I’d like to present a unique summer trip suggestion. While vendors like Airbnb and Hipcamp have made hotel alternatives accessible to the masses, there is one omission that I think any Catholic should try at least once in their lifetime: staying at a monastery or hermitage. Airbnb promises homes and experiences where you will “escape the ordinary,” meet “experienced hosts,” and stay in unique places you wouldn’t find anywhere else. I can’t imagine something more extraordinary than saying Liturgy of the Hours on a Big Sur cliff as the Pacific ocean crashes on shore, or more unique than making cheese from scratch with farming Sisters in Pennsylvania. And I certainly couldn’t imagine a more reliable host then someone who is obliged by the Rule of Saint Benedict to offer hospitality to their guests “as though they are Jesus Christ.”
I first stumbled upon this notion when my husband and I were traveling to LA for work on a grad student’s shoestring budget. Scrambling for a place to stay I pulled all the “Catholic cards” I could think of and stumbled upon one haven of contemplation within the cacophony of Hollywood: the Monastery of Our Lady of the Angels. This gated, cloistered monastery lays at the foothills of Hollywood somewhere between those domineering white letters and the smoggy star-covered sidewalks of Sunset Blvd. With modest, yet fully equipped rooms and bathrooms, a shared kitchen, and a Eucharistic Adoration chapel open all day, it truly was a respite from the hardness of the city. Behind its vine-covered brick walls lay a holy inactivity that we needed. Kneeling at Eucharistic Adoration, we heard the cloistered sisters’ rhythmic recitation of Compline soar above the noise of the city. I was hooked.
There are many opportunities for having such an experience. Perusing Robert J. Regalbuto’s “Monastery Guest Houses of North America: A Visitor's Guide,” he details 124 in North America, though even that list couldn’t cover all of them. Many invite visitors to participate in the monastic rule of life, awakening them to the thirst for God innate in all, but found only in the tiny, whispering voice, far from the chaos of modern life.
So opt out of the Holiday Inn for your next out of town wedding or business trip and find something rejuvenating in a way that mints on a pillow just can’t compare. Here are just a few of the monasteries you can stay at.
ABBEY OF GETHSEMANI
Stay at the 161-year-old home of Thomas Merton. Explore the same footpaths that stirred Merton’s mind toward contemplation, take in the strong scent of cedar and pine of the surrounding forests. And experience some of Kentucky culture by eating the Abbey’s very own bourbon fudge.
SHRINE OF ST. THERESE
The Jesuit founder named this retreat center for Alaska’s patron Saint, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. For 75 years it has upheld the mission to welcome “people of all faiths and all corners of the world” to stay in its whimsical log cabins nestled throughout its forested 46 acres. Visitors can prayerfully disconnect from their busy lives and immerse themselves in the exceptional beauty and solitude of the Alaskan harbor or the distant snow-capped Chilkat Mountains.
FRANCISCAN MONASTERY & GUEST HOUSE
The Franciscan guest house was founded by the Lithuanian friars of St. Casimir who fled the Soviet Invasion of Lithuania, settling in Maine in the 1940s. Functioning as a non-profit hotel, all proceeds go to support the friar’s numerous charities. The friars hope was to offer a home for “guests all over the world to find spiritual and physical renewal,” and in keeping with that mission, their Franciscan tradition, and their heritage, they keep it affordable with simple hotel decor. It offers a little taste of Lithuania in Maine from rooms named for Lithuanian towns, to the homemade breads offered at the breakfast buffet, to the Lithuanian staff quick to teach a word of their native tongue.
MONASTERY OF CHRIST OF THE DESERT
The Benedictines of Abuquiu invite believers to escape to the desert. And they don’t just mean spiritually. In fact, the first thing you will see when you visit their website is “our monastery...warmly welcomes you to our Abbey on the banks of the Chama River.” For a suggested donation those who choose are welcome to settle into a monastic rhythm in an adobe-style flat beside the mountains of the Carson National Forest and underneath the desert stars. While not required, they invite any guests to participate in the daily prayer services, the Mass, and even, if one so chooses, the same manual labor the brothers dedicate themselves to.
MONASTERY OF THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY
“Hidden in the heart of rural Vermont, in the heart of the Church,” is how these sisters describe themselves on their website. And indeed, while they are in the remote edges of the Missisquoi River, what is far from hidden for any (female only) visitor who may happen upon a visit is their radiant love for Christ. It’s this magnetic love that visitors will relish here. Women who wish may participate in the prayer, peace and silence of this Benedictine monastic tradition, and three round meals are lovingly prepared by the sisters each day.
Casey McCorry is a digital associate for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a documentary filmmaker, wife and mother.
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