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All Good Things Must End

Jun 15, 2012

South Dakota's rural solitude is church-like to many of us. I don't know how many farmers and ranchers have told me through the years that they've felt closer to God on the land than in a pew.

When cowboy troubadour Kyle Evans sang "I'm in Heaven on a horse on the wide open prairies of Dakota ..." he spoke for everybody who has ever chewed on a blade of blue stem.

But as church-like as the prairie might be, it seemed even holier at Blue Cloud Abbey in Grant County — a picturesque little monastery that grew into a popular retreat center for all sorts of people, including South Dakota's reflective writer Kathleen Norris.

The true story of how the monks came to locate near Milbank is as sweet as the prairie grass. The priests and monks at St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana wanted to establish a new monastery in the Dakotas so they sent four brothers to scout the area in 1949. They liked a spot above the Missouri and James Rivers near Yankton, but WNAX's tall radio towers obstructed the view so they decided to drive to Fargo, North Dakota.

On the way (this was before I-29 was built) they stopped outside the tiny town of Marvin and saw a rolling, wooded string of hills above Grant County's Whetstone Valley. The land was rocky but they liked it so they went to nearby Milbank to inquire. They were directed to the Milbank banker, who told them that they land had just been listed for sale within the last 30 minutes. He offered them 300 acres at $22 an acre.

Their good timing and the banker's name were signs they couldn't ignore, so the Benedictine monks immediately inked the deal. The banker's name? Effner Benedict.

There were 40 founding members, but their numbers have now dwindled to a dozen and three are over 90. "What else can we do?" asked Abbot Denis Quinkert, as he solemnly spoke of the monastery's plan to close the doors.

Abbot Denis hopes a religious group will take over the monastery, but no one knows what will happen to the beautiful facility. The only thing we know for certain is that the same spiritual quality that was discovered by the Indiana monks 63 years ago — a spirituality that is very familiar to all who love the land in South Dakota — will be there to await the next tenants.


08:36 pm - Sat, August 4 2012
Patrick Stehly said:
What a wonderful and magical place, spent time as a child, an adolesnt and as an adult there. I will greatly miss it but mostly the great men who commited them selves to it. Unforntunallly no tear is large enough to sprout a seed. God Bless.
06:52 am - Mon, September 24 2012
Anthony Armbruster said:
What a holy and great place to be. I always wanted to join it since my great uncle was a monk and one of the founders of the monastery. It makes me so ad that his creation is no longer in use. Long live the Spirit of Blue Cloud Abbey.
05:10 pm - Sun, January 20 2013
Marcia Vrbka-Olson said:
Would love to buy the place and do something with it. I have lots of ideas but do not have the money. Does anyone want to help with that?
11:07 pm - Wed, August 21 2013
marjorie [meidl] grossmann said:
my brother went to camp years ago through the abby, cant remember the name. we also had a tour of parts of the abby in the 60's. my father knew, some of the brothers, that lived there, i just remember, it was so beautiful.
06:01 pm - Tue, September 10 2013
Jim Englert said:
When the monks first proposed locating near Marvin, their decidedly non-Catholic neighbors were leery of such a papist incursion. A town hall style meeting was called, with speaker after speaker warning of the most dire consequences. This sentiment almost carried the day until a highly respected elder gave this ringing endorsement: "Let's give the sonsofbitches a chance."

Just over sixty years later, I dare say, there is nothing but sadness in the neighborhood at their departure.
08:24 pm - Tue, September 10 2013
Bonnie Bryde Malmberg said:
Great memories of Blue Cloud Abbey! A particular monk would wiggle his ears and make me laugh at the dinner table. Sad to hear the news of it closing...
02:47 pm - Sat, March 22 2014
Richard Sterling said:
We spent a day & night at the Abbey in 2006 on a cross country trip. Very peaceful and beautiful place. Made us reflective even we are not strongly religious. Brothers were very pleasent. We toured the site, took a canoe ride on the little lake, said Vespers in the chapel and enjoyed a meal with the monks. we totally enjoyed the experience. Hope the new owners keep it to the spirit of what it has been for 60 years.
03:04 pm - Fri, September 25 2015
Hallelujia! The Abbey is now open! Visit our website for more information or to schedule an overnight stay and tour!
02:17 pm - Fri, April 1 2016
Bob Buttke said:
I saw your sidebar on Blue Cloud Abbey in the March/April 2016 edition and thought I would share the below story.

I have memories of camping near the Abbey for 4-H when I was young and often drove by it as my uncle once owned the only bar in Marvin (everyone just calls it "the bar") and we have many friends and relatives in the area.

However, many years later I had a humorous brush with someone that knew the Abbey better than I did. I was living in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts and it was the day of my daughter's baptism. Since it was a large parish, we did not know the individual priests well. In any case, as we were chatting with the priest, who was local and had a very thick Boston accent, he asked where we were from and I said South Dakota. He asked whether I knew about the Abbey as he was once posted there. I told him yes, and in fact that my uncle had once owned the only "tavern" in Marvin. He looked as me with a very puzzled look and said..."OH, you mean the BAAHH (bar)!
07:14 pm - Fri, April 7 2017
Ray Forycki said:
I was in 8th grade in 1969 -70 I went with two friends to the Abbey for a week in the summer to visit. One of those friends I was with was the nephew, I believe, of the Abbott at the time . We took a train from Chicago ( a first in my life) to get there and when we sat down on the train we met a monk going there I still remember his name we called him Father Guy. We had a tremendous time meeting many of the young monks. Eating meals where there was no talking as we listened to one of the monks reading a book. We had so many wonderful experiences. I am 62 now and retired I was looking to visit Blue cloud Abbey with my Wife . I am saddened to learn of it's closing. It was truly a very special place.
02:22 pm - Fri, September 14 2018
Richard T Powers said:
I converted to Catholic in my Jr year of high school in Perris, Ca. That was in 1953 but i have not been able to just sit there and just be a Catholic. The local priest was a Benedictine so I decided to study for the priesthood in my Sr year. The Abbot at that time Abbot Gilbert who was a classmate of the priest who led me into the faith (Father Cornielus Waldo) In the fall of 1954 my father, mother, brother and myself drove back to Blue Cloud Abbey in SD. 2 years of college was the first step. The Father Guy (he was older than me by about 5 years but a very good man) was in my class and one older man. You had to study only 3 students in a class if you had not studied it was obvious. We worked on building the permanent buildings in the mornings. That is where I learned to drink coffee in the winter it was very very cold in the winter. Then I entered the novitiate but left the Abbey suddenly one weekend. Then I worked in construction for a year back home in California mulling over whether I had made a bad decision. So I went back for 10 months talking with my Confessor Father Meinrad Hoffman. He was a saint! Last year I planned a trip back to the abbey but medical conditions caused me to cancel the trip.
05:23 pm - Sun, January 24 2021
Pat Lambert said:
My wife Marjorie and I spent two days and a night at Blue Cloud Abbey in late July 2004 on a road trip from Alaska. We stopped to visit my cousin, Fr. Stan Maudlin, OSB, who had been one of the founders of Blue Cloud. We had a very pleasant stay and delighted in the Benedictine hospitality Stan died in January, 2006 and is buried at the Abbey.
08:48 pm - Tue, August 10 2021
Tim Kenyon said:
I worked as a teacher in Wilmot & would attend the beautiful celebration of the Holy Mass their on many Sunday mornings!
Also, a very special friend
(Dale Knebel) & I would assist in serving meals during retreats that were held their.
It was so beautiful & very peaceful place to visit! 🙏

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