About 16 years ago, in a time of great spiritual need, I journeyed to the Abbey of Gethsemani, near Louisville, Kentucky, and spent four days and three nights at that famous monastery. It changed my life.
I learned things from the Trappist monks there that I had not learned in my own tradition. It has become such an important part of my prayer life and my spiritual rhythms that I have since returned every year–and often twice a year.
You don’t have to be monastic–or even Catholic–to pray with monks (or nuns) and experience the silence, solitude and serenity offered by many monasteries and retreat centers. And it is easier than you think to make a reservation and more rewarding than you can imagine to make the time.
Here are five places where you can “make like a monk” and enjoy a prayer adventure you may not experience anywhere else.
1) The Abbey of the Genesee (Piffard, New York)
Home to approximately 30 Trappist monks, the abbey is located in the picturesque Genesee River Valley of western New York. The monastic enclosure encompasses about 1,200 acres of forest, ravines, rolling hills and a meandering creek.
They provide three houses for retreats: Bethlehem retreat house is ideal for individual silent retreats, while the Bethany and Nazareth houses are used for group retreats.
2) The Abbey of Gethsemani (Trappist, Kentucky)
Founded in 1848 and made an abbey in 1851, Gethsemani is situated on more than 2,000 acres of farmland and considered to be the “mother house” of all Trappist and Trappistine monasteries in the United States.
It is the oldest monastery in the U.S. that is still in use and is famous as the home of Thomas Merton. They schedule Friday-to-Monday retreats or Monday-to-Friday retreats in their air-conditioned guest house.
3) St. Meinrad Archabbey (St. Meinrad, Indiana)
St. Meinrad Archabbey in south-central Indiana (near Evansville) was founded in 1854 by monks from the 1000-year-old Swiss abbey of Einsiedeln, where St. Meinrad lived and died.
Today, it is a thriving community of 90 or so monks which also includes a seminary (more than a 100 seminarians studying for the priesthood), theological school, publishing house (Abbey Press), gift shop and extensive grounds.
The guest house at St. Meinrad is very comfortable and the meals are top notch.
4) The Monastery of Christ in the Desert (Abiquiu, New Mexico)
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert is located in the beautiful Chama Canyon wilderness in northwestern New Mexico, about 75 miles north of Santa Fe.
The Benedictine monks there maintain a guesthouse for private retreats where men and women can stay for a minimum of two days and two nights (shorter stays would not help guests enter into the experience).
Guests usually stay several days, a week, or even longer (stays of longer than a month require the approval of the abbot).
There are nine single and three double rooms for a maximum of 17 people at the main guesthouse. A ranch house also offers three double rooms.
5) The Monastery of the Redwoods (Whitethorn, California)
Begun in late 1962 by four Cistercian nuns, this monastery is in a breathtakingly beautiful area of the Lost Coast of northern California.
The sisters–not monks–offer their hospitality either from Thursday until Sunday or full week retreats from Monday until Sunday. Meals are vegetarian.
Have you visited any of these spots? Or others? Please leave a comment below and tell me about it.