ANTICIPATION MOUNTS: Bruderhof school takes shape at former seminary, retreat in Esopus (video)
IN THE New Testament Gospels, Jesus directs his followers to go out into the world and preach the good news to every creature, making disciples of all the nations.
That’s what 1,300 newly ordained Redemptorist priests aimed to do once they graduated from Mount St. Alphonsus during its 75-year history as a Catholic seminary.
It also is what will be expected of the future graduates of The Mount Community’s high school academy.
The so-called “Great Commission” will be central to all activities at the Bruderhof’s new home at the former seminary and retreat in the Ulster County town of Esopus.
The Bruderhof, a Protestant religious community, purchased Mount St. Alphonsus’ castle-like granite structure and its surrounding 411 acres last month from the Redemptorist Fathers of New York for $21.5 million.
Now begins a new chapter for the property that belonged to the Redemptorist Order of Catholic Priests for 100 years — first as a seminary and more recently as a retreat center.
In recent weeks, Ian Winter, who handles public relations for the Bruderhof community, opened the doors to the main building and provided a tour of the facility, which is undergoing massive renovations to become a high school for the religious community’s youth.
The sound of drills echoed in the long hallways on each of the building’s four floors. Electrical cords jutted from ceilings, and long sheets of plastic spread out like carpets in the corridors.
Men in hard hats were busy gutting, hammering, scraping and painting. Continued...
“This building here … is going to be used as a Mount community,” Winter said, leading the way through the throbbing work scene. “This particular community of brothers and sisters will be charged with educating and running a high school academy, which has already been registered with the state of New York.”
The Bruderhof, a self-sustaining, closely knit fellowship founded by Eberhard Arnold in post-World War I Germany, also has a local presence in the Ulster County communities of Rifton and Ulster Park and the Greene County community of Elka Park.
Winter said Bruderhof leaders had, for years been contemplating opening a high school because they’ve grown dissatisfied with the moral direction of public schools.
Children born into the Bruderhof, which also is known as the Church Communities, get their education within the Woodcrest community in Rifton up until eighth grade and then attend local public schools.
“The concept here is actually like the Redemptorist brothers — to live out the Sermon on the Mount, and I’m saying that not tongue-in-cheek,” Winter said.
“The point is that the Beatitudes are upheld, and we live together as brothers and sisters … and a component to that is (the) education of children.”
Winter said construction crews, made up mostly of local contractors, will be working through the summer to get the building ready, and Bruderhof officials say they’re on schedule to open The Mount Academy in September.
The classes, most of which will accommodate 16 to 25 students, will be held on the fourth floor, some offering views of the Hudson River.
“Part of the whole academic scene is the outdoors,” Winter said. “We’re very much into an environmental and creativity-type of education.”
One way the Bruderhof plans to inspire that type of learning is through agricultural studies, Winter said. Continued...
Like The Mount’s Redemptorists, the Bruderhof plans to farm the land and raise livestock there.
“We’re hoping the students will be doing their own horticulture, their own agriculture — looking after chickens, looking after cattle,” Winter said. “There are apple orchards, (and) there’s the whole river estuary environment piece, which we feel is very important.”
Winter said a good deal of work needed to be done — and still needs to be done — to get the site ready for the beginning of the coming school year.
Not only did the building need a new roof and new flooring, but workers have redone the kitchen and installed an environmentally friendly heating system.
They also have replaced some of the windows as well as the electrical, fire-detection and water and sewage systems.
“It’s been quite an enormous project for us — bigger than we anticipated, but it’s going forward,” Winter said. “It looks like we might make it by September.”
Getting to this point has not been easy, he said.
Initially, the Bruderhof set out to lease the property long-term. But “in the ensuing difficulties of working out the different details, the Redemptorists withdrew that lease arrangement,” Winter said.
“So then we redrew it for an outright purchase, which took us about two months to do,” he said.
The deed was signed on May 8 and recorded on May 17, and ever since, there’s been non-stop work at The Mount. Continued...
The Rev. Kevin Moley, provincial of the Redemptorists’ Baltimore Province, expressed satisfaction with the property’s change of hands.
“The Redemptorists are grateful for the more than 100 years we spent at Mount St. Alphonsus,” he said. “We’re grateful to see the property continue as a place of prayer and study, as a space where God’s love speaks to hearts and makes a difference in the world.”
Right now, three Redemptorist priests continue to live in the gatehouse at The Mount, but they eventually will move, as did the nine Redemptoristine nuns who had lived at The Mount for decades.
One of the things at The Mount that won’t change is the chapel, Winter said. During renovations, the Bruderhof has been careful not to disturb it.
The Romanesque chapel, seen by some as one of the most beautiful in the world, was dedicated years ago to St. Alphonsus Liguori, who founded the Redemptorists, a missionary order, in 1732.
Some of the chapel’s outstanding features are marble altars, stained-glass windows and an arched ceiling.
The chapel long was a source of inspiration to those who visited The Mount, and Winter said great care has gone into preserving it.
“We find the chapel just a beautiful ambiance for what this place actually is,” he said.
Many of the original statues, such as 500-year-old marble angels that stood by the entrance to the chapel, were removed by the Redemptorists before the Bruderhof moved in.
Other valuables, like the Stations of the Cross designed by German-born sculptor Joseph Sibbel, remain, as does a wall mural depicting Christ sending his disciples out into the world.
“Our Bruderhof wants to keep it in the same atmosphere and the same peaceful quality that it is,” Winter said.
But one thing that will change is public access to the property.
No longer will weddings be scheduled there, nor will the grounds be open to members of the public who once walked its trails.
“This is no longer a Catholic monastery. It’s a Bruderhof community,” Winter said.
Members of the Bruderhof, like the Amish and Mennonites, live a simple life apart from the world. They earn their keep through businesses like Rifton Equipment, which makes devices for the disabled, and Community Playthings, which manufactures children’s furniture and toys.
Winter said excitement is building as the days progress and the dream of opening a high school nears reality.
Bruderhof officials said the community may even take in students from the outside once the academy has been up and running for a while.
“Time will tell,” Winter said.
For now, though, they’re getting ready to embark on a new chapter in their own history, as well as that of The Mount.
“The bottom line here is that our young people, when they graduate from The Mount Academy … will go out into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. That’s the objective,” Winter said.
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