Long ago in the mid-1800’s Benedictine Monks came to Atchison, Kansas. Determined to spread the Gospel and to serve God in their work and prayer, they built a monastery and a church on the bluffs above the Missouri River. By 1890 they started work on a farm that would produce most of their food and supplies. Self-sufficiency wasn’t trendy as it is now, it was necessity. They carved huge blocks of limestone from the property and built a house and barn. They planted a vineyard, built fence, started beehives, stocked cattle and hogs and chickens, tended a large garden, and settled into a laborious and virtuous routine.
The monks and brothers ran the farm for a couple of decades and then decided they needed a farm manager. Over the next 50 years a succession of families inhabited the place but it was always worked by the Brothers. Charlie Wagner, now an octogenarian, was a child of one of the families. His father managed the farm for some 15 years in the thirties and forties. Charlie visits us from time to time. It is always a treat. His mind is sharp, his eyes bright and his tongue spins tales of boyhood adventures. He remembers the Brothers coming to work every day from the monastery in the horse-pulled cart, milking dairy cows, slaughtering hogs and working the fields. He remembers galloping on horseback with his brother Bert, ducking through the narrow, low bridge that went under the farm road to round up the cattle from the south pasture. He says they were amazing days, and I believe him.
Charlie's mother worked hard. There were ten children. There were usually boarders in the house, hired farmhands. She worked to cook and clean and wash the clothing for all of them. Water was funneled into a cistern that was used for household chores and washing. A hand-dug, stone-lined well about 75 feet deep was used for drinking water. Charlie says his mother was very generous. One day about a dozen migrant workers showed up on the property. He wasn’t sure if it was fear or caution in her eyes, but she had Charlie sit them down under the shade of a tree and sent out trays of sandwiches and fresh, cold milk. Rested, fed and obliged, they continued on their way.
Years went by. More families lived in the house. The monks said Mass in the upper room of the house, the children played in the spacious third floor. The farm produced all that it could until the day of the supermarket, when the fields lay fallow and the last of the livestock was sold. In the sixties the Galley family rented the farm and lived not in the main house, for it had become inhabitable, but in what was formerly called the “Bee House.” That was a frame house, originally attached to the main stone structure, but moved farther back on the property early on. The Galley’s were a large, prolific family, active at St. Benedict’s Church and the local Maur Hill School. The Monks sold the farm in the seventies and the land was subdivided.
The Benedictines continue to own an adjacent parcel of a few hundred acres, leased to a local farmer. The Abbey and Monastery in Atchison are thriving. Benedictine College has earned a reputation of one of the top ten Catholic Colleges in the nation. Thirty acres remain with the original house and Bee House. In the nineties it was sold to a couple who truly infused life back into the place. The Denney’s were visionaries and took the house, which by now was damaged and populated with snakes, and renovated it into a beautiful, livable home. They decorated it with antiques and treasures they’d found at auctions and markets and opened a Bed and Breakfast. People came to get away from the city or to have a tranquil stay when visiting the historical events and attractions of the area. It was a unique experience to stay in a one-time monastery. The grounds are peaceful, the house still has its original crimped tin roof and cupola with bell tower and cross on top.
We were blessed to purchase the farm in 2004. We were asked if we would run it as a Bed and Breakfast; we said only for our growing family of eight. And grow it did. Four more children have been born, an even dozen in the house. Benedictines are hospitable and when we bought the farm we made a promise to God that we would be, too. Yeo Joo from Korea lived with us for a year, Renata from Brazil for four, Johanna from Germany for a semester of school and currently, Bobby from Thailand. The Bee House has been home to four college girls and two families since we moved here. All have contributed richly to life here on the Abbey Farm.
There are many more stories I’ll share over time. I wanted you to know the history of the place. It has been populated by Godly men and women. The cloud of witnesses over this place is great. It is comforting to know that people who dedicated themselves to God in work and prayer and service and hospitality filled these walls for over a hundred years. With God's grace, we’ll try to live up to their example.
May God bless you,
The Abbey Farm