For your Just Too Cool file…
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.