming, and orthodox women.

  10. ProfKwasniewski says:

    Thank you, Father, for letting people know about these great Benedictine nuns. I am happy to say that one of Wyoming Catholic College’s alumnae is a postulant with them, and, in addition, we sent a whole group of WCC female students on retreat there this past year. It’s in our neighborhood (so to speak — only about 250 miles away.

  11. Auggie says:

    Bless them for showing the world how to live normal, happy lives.

  12. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    And don’t forget Don Esteban’s experience with a llama!

  13. Donkeys are also supposed to be excellent protectors and murder on coyotes. The horse ranchers here keep donkeys along with the horses.

  14. trespinos says:

    I had over seven years experience living next door to a couple of llamas, Don and Diego, at the end of the nineties, and I must say, “nasty” was never a description that fit them. There was only a single occasion when I witnessed one of them spit at their owner. The rest of the time they were entirely docile to the owner, his wife and two young boys. It was striking how they would invariably follow every visitor’s progress around the outside of their pasture with a curious gaze, interrupting their grazing in a manner that I had never seen done by a farm animal of any kind. Plus, their refusal to foul their pasture, choosing instead to set aside one corner only of the rectangle as their latrine, was another sign for me of their superiority.

  15. ConstantlyConverting says:

    “Sr. Benedict said to treat everything ‘as vessels of the altar,”

    This is so awesome. There is also a story out regarding a Catholic gardening co-op in CA. Liturgy first, and a sacramental view of life/work/world.

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