In the 1970s, at the University of Kansas, three professors inaugurated a Great Books program (Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, or PIHP) with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Through their study of Western Civilization, a number of these students became interested in monastic life and found their way to Notre-Dame de Fontgombault Abbey in France. Some entered the novitiate, hoping to be part of a new monastic foundation in America some day.
When the American university students arrived at the French abbey, they found it flourishing with many vocations, despite the crisis of vocations going on almost everywhere else. There were so many vocations that Fontgombault had to found new monasteries. As the American novices needed to get a solid formation, the project to found in America was put off for many years, but not forgotten.
Beginning in 1991, Dom Antoine Forgeot, abbot of Notre-Dame de Fontgombault Abbey began to make exploratory trips to the United States, accompanied by Dom Francis Bethel. After visiting many sites in several states and after many hesitations, a property was found in 1998, in the diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma, that struck the abbot and many others as very well suited for the American foundation. It was a ranch located along Clear Creek. The idea was approved by the Chapter of the French abbey and on the feast of the Assumption of that same year 1998, a charter was signed between the abbot of Fontgombault and the bishop of Tulsa formally recognizing the existence of the new foundation.
On September 15, 1999, the main group of founders arrived in Oklahoma by plane from France. A pilot group had preceded them to get things set up to receive the main body of founders. On the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11, 2000, the little Priory of Our Lady of Clear Creek was officially inaugurated in the presence of Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa, of Bishop Basil Meeking of Christchurch, New Zealand, of Abbot Antoine Forgeot, and of a host of priests and friends of the new community.
The first monastery was established, partially, in a large log cabin and, partially, in a barn and stable, where the previous owners had kept their saddle horses. The horse stalls became monastic cells, and the barn became the first chapel. Small wooden tool sheds were added as additional cells for new postulants as they arrived. Larger accommodations had to be provided for. A professor of Notre Dame University, Thomas Gordon Smith, was selected to be the new monastery’s architect, and plans were drawn up for a spacious monastery of Romanesque inspiration to be built of stone and brick on a hill above Clear Creek.
By the morning of January 2, 2008, much had been accomplished. In 2003 a stone bridge had been erected over Little Clear Creek; the foundations for the church and a residence building had been poured; the first stone had been blessed by the bishop of Tulsa. Then, in 2007, the crypt of the church and the first residential building had been completed. It was time to move into the permanent monastery. Despite the cold temperature that morning (12 degrees F.), an army of monks, neighbors, and friends, driving every imaginable type of vehicle, was on the move, under the guidance of a monk with a walkie-talkie. Teams in trucks and tractors took load after load up to the community’s new site. By the end of the day the monks were entirely exhausted, but the monastery was installed in its new and definitive home (at least this side of Heaven). On May 12th of the same year, Bishop Slattery and a great number of friends were on hand for the blessing of the new monastery.
Once installed in its definitive location, the community continued to grow. On February 10, 2010, having gathered the community in the Chapter Room, Dom Antoine Forgeot, abbot of Notre-Dame de Fontgombault, announced to the monks the canonical elevation of the simple Priory of Our Lady of Clear Creek to the status of abbey sui juris. The next day, feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Father Philip Anderson was named the first abbot of Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey. The blessing of the new abbot took place on the following April 10th.
Thanks to a large gift received in 2009, construction on the church was able to move forward in 2011. The west façade, the nave, and the transept were raised to half their intended height. A roof was put over this new structure, allowing it to be used already as a church. In 2013 the schematic architectural plans for the remaining buildings were completed. A contract for the construction of the church’s eastern portion, or chevet, was signed on March 10, 2016. A year later, on March 20, 2017, we began using the upper church for Mass and Offices when the temperature allows.
On May 17, 2021, work began on the Eastern Residence building. This new wing of the Abbey contains the Sacristy, Chapter House, Infirmary, and many cells for the monks. This much-needed building will enable the community to grow and care for their elderly members. For the last few months of construction, the monks have been assisting the contractors in the painting of interior walls and tiling of the floors. With God’s grace the new wing will be open for occupancy in November 2022.