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Posted: 11:14 AM- HUNTSVILLE -- Surrounded by monks and priests in simple white robes, the Rev. David Altman this week accepted two things from the Most Rev. John Wester, bishop of Salt Lake City's Catholic Diocese: a copy of the ancient Rule of St. Benedict and a shepherd's staff.
The new abbot of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity - the sixth since the monks bought their first farm here in 1947 - Altman pledged to make his life a blessing for others.
Monks from other Trappist monasteries throughout the country, priests from northern Utah Catholic parishes and some 80 friends of the monastery chanted prayers and joined in the celebration of mass and Altman's abbatial blessing in the monastery's chapel.
Following a centuries' old practice, Wester asked Altman a series of questions about his willingness to lead other monks to God and use the monastery's goods for the benefit of his brother monks, the poor and strangers who come to visit.
In his homily, Altman said all people are called to be religious leaders, to teach and preach through their words and actions.
"The primary reason for our presence, in this time and place, is to speak for God with our lives, in order to give his life," he said.
But just as people are called to self-sacrificial love, they are also tempted to promote their own welfare, he said. "No one escapes the inclination to hold ourselves in a higher priority than our Creator and everyone else."
"This is the pledge I now give to you this morning," Altman said. "I receive God's blessing for the purpose of blessing and giving a greater share in His life to all those whose lives I touch."
The monastery belongs to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, which originated in France in 1098. They're popularly known as Trappists, and follow the Rule of St. Benedict, a way of life emphasizing prayer, work, seclusion, self-sufficiency and hospitality.
"The prayers that go up from this monastery, the presence of these monks mean a great deal to us," Wester told those gathered.
Wester said he spent three or four days at the Huntsville monastery in the early 1980s. After rising for vigil prayers in the pre-dawn hours one morning, Wester said, he knew God was not calling him to such contemplative prayer.
Wester said later that the monastery is a sign to others of special way of knowing God.
"It's a reminder to us that there is a depth of presence of God in a place like this," he said. "The contemplative life touches that part in all of us, that needs to get away, to pray, to ask the questions of 'Who am I ? Where am I going? Where do I come from?"
The Huntsville monks formerly raised cattle on their 1,800-acre farm in the Ogden Valley. Today, they make money by processing and selling flavored honey and through sales of books and religious articles in their gift store.
The monastery now has 19 priests and brothers, and three men are in the process of discerning whether to take vows.
Ogden Valley residents, many of them members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, joined Wednesday in the mass and blessing. A Huntsville ward supplied the tables and chairs for a luncheon on the lawn.
"They've always been good neighbors," said Bonnie Sorensen, who first got to know the monks decades ago when they supplied fresh bread and eggs for the general store she and her husband operated.
"It's a blessing for us to have them in our community," said Huntsville Mayor James McKay, a member of the ward that supplied the tables and chairs.
Altman, 69, was elected by his fellow monks in July to replace the Rev. Casimir Bernas, who served six years. A native of Philadelphia, Altman has degrees in business and philosophy and has been at the monastery for 41 years.
Earlier this summer, the monks voted to shelve a 10-year effort to design and raise money for a new monastery. The existing buildings are largely Quonset huts that were intended to be temporary six decades ago.
Altman said Wednesday he will entrust the question to time and prayer.
"I'm going to let that go, at least for the time being," he said.