One thing I’ve learned about soapmakers is that they come in all shapes, sizes and guises. One of which is our dear friend, Sr. Cathleen Marie who is a monk living and working in a monastery in Clyde, Missouri (Population 82). Among many other hats she wears, she runs their soapmaking shop, which does a booming business and helps support the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, her order. They make and sell very nice soaps and lotions through their gift shop at the monastery, and online.
On our way across the country again, we found ourselves in Missouri, and Marie and I spent three days as guests of Sister Cathleen, parking our bus on the monastery grounds and having mostly free run of their 600 acre facility. We took several meals with the Sisters and sat in their incredibly beautiful chapel twice for Vespers (evening prayers).
The Sisters of Perpetual Adoration sing their prayers, and it just so happened that Sister Cathleen was the “chanter” (featured singer) this week during our stay. It was a wonder to hear the Psalms sung in her beautiful, clear voice; an aesthetic experience I shall always treasure. They sell a CD of their music on their website – it doesn’t really do them justice.
We didn’t have time to tour every bit of the Monastery — it’s huge! — but we did see the cow barns, the Apple House, the Relic Chapel, and many other historic buildings there. The sisters no longer keep cows or pick and process apples, but their barns are enormous and stoutly built, and they rent them out to neighbors for hay storage and the like. Their apple orchard is completely gone, a victim of disease and the march of time.
There’s so much history to this place! For example, a hundred years ago an explosion of an acetylene tank rocked the grounds and blew down several of the outbuildings. Miraculously, no one was hurt by the blast, but several buildings were leveled to rubble. They just regrouped and rebuilt.
I walked with Duke over their hills and around the ruins of some of their old buildings, took many photos and enjoyed the beauty and serenity of this place. The only distraction is the whooshing of the wind turbines (one of which is on Monastery grounds), but even that quickly became soothing.
Sr. Cathleen guided us through some of the treasures in their Relics Chapel, including a trove of embroidered artwork of such detail and tiny complexity that one would need a microscope to view it at proper scale and be able to appreciate it fully.
We were graced by making friends with and sitting at table with the Prioress, Sr. Rita. We were also befriended by Sr. Sean, a terrific photographer who oversees keeping their buildings maintained and in beautiful condition, and who seemed a kindred spirit to Marie and I. We met many other Sisters whom I do not mean to slight by omitting their names here for the sake of brevity. Every one of the Sisters we had dealings with was gracious, welcoming, and helpful.
An example: the first night we were there, the temperature dropped below freezing, and our forced-air gas furnace on our bus ceased functioning properly; meaning we had 110 lbs of shivering Doberman Pinscher crawl into our bed in the middle of the night. As soon as Sr. Cathleen and Sr. Sean heard that our furnace was out, she gave their handyman/fix-it guy (also the local fire chief and school bus driver!) the day off and dispatched him to our bus, where he spent most of the day taking apart our furnace and putting back together, until he got it to work perfectly. For which he charged us not nearly enough. Thank you, Dickie!
But the highest highlight of the visit was on the day we left, when they had “Employee Appreciation Day” and their gift to their employees was to have a 40-person choir come in from a local university, to sing a private concert for them all in the chapel. We were invited to attend and we are so glad we did!
The way the chapel is constructed, we were seated quite literally in the middle of the choir, which stood on the back two rows on both sides. And the acoustics! The music was simply stunning. One gifted young woman belted out an aria from a Verdi opera only a few feet away from me, that brought me to… Musical Bliss.