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Bidding adieu to a life made from honey

A few days ago, I drove to Huntsville to say farewell to the Catholic monks at the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity.

I was a tad late.

Only half a dozen remained.

For those of us raised in Utah’s northern counties, the monastery — soon to close — was always a source of both mystery and meaning. As a college kid, I’d sometimes take young women there to buy honey and listen to the monks chant. I hoped the sweetness of both would linger in their minds — and maybe rub off on me.

For years, the word "Huntsville" called to mind the word "honey."

The abbey was founded just before I was born and now, as I tick toward twilight, it is headed for the sunset with me as well.

I feel a special kinship with the place.

During its heyday, the little chapel would ring with the voices of 84 monks. Most of the time only the field mice heard them.

And God, of course.

In fact, many Catholics have traditionally believed one reason the Lord doesn’t destroy the world is the songs and prayers of the monks stay his hand. Judging by the fervor of their songs and prayers, I’m sure many monks in Huntsville thought so as well.

Over the years, I’ve visited the monastery dozens of times for dozens of reasons. Sometimes I was escaping my life. Other times I was searching for it.

Each time I went, I found warmth in the people there, and also in the place.

Since monks spent so much time praying and studying, I figured they all must be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

Many of them were.

I remember walking the long, tree-lined lane with Father Charles Cummings not long after Harper & Row published his book "The Mystery of the Ordinary."

When I told him I thought the cover was rather drab, I could see the pain in his eyes. St. Bernards are better at hiding their feelings than Father Charles. His face is his real open book.

At the monastery last week, I was told Father Charles was back east and may become the spiritual adviser at a convent there.

If so, they will be lucky nuns.

“You know,” he once told me, “I’m glad there’s such a thing as monks. I’m no good at anything else.”

Maybe not, but he is a genius monk.

Other monks from Huntsville have taken up residence at St. Joseph’s Villa in Salt Lake City, a retirement home for the religious. Some have moved on to other monasteries. A couple may even stay on in Huntsville and meet their maker on the same sod where they've been meeting him daily for decades.

I think all our lives would be poorer without the presence of Catholic monks. Just last Sunday we sang “Jesus, The Very Thought of Thee” in church, a hymn penned by a monk.

Their works seep into our lives in ways we never see.

And now, with the closing of the Abbey, my life — and the lives of us all — will be poorer still.

When Gunn McKay served in Congress, the Washington set would ask him where his hometown of Huntsville, Utah, was located.

“That’s easy,” he’d say. “It’s just over the hill from Paradise and up the road from Eden.”

McKay saw his little valley as a slice of heaven.

I’m sure, for 70 years, the monks in Huntsville have felt the same way.

In fact, they helped make it so.