When people picture monks living in a cloistered, contemplative monastery, they likely don’t think of Chicago.Benedictine Fr. Peter Funk, prior of the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Chicago, tends to plants in the monastery garden. The monks live in a cloistered, contemplative monastery and welcome visitors to their two guest houses and bed and breakfast. (Submitted photo courtesy the Benedictines)

Yet, just such a classic contemplative monastery exists only minutes from Michigan Avenue and Navy Pier.

The Monastery of the Holy Cross, located in the Bridgeport neighborhood, is home to a community of Benedictine monks who dedicate themselves continuously to prayer, hospitality and evangelization.

I recently spent a long weekend at the monastery on a self-directed, silent retreat.

While I try to make a silent retreat once a year, it had been quite some time since I had made the effort.

Some readers might think going on an annual retreat is a bit too much “religiosity” for a lay person, but it is the spiritual equivalent of regular doctor visits or car tune-ups – there’s quite a bit of unhealthy accumulation in my soul each year, and it’s beneficial to receive a gentle but firm dressing down from the Divine Physician.

I also find that I can hear him more clearly when I get out of my normal routine and “escape” to somewhere quiet and sacred.

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For more information, visit www.chicagomonk.org.

For those of us who live near major cities, it can be difficult to find such a place.

I’m not saying it’s hard to find places to pray in the city — we know that Jesus waits for us in each tabernacle in every Catholic church — but it is definitely uncommon to have easy access to a place where you can leave the worries and noise of the world at the doorstep and enter into a transcendent experience of the Lord.

Benedictine Fr. Peter Funk, prior of the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Chicago works in the monastery kitchen. (Submitted photo courtesy the Benedictines)I count myself lucky to have discovered the Monastery of the Holy Cross; it is also for these same reasons the monks moved to Chicago in the first place.

Originally from northern Minnesota, the monks desired to establish their monastery in an urban environment so people living in Chicago and the surrounding areas could experience the spiritual life of a peaceful, contemplative monastery without having to drive extended distances to remote, rural settings.

At its founding, the community numbered three brothers and was extremely poor. The Archdiocese of Chicago had gifted an old, closed church building for their use. The building was beautiful and historically significant, but was in need of serious disrepair.

With prayer and generosity from the community and the archdiocese, the monks restored most of the church’s interior and have renovated their cloister to accommodate guests. There are now nine professed brothers and one novice.

The charism of the community is focused on evangelization by showcasing beauty in the Mass and in their sung Liturgy of the Hours.

Seven times each day – at 3:30, 6, and 9:30 a.m., and 12:45, 2:30, 5:15, and 7:15 p.m. – the monks gather in the church to sing the Liturgy of the Hours in English. It is a deeply moving experience to pray with them during these times. Their Masses are peaceful, reverent and feature sung congregational participation.

There are many things to love and admire about the monks and their community: sharing simple but delicious meals with them in their residence; experiencing their Benedictine hospitality and service; and having such frequent access to prayer and the sacraments.

The best thing about visiting the monastery, however, is experiencing the profound transcendence and beauty of God in their prayer and worship.

The community is poor and doesn’t have much: even now, though major structural problems have been fixed, the chapel and buildings are old, empty, and full of chips, cracks and second-hand furnishings.

Yet, the beauty of their worship is impossible to miss. Why? 

God shines through in the midst of the simplicity. They worship and pray in a manner that shows the sacred in an unmistakable fashion.

This treasure offers affordable rates for retreatants – room and meals for a suggested donation of $40 a night. In addition to retreats, they also host an award-winning bed-and-breakfast service.