No Camino de Santiago, strolling the porticoes in Bologna or walking the Hampstead heath or trails in England for me this year. Healing from surgery, I’m close to home, putting one foot in front of another, finding adventures in Denver.
And following the advice and footsteps of friend/pilgrim Ann, here’s one of my best finds: a small monastery hiding inside a one-level brick house in a somewhat upscale neighborhood. Equal numbers of one-story older brick houses and upscale large, newer houses populate this area. Baby strollers are on front porches, basketball nets and SUV’s in the driveways and garages. Sounds of central air-conditioners are transmitted from the newer houses; fans and window air conditioners hum in the windows of the older homes.
Robust, cultivated flower gardens and carefully trimmed hedges surround both the older brick bungalows and the Mcmansions. Yellow and red roses bloom and tiger lilies stalk the gardens.
The neighborhood could be a movie setting or in a real estate agent’s book of dream areas.
Who would have thought this simple, well kept, one-level brick house on a quiet street was a monastery? Not me.
Passers-by, whether walking or in cars, have no idea that they have just gone by an officially sacred place, a monastery. But there it sits. . . simple, beautiful, door at the back of the house seemingly always open, and comfortable sitting chairs on the side porch. I’ve walked there, met up with Ann and friend Eileen and talked for hours on that side porch. Occasionally landscape workers have been in the yard, but never have I seen anyone else.
Inside the monastery, we’ve bowed our heads and prayed in the chapel as sacred and peaceful as any you’ve seen around the world. The altar is adorned and the Virgin Mary peers down from a gilded painting. The main room has bookcases with religious icons, books, memorabilia, pictures. Photo albums and brochures about religious events sit on the end tables. The long table and chairs that take up the space in the main room suggest that many a meal and conversation have taken place in this space. Two guest rooms are in the basement, so traveling priests or other guests must occasionally stay there.
How did Ann find this place? Preparing for a solo walking pilgrimage following the footsteps of Saint Andrew from the Ukraine to Greece, she visited with priests and other religious people who would represent the faiths in some of the countries she would be walking. One conversation led to another, and someone mentioned the monastery. And so it goes.
I don’t suppose it was ever meant to be a “secret” secret, but just secret enough so throngs of people don’t drive up and down the quiet suburban street intentionally looking for some place that looks holy. I don’t know the full story of how this suburban house became a monastery, so I can’t really share that with you. And I can’t really share the address, as I feel as if I would be betraying the place itself, but I can tell you that unexpected treasures and adventures might be just around the corner.
Have you ever discovered a secret adventure in your neighborhood?
Sheila Phelan Wright is a Vice Provost and Professor Emerita at the University of Denver. She’s an international speaker who has taught leadership and wellness courses, and has taught service learning in Bologna, Italy. She loves to travel, read, write, and make new friends. Sheila has walked parts of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela several times. “I never met an adventure I didn’t want to take,” she says. Sheila blogs at Reasons and Seasons.