[Editor’s note: This is Part I of a two-part story on the Carmelite Nuns project in rural Fairfield, PA.]
Bill Oyler is a fifth-generation farmer in Biglerville, PA. He is more than familiar with the daily struggle of maintaining a healthy, organic family farm in the midst of today’s commercialized fast-food culture. Those struggles, however, haven’t stopped him from contributing his time and resources to building up the Church in the ways that God shows him and his devout Catholic family.
One day, a friend pointed out to Mr. Oyler an unusual classified in a local Gettysburg newspaper: Nuns need stones.
Further research revealed that a young and vibrant community of Carmelites from up in the PA Coal regions were about to embark upon a unique building project just 10 miles out of Gettysburg. They were convinced that God was calling them to build a Monastery that is truly authentic in its construction, faithful both to European Carmelite Monasteries of the past and the classic American stone farmhouses built by our forefathers. While this might seem an impossible dream to some, the Nuns were convinced that if God desires this, Saint Joseph would provide the means for realizing it.
On reading about the Nuns and their vision of a hand-crafted Monastery, Bill didn’t hesitate. Immediately he invited the Mothers of the Community to make a rare trip out of their cloister to examine two old buildings on the Oyler family farm, dating back hundreds of years and containing useful stone and timber. The Nuns were overwhelmed to find their prayers answered so quickly, and even more overwhelmed when Bill’s response to their nervous inquiry about the price of his buildings was a generous: “My price is… your prayers.”
“Bill and the Oyler family are truly a Godsend”, said Mother Stella-Marie of Jesus, OCD, Prioress. “Even more than the building materials, which will help a lot with construction, it is such a blessing for us to have made this new friendship with a Catholic farming family who are experienced in organic farming traditions. We hope to sustain our little Carmelite Community to a large extent on what we will farm onsite at the Monastery. We have already obtained a tailored permaculture plan. The group of Nuns who will found the Monastery having been living in temporary quarters on our Fairfield farm, as they await the construction of the actual Monastery, which will take many years. They dedicate their work hours to establishing the farm. Having friendly experts like the Oylers 10 miles away, to give us advice and support in our monastic farming life, is more than we imagined. Because they share our faith, they will also be able to understand certain unique aspects of our daily life, such as the many hours we set aside for prayer and our strict Papal Enclosure.”