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    Building a Bridge to the Community

    Oklahoma Knights lead renovations at a Benedictine abbey while forging a relationship with the monks

    Monks at Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Hulbert, Okla., cross the suspension bridge built on abbey grounds by members of St. Cecilia’s Council 7395 in Claremont. (Spirit Juice Studios)

    Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey is a contemplative place of prayer and work in the Ozark Mountains near Hulbert, Okla. The Benedictines who live there, largely removed from the rest of the world, maintain the 1,000-acre property as well as they can. But once a year, the monks call in reinforcements.

    On the first Saturday each March — known simply as “Work Day” — more than 500 volunteers, including Knights of Columbus, descend onto the abbey grounds to help the monks clear brush, trim grass, build fences and tackle other tasks.

    One improvement, however, required much more than a day of work. Benedictine Father Joseph O’Hara realized that a suspension bridge stretching 120 feet over a creek on the grounds was deteriorating and in need of repair. A former engineer, Father O’Hara envisioned a project to make the bridge both stronger and more durable. He couldn’t do it alone, but he knew he could count on the Knights for support. 

    “I sought them out,” Father O’Hara said. “I saw them doing some welding on another project and realized that would be a great help in the project.”

    Father O’Hara contacted Patrick Allen and David Carrion, both members of St. Cecilia’s Council 7395 in Claremore, Okla., and they and their brother Knights leaped at the opportunity to serve the abbey.

    “Our council is rich in time and talent, not so much in treasure,” Allen said. “We have a lot of talented people in our organization —  skilled mechanics, welders, electricians, engineers, equipment operators — and we tapped into those resources.” 

    Nearly 30 Knights contributed to the project, which began in February 2020. The meticulously planned process involved making cement foundations and establishing suspension cables before the bridge was planked and the side webbing rigged.

    The collaboration between the monks and Knights was fully realized in October when more than 60 people stood on the bridge at once for a blessing. For Allen and Carrion, the blessing was also a slightly nerve-wracking load test. Thankfully, the bridge didn’t budge. 

    “My prayers to God were answered,” Carrion said. “I really felt elevated being part of this. And you feel the excitement of the people in the abbey.” 

    In addition to the bridge, the Knights helped fix the property’s badly damaged roads. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Knights worked with the monks to make the abbey a distribution point for a federal program providing food to those in need. Allen said the program helped build awareness of the monastery in the local community.

    “Some of the people that were picking up the food said, ‘You know, I never met a Catholic before and you guys are alright.’ I thought, ‘Wow, we have a ways to go in Oklahoma, to spread the word of our Catholic faith and the works of the Knights of Columbus.’ But the food box program helped us do that a lot,” he said.

    For their achievements, St. Cecilia’s Council 7395 received the Community Program Award at the 139th Supreme Convention. 

    Because of the Knights’ work, the abbey is not as isolated from the community as it once was, according to Father O’Hara.

    “We built a bridge that unites two ends of the creek, but it also unites those two communities — the monks and the Knights,” he said. “It’s a physical bridge, but it’s also a connection between the Church and the world.”

    Watch a brief video highlighting Council 7395’s support for Our Lady of Clear Lake Abbey.

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