When the Benedictine Monks began building Blue Cloud Abbey in the 1950s, they could not have imagined that someday they would need to determine what to do with the buildings and adjacent land. But with few vocations and aging members, the determination was made to close the Abbey.
That’s when six couples, some talking to each other, some thinking about it independently, but eventually all six together felt the call to preserve the Abbey as a place where the faith could continue to be shared and passed on.
Chad Campbell was a successful officer with the Sioux Falls Police Department. Because of his work with the homeless he got involvedin the planning for what became the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House. He was surprised when he felt the nudge to apply for the job of running it.
Kris Sees did not have ministry on her mind when she completed her hospitality and food services degree at Mount Marty College, Yankton. She wanted to run a hotel. She took a route through Illinois and cancer before finding her way to Broom Tree Retreat and Conference Center where she is now the administrator.
Jim Heller was trying to answer a question posed to him by his wife Michala, “what was his passion in a job or career or ministry?”
“...I felt that I had been living out this passion in my years of teaching and coaching at Aberdeen Roncalli,” Heller said. “But after spending some time in prayer with this question I was drawn back to my formation of faith...first through my family growing up in Watertown, SD and then during my time at Northern State where I was involved with the Newman Center and a vibrant SEARCH retreat program,” he said.
“My passion and desire to continue to seek out and stay involvedwith retreat ministry came to the surface. My connection to these core friends from these time periods, the example and strength of their faith lives and values, and the timing of Blue Cloud closing started to form a direction for me to pursue.
He shared these thoughts with a group of friends. “Unknown tome, they also had felt the tug to look into the possibility of doing something at the Abbey,” Heller said.
Today’s Abbey of the Hills came about from that tug, felt and acted upon by Val and Paula Rausch, Wade and Cynthia Van Dover, Deacon Paul and Julie Treinen, Dan and Michelle Moberg, Roman and Carol Taffe, along with Jim and Michala Heller.
Campbell said he has always had an active faith but had to rely on spiritual guidance from others and much prayer and reflection when considering leaving the police force to run the newly created Bishop Dudley Hospitality House.
“As the process evolved I started to contemplate if I was in the right place and if I could do more. I think it was the Holy Spirit.” Once he had the job there was some anticipationand fear of what was to come.
“This is a big endeavor and it takes patience. You are dealing with people’s lives,” Campbell said. BDHH provides overnight emergency shelter, daytime programs and serves as a connecting point for the myriad of services needed to help people struggling with homelessness.
Sees and her husband had been in Illinois for his job for seven years, always with at least some intention of returning to South Dakota. She heardabout the new retreat center being built and applied to be the cook.
“Fr. (Jim) Mason walked me through the not completed building, andlater hired me over the phone. Soon after I discovered I hadbreast cancer,” she said. Through a lumpectomy and chemotherapy, the family decided to stay the course of their plans and move back.
“It didn’t make much sense at the time,” Sees said. “We had no place to live, I had cancer and my husband had no job. But looking back now I can see God leading the way,” she said.
Deacon Treinen now serves as director for Abbey of the Hills Inn and Retreat Center, set up as a non-profit organization. How did the group know they could trust what they perceived as a call from God to get involved?
“I believe that when the unexpected happens, such as the Abbey, it involves a couple of key components,” Deacon Treinen said. “First, it is bold, it is challenging. It comes in a way that, frankly, I would not EVER have thought up. I believe God wants to challenge us in our faith—to jolt us out of our unbelief— and grow in our trust in him.”
“Second, it involves prayer to come to realize (at least partly realize) that this is of God. The prayer for the Abbey didn’t give us a sense that it would be easy, but that we should trust Him,” he said.