Holy Hoboes: Snowbirds Embrace Holy Wintering at St. David Monastery

We first visited Holy Trinity Monastery more than 15  years ago when we were camping at St. David RV Park about 5 miles south of Benson. The 70-foot Celtic cross (see feature image above) first drew us to this peaceful spot. Still a relatively secret spot in the state, the sprawling grounds of the Olivetan Benedictine monastery have been open to the public for more than 40 years.

The Holy Trinity Monastery near St. David, Arizona was founded on September 3, 1974 by Fr. Louis Hasenfuss. Holy Trinity Monastery is affiliated with the Olivetan Benedictines of Monte Oliveto in Italy. It is unique because it includes lay people in addition to the monks.

The Benedictine Monks that run the St. David Monastery along with their volunteers take care of the birding trail that runs along the San Pedro River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Benedictine Monks that run the St. David Monastery along with their volunteers take care of the birding trail that runs along the San Pedro River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Benedictines are an ancient monastic order founded in the early sixth century. According to the Rule (way of life) of St. Benedict, their lives are centered around prayer, work, and communal living. St. Benedict’s Rule is so clear, simple, and wise that, not only have the Benedictines been around for millenia, but other organizations, lay and religious, still consult his rule for guidance about how to get along.

The entrance to Holy Trinity is underwhelming, with no hint of the serenity that awaits inside. The roadside grounds are unmanicured, and primitive brown-and-yellow signs advertise pecans, a book- and thrift store, and an RV park.

In keeping with the tradition of the Benedictine Monks, the property also has a museum.

The Benedictine Monks that run the St. David Monastery along with their volunteers take care of the birding trail that runs along the San Pedro River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Benedictine Monks that run the St. David Monastery along with their volunteers take care of the birding trail that runs along the San Pedro River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors who pull in simply for pecans or a quick browse through the gift shop will miss out on the monastery’s main attractions. Budget a couple of hours to wander the grounds, more if you want to attend the daily Catholic Mass in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

The first stop for many visitors is the towering cross, a gift from two monastery lay members who had wanted to build it in their Sierra Vista yard but faced resistance from neighbors. Incorporated into the base of the cross is a relic of the original cross that belonged to Pope Pius IX and was a gift to the monastery’s founder in 1996.

The Monastery now consists of 150 acres, and has been built up over the years mainly by volunteer labor. The site includes the church, monks’ cloister, offices, dining areas, bookstore/gift shop, bakery, pecan orchard, gardens, ponds, and cemetery.

The Benedictine Monks that run the St. David Monastery along with their volunteers take care of the birding trail that runs along the San Pedro River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Benedictine Monks that run the St. David Monastery along with their volunteers take care of the birding trail that runs along the San Pedro River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bookstore and gift shop sells the work of local artists as well as religious books, rosaries, and other religious items.

With the help of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a 1.3 mile bird sanctuary trail was dedicated in 1992. The San Pedro National Resource Conservation District presented the monastery the “Conservation Cooperator of the Year” award in 1993 for the trail, which runs along the San Pedro River. Many bird-watching groups are often on site when the community arrives at church for morning prayers.

The meditation garden is among the more peaceful spots on the property, featuring a giant cottonwood tree, koi pond, bridge, and benches.

The Monastery also sells a line of Benedictine bread, pies, and candy. Pecans from the trees on the Monastery property are used in the baked goods and candy. All of these endeavors provide income for the Monastery.

The Benedictine Monks that run the St. David Monastery along with their volunteers take care of the birding trail that runs along the San Pedro River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Benedictine Monks that run the St. David Monastery along with their volunteers take care of the birding trail that runs along the San Pedro River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is also a walking path through the grounds on which the fourteen Stations of the Cross are displayed. The Stations of the Cross depict Jesus on the day of His crucifixion. Each Station is in a numbered order. The believer stops at each station to read and reflect on the prayer and devotion.

The Monastery also operates the Monte Cassino RV Park. The RV park has roughly thirty sites, some of those provide full-hookups, others with just water and electric. Their rates are reasonable. In winter, the ranks of volunteers grow as snowbirds hook up their RVs in the park on the grounds.

And so the holy hoboes join the monastery’s full-time residents to maintain the property with multiple ponds, a bird sanctuary along the San Pedro River, a library and guesthouses, among other features.

The Benedictine Monks that run the St. David Monastery along with their volunteers take care of the birding trail that runs along the San Pedro River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Benedictine Monks that run the St. David Monastery along with their volunteers take care of the birding trail that runs along the San Pedro River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Monastery is located on Arizona Highway 80 between mileposts 302 and 303, 9 miles south of Benson and 2 miles south of St. David.

Worth Pondering…

What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?
—The Rule of St. Benedict 73:3

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