The monastery grounds are beautiful and spare and austere and lush all at the same time. Everything about the buildings is light and airy yet solid and secure. Kind of like the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House. The outside is sandy brick studded with solar panels and surrounded with prairie, gardens, fruit trees, and grass as soft as your grandma’s Berber carpet. There are flowers all around-riots of yellow coneflowers, purple prairie clover, and white milkweed, all nodding in the heat of the brilliant July noon. And everywhere there is tall and verdant Prairie grass. I imagine this must be what it looked like to Laura Ingalls Wilder, to the Native Americans, and to my own Wisconsin ancestors, when they first saw it after a two month combined boat and train trip from Europe in the 1860′s. Of course this is mostly Restoration work. The Sisters and their volunteers have worked tirelessly to restore the prairie land surrounding the monastery as part of their vow to be “good stewards of the land”. The sisters take ecology VERY seriously.
The inside is made of mostly blond wood and bamboo with locally sourced granite and environmentally sound paint and light fixtures. The kitchens use all Energysaver appliances and the building itself is “right-sized” so as to leave the littlest carbon footprint possible. When it was constructed the Sisters were even mindful to make the building stand on an open patch of land between the trees rather than have to cut down any to make space. . . . The sisters also believe that part of their role is to make the monastery a quiet and reflective space. There is little artwork on the walls to detract from “visual clutter”. There is also no music in the building other than that provided by the sister’s voices during the Liturgy of the Hours. To cut down on “sound clutter”.
And let me tell you, this is one reflective building. In both senses of the word. There are windows…EVERYWHERE! The light just streams into the monastery . . . The building feels Good. With a capital “G”. And that could be because it IS Good. And Green. Environmentally speaking, that is. . . . The ones who say an environmentally-conscious building can’t be made at a reasonable cost? I’ve got some nuns you should talk to…
For more reflections go to the complete set of excerpts at: A Confirmed City Girl looks for God in a Monastery.