Utah’s ancient Trappist monastery is the subject of a film and book

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Friday March 15, 2019

Photo IC / Linda Petersen

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Trappist Father Patrick Boyle and Trappist Father David Altmann watch? Present Time: Diary of a Country Monastery ,? a book on Our Lady of the Holy Trinity Abbey, which closed in 2017. Both men had lived at Huntsville Monastery.

By Linda Petersen

Intermountain Catholic

SALT LAKE CITY – The final chapters of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Huntsville, which closed in 2017, are curated in a new book and upcoming documentary film.

The monks, members of the Trappist Order, came to Utah from Kentucky and built the monastery in Huntsville in 1947. For a time the community flourished, but over the years the vocations died out and the body died out. formerly strong of 84 monks has shrunk to just six. In 2014, the Order of Cistercians of Strict Observance decided to close the monastery. In 2017, the remaining monks, who were between 80 and 90 years old, moved to live in a retirement home in Salt Lake City.

John Slattery, Californian filmmaker, photographer and alumnus of Weber State University, visited the monastery for the first time in 2002. Struck by the beauty of its setting, he began the following year photographing the monastery and the monks, returning each year for 15 years, varying the times he visited so that he captured the community during the different seasons. Slattery was the only filmmaker allowed such access.

“I think I knew there was something here when I started; there was no timetable, ”he said.

Slattery said he initially envisioned the project would take two or three years, but has continued to evolve.

“At first, I wasn’t interested in the history of the monastery; I was just filming, trying to capture the experience of being there, ”he said. “But every time I came back, the story changed. At one point I wondered if I should include some of what was going on there. ”

Described as a “poetic and historical film,” “Present Time: Journal of a Country Monastery” tells about this unique chapter in Utah history, particularly the last 15 years of the only male monastery to ever exist in this region. community, where the religion is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The film will be released in the spring. The Utah Mountain Arts & Music Festival will host two screenings on April 19 and 20 at the Compass Road Lodge in Huntsville. (Visit [email protected] for tickets). Slattery is also planning screenings at Utah State University and Salt Lake City this summer and fall.

Meanwhile, Slattery published a tabletop book of the same name on the monastery. Towards the end of his filming, he received over 2,000 photos taken by visitors that the monks had archived. He restored several of them and published several in a limited edition book.

“I went with the photos that I thought were the most amazing,” Slattery said.

While the proceeds from the book were intended to help fund final work on the film, this in itself is significant work, capturing much of the life of the community’s first 20 years or so, Slattery said. .

Two of the remaining monks, Father Patrick Boyle and Father David Altmann, recently took a look at a copy of the book.

“It is very well done” and brings back many memories, Father said Patrick.

“It was another world back then,” said Fr. David said of the time taken in the pages of the book.

The busiest time at the monastery was soon after it opened, right after the end of WWII, as war-weary soldiers believed they had found a calling there, only to find it was not the case.

“They came in a loaded bus and they left in a loaded bus,” said Fr David.

Bro. David, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, said he himself struggled to adjust to life in the monastery early on.

“It was like stepping into the Middle Ages, the staircase way of life,” he said. “Over time, I realized that I was happy and fulfilled – that’s where your happiness is.”

The book, he said, gives a rough and historical overview of life in the monastery.

However, none of the monks spend much time looking back.

For fr. Patrick, the transition from the monastery to apartment living was “a snap,” he said.

“I believe in the sacrament of the present moment,” he said, referring to the practice of giving one’s life entirely to God.

“It’s a new adventure for me, forward and up rather than backward,” said Fr David. “God did not call us to look at life through the rearview mirror. “

Recently, Fr. David returned to the monastery for a funeral and visited the old building.

“It was dark, empty and lifeless,” he said. “I realized we were the life in this place.”

It is this life and its influence that Slattery captured in the book and in the film. It wasn’t until he started to wrap up his project that he began to understand the profound impact of the monastery and its people, he said.

“So many people from all over the world who visited the monks there logged in through the website,” he said. “Many of them are LDS who grew up in the valley when they were children. I hadn’t realized how deep and wide the connection with Utah was. There is so much love for them here and abroad.

From “Present Time: Journal of a Country Monastery,” he said, “It’s a little movie about a small part of the world. “It’s a small film with a small but important audience.”

The book and the film give people the experience of an era that will never be repeated, now gone.

Information on the book and film can be found at https://presenttimemovie.com.


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