Visiting a Monastery in Iowa


Hi from Fort Knox, Kentucky! Bjorn has some army training this week, so that’s what brought us out here. Sophie and I were actually able to accompany Bjorn, which is such a blessing. Sometimes army training means many days apart, and other times, we get to stay together. This week is one of those fun times when we don’t have to be apart!

We drove to Kentucky from Minnesota over the weekend. It was Sophie’s first road trip, and we didn’t know 100% what to expect, but we did know we wanted to take our time. This goes against who Bjorn and I typically are as travelers, haha! We’re used to pushing hard to see everything; we usually drive as far as possible, and fit as much as we can into every day when we’re on a trip. Is anyone else like us this way? đŸ™‚ You can read more about our awesome 2-week Europe trip here. That trip sure was packed with sightseeing and touring!

RELATED: A Peek At Our 2-Week Europe Itinerary

So, with Sophie along for the ride, this trip/training has already looked a lot different. We didn’t want to push Sophie too hard, so we only traveled maybe 4-5 hours total each day to get to Kentucky. Road tripping with a baby so far has meant more stops (for nursing, cuddles, and diaper changes), bringing extra baby food into restaurants, and praying during the night that she sleeps okay in hotel rooms, haha. It’s been fun, though! Sophie has been a great sport and we’ve been able to see some neat sights (for entire afternoons) as we traveled, since we were taking our time more than we have in the past. I wanted to share the first of those excursions in today’s post!

Bjorn and I decided we wanted to see a monastery on our drive out here – something we’d never seen before. We’d heard that there was at least one monastery in Iowa, and the one we found online was on our route, so we made it happen!

Side note: I’m so grateful to have a husband whose travel style is so similar to mine! Although Bjorn does have a more detail-oriented approach to things like military history and museums, the two of us still travel and adventure so well together! The kinds of things we like to see are often so similar; it makes traveling a blast! So when I say we wanted to see a monastery, I mean it, haha. I’m not speaking for him. Both of us thought it would be so cool – and it was!

Visiting a Monastery in Iowa

The monastery we visited is called New Melleray Abbey, near Dubuque, Iowa. It’s a community of Roman Catholic monks. The monks are members of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, which we learned is often called the Trappists. Aside from gardening, maintaining the grounds, and other tasks, the monks from the New Melleray Abbey also produce beautiful handcrafted coffins as their business and service to others. In addition to this, they operate a guesthouse at the abbey that many people use for spiritual retreats.

We did a more abbreviated visit, since we had a little one in tow and we knew she couldn’t super quiet for too long. (Sophie has entered a really talkative phase, haha.) But it was such a neat experience! Although we aren’t Catholic ourselves, it was still meaningful and special to be there. The monks’ reverence of God was absolutely tangible, the chapel was beautiful, and I could see how New Melleray is a well-loved retreat center and place for many people to come and pray!

^^ Baby carrier: LILLEbaby ^^

Here’s a brief virtual tour you can watch to see what the abbey looks like from above, as well as their workshop. We didn’t visit Trappist Caskets up the road, but it sounds like a special place and business, too.

We walked around the grounds just a little bit before heading indoors. The peace you feel walking around the yards is so wonderful. We visited on a gray day, so the cloudiness added an extra contemplative touch to the atmosphere there. There were beautiful old stone walls bordering parts of the garden, and huge pine trees with droopy branches. Everything was cloaked in deep, dark green. It was lovely!

When we stepped into the chapel, there were two people praying in the pews. We stepped away and perused the gift shop, but quickly (and quietly) hurried back out to the chapel the second we heard the monks chanting! They were lining opposite walls in the chapel, and one monk was playing the organ intermittently. I was wearing Sophie and throughout all of this, she watched and listened with big eyes!

Want to hear them for yourself? Click HERE for an audio clip of the monks chanting vespers.

I didn’t snap a photo inside because I knew my camera’s shutter noise would be disruptive…so I’m borrowing a photo from the abbey’s website! Here’s what it looked like in the chapel (right down to the monks we saw)! Can you close your eyes and imagine hearing the chanting while standing there? It was beautiful.

^^ Photo from the abbey’s website ^^

When Bjorn, Sophie, and I went back to the gift shop again, we picked up some treats! The candy we purchased was produced by a business called Monastery Candy. These delicious candies are made by nuns at an abbey also near Dubuque, called Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey. We didn’t have time to visit Our Lady of the Mississippi as well, but we’d sure like to someday when we come back through the area! We bought caramels (for Bjorn) and Irish mints (for me). Yum!

Stopping by a monastery on our road trip was such a wonderful, peaceful change of pace. I highly recommend it! What a neat way to get a glimpse at a totally different life.

Have you ever visited an abbey? Do you know of any in your state? I’d love to hear your stories!