Statue of a Carthusian monk on Mount Equinox
In one location in all of North America can you find a Carthusian monastery. After my annual retreat a couple of weeks ago with two of my priest-friends, we happened to chance upon the presence of this unique religious order as we drove through the autumnal mountains of Vermont.
Who are the Carthusians?
The Carthusian order was founded by St. Bruno in 1084. Throughout the world there are approximately 450 Carthusian monks and nuns who live a solitary life as hermits—strict contemplatives. They consecrate their lives entirely to prayer and to seeking God in the secret of their hearts. They intercede for the Church and for the salvation of the whole world through a life of solitude, living in a small room or cell. They talk to each other only once a week for about four hours after they share a midday meal and take their Sunday walk.
While visiting Hildene, the historic home of Robert Lincoln (the son of Abraham Lincoln) in Manchester, Vermont, we realized its close proximity to the Carthusians. They lived on nearby Mount Equinox. We decided to try to find out more. We located the entrance to Mount Equinox Skyline Drive at the foot of the mountain and we were permitted, although reluctantly because of rain and poor visibility, to head up the mountain. While we were not allowed to enter the monastery because of their strict rule, we ventured to a visitor center (The St. Bruno Scenic Viewing Center) atop the mountain that told the story of the monks. We ascended the mountain to its summit—an elevation of 3848 feet.
Up winding roads and a various sharp curves in the rain, made even more treacherous because of the slippery falling leaves on parts of the roadway, we climbed slowly toward the top. When we neared the visitor center the rain and the winds were torrential, gusting in the range of 75 miles per hour! What did we get ourselves into?
Once in the visitor’s center, we met the caretaker and she began to converse with us and tell us a few stories about the monks. Soon she received an urgent call on her radio from the foot of the mountain: “Get the three priests off the mountain!” We saw clearly the conditions were truly hurricane-like as our building on the summit shook while it was pelted by fierce rain and winds.
Down the mountain ever so slowly, clinging to and praying our rosaries with great supplication for our safety, we finally reached the bottom of the mountain. Phew!
Afterward, one of the priests with me wrote a spiritual reflection of our experience for his parish. I share part of it with you:
The spiritual life can be treacherous. This world will throw so much at us to try to frighten us, to deter us from reaching our goal and to attempt to hold us from the peace that God alone can give. Every one of us must ascend the mountain to find God. Not literally of course, but the mountain that is our heart. May we all seek the Lord every day and stop giving into the buffeting winds of the world.
I hope to see you at the summit!
Fr. Ed Namiotka
The Saint Bruno Scenic Viewing Center (on a clear day!)