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Abbey near Summit continues to serve as retreat center

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Published: Dec. 17, 2018 at 11:01 AM CST

For the 5th Christmas in a row, former Blue Cloud Abbey has gone by a different name. The Abbey of the Hills Inn and Retreat Center started when six couples from Aberdeen didn't want to see the former monastery go completely away.

"Actually it was going to be sold to a group that wasn't going to use it for anything spiritually, it was going to be used as a sewing center. I'm going 'wow, these monks came out in the 1860s they started bringing the gospel and doing these schools to help the Native American people, and then they built this in the 50's and I'm going 'I think God wants us to continue to use this,'" Deacon Paul Treinen said.

The group bought the Abbey and turned it into a non-profit.
It's arguably one of the most scenic spots in all of Eastern South Dakota, a hidden gem, not far off interstate 29. It sits right where Catholic monks wanted it to, overlooking the Whetstone Valley near Marvin.

"When we were founded we had 80 members. Forty were on the Indian missions that were founded in 1874 and earlier, and 40 lived at the monastery which was founded in 1950," Father John McMullen said.

Fr. McMullen lived at the monastery for 53 years. Working with Native Americans was the sole purpose of the Catholic monks coming to the area. That's when they decided they needed the space, all 100,000 sq. feet of it.

"Their mission was to pray work and read," Deacon Treinen said.

Many spent almost all their time in the Abbey, only traveling occasionally to Watertown or Milbank for different living essentials.

"In my early years I stayed pretty much there all the time. After I was ordained a priest in 1966 I was assigned to various parishes at various times for the weekends," Fr. McMullen said.

The number of monks eventually dwindled, forcing the Abbey to close its doors officially in 2012.

"As years went by we went down to 20 and then down to 14 when we decided to close," he said.

He went on to say the age gap was too large as well. Fr. McMullen says he is pleased with what has been done with the Abbey. In fact he comes back from Indiana to visit every year.

As a Retreat Center it is used for church groups, reunions, AA groups, confirmation classes and so much more.

"We're called to use this place that is just so gorgeous, for people to rediscover peace our mission is to foster the rediscovery of peace," Deacon Treinen said.

It truly is a peaceful place, and to learn more about how you can utilize the facility.

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