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Monk tends to his earthly flock at abbey

While prayer is the focus of the monastery, agriculture is very much an everyday part of this life.
by Bryan Painter Modified: March 31, 2013 at 3:56 pm •  Published: March 31, 2013

The rancher behind the wheel of the flatbed pickup isn't wearing tan Carhartt's. He's wearing a black monk's habit.

And there's no tiny feed store calendar stuck to the dash.

Instead, there are two medals. One is what has come to be called the “Miraculous Medal” with an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, surrounded by the prayer, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.”

The other is the “Medal of St. Benedict” and in his right hand he holds the cross.

The rancher, Brother Joseph Marie Owen, 59, is among 41 monks at Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek Abbey tucked away in eastern Oklahoma between Fort Gibson Lake and Hulbert in Cherokee County.

Owen, who grew up in an Oregon family that raised sheep and cattle, looks at the medals to the right of the steering column and explains, “We have those on all our equipment, the chain saws, just about everything. There are just so many graces that come with those, protection.”

Even though there are differences, many more commonalities exist between Owen and others in agriculture. He talks about clearing trees to improve the grazing rate. He talks about using the wood in a “high-tech furnace” as the primary source of heat for the monastery.

He talks about terraces and going from two or three regular-size ponds to 19 little ponds “that will catch what we call surge events, or big rains.”

He listens to the croaking of frogs near the bank of one of those ponds.

And Owen notices how Badger and the other Great Pyrenees were right there with the sheep when the monk parked the dented flatbed at the pasture's gate.

“They protect the sheep from coyotes,” Owen said.

While prayer is the focus of the monastery, agriculture is very much an everyday part of this life. Some of what is raised, both in terms of the animals and garden, is consumed while some is sold. They have sheep and a few dairy cows.

Currently, most of their beef cow herd is grazing in Wyoming because of Oklahoma's ongoing drought.

In the garden, according to the particular season, the monks raise tomatoes, squash, mustard greens and much more.

“Being from the city, I wouldn't have believed it,” said Abbot Philip Anderson, who grew up in Kansas City, “but it makes a difference when you have really fresh vegetables.”

Stewards of the land

A monk's day is essentially divided into eight hours of prayer and study; eight hours of various types of work, administrative tasks or manual labor; and eight hours for eating, relaxing and sleeping.

Abbot Anderson, who supervises the monks at Clear Creek Abbey, appreciates not only what is going on within the walls of the monastery, but also what is being accomplished outside in terms of agriculture.

“We are trying to use the natural resources here a little better by cutting down on the dead trees and letting the forest live a little more, with a little more light in the trees,” Anderson said. “We have sheep, and there's kind of a symbiosis between the sheep and the forest. You improve the forest by thinning it out a little bit so the trees can grow better. And with a little more light, more natural grasses grow. Then the sheep will come in the forest and eat the grass.”

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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