01 February 2005

Holy Trinity Monastery- A Desert Oasis

by Monica Bafetti

Fifty-two miles south-east of Tucson, a Celtic cross rises 70 feet into the air, an unexpected sight in the middle of the desert and especially in St. David, a predominantly Mormon community. The town was founded by settlers in 1877 and in 1974 it became home to the Holy Trinity Monastery, a Benedictine spiritual community. This fertile land next to the San Pedro River is full of surprises: wandering peacocks, a bird sanctuary, and an Oriental garden are among the discoveries awaiting the visitor. Father Louis B. Hasenfuss, Holy Trinity’s founder, called the monastery a “spiritual refuge.” Situated on 132 acres, Holy Trinity consists of living quarters, a church, a dining area, and other facilities, among them a library.

During the Dark Ages and Medieval times, monasteries were islands of scholarship in an ocean of ignorance. Monks were very often the most educated members of society. The average person in those eras possessed no reading skill, so monks preserved and perpetuated literacy and learning. Monasteries stored ancient texts, usually copied by the monks who lived there. Copying manuscripts was not exclusively an educational experience; it was considered by many to be meditative and prevent one’s thoughts from turning to the world outside the monastery. The Order of Saint Benedict has always held education, learning, and the formation of schools and libraries to be part of its unique mission. The Order initiated this tradition by accepting children (intended by their parents to enter the monastic life) as students. This practice gave birth to monastic schools, which in turn contributed to the formation of many of the oldest universities in the western world, including the University of Cambridge.

Although there are full-time monastic residents at Holy Trinity Monastery, the facility is open to visitors from the community. Holy Trinity collaborates with local organizations to carry on the Benedictine tradition of supporting the arts and culture. The San Pedro Valley Center for the Arts is on the premises, along with an art gallery which shows and sells the works of local artists. The members of Holy Trinity continue to promote education in the greater community. The monastery library is open to the general public, and rivals the nearest public library (one town over) in size. In fact, the librarian and others in the community refer to it as the “St. David public Library.”

The library at Holy Trinity Monastery is housed in one building and contains approximately 50,000 volumes. One might expect to find only religious and spiritual materials in such a library, but classics like The Catcher in the Rye are housed alongside more pious works. There is a large selection of material about the Southwest United States and Native American topics, and local authors are a favorite area of collection as well. Multiple professors have donated personal libraries of works over the years, generally upon retirement. The library has been the recipient of a wonderfully comprehensive English history collection, along with psychology, philosophy, and sociology texts. Bird watching, natural healing, and arts and crafts are well-represented as well. The majority of the collection is in book form, but magazines, videos, audiotapes and CDs also abound.

The monastery hosts many retreats for 12-step groups, so 12-step recovery is a major area of collection. About half of the retreats held there each year are not oriented exclusively toward the Catholic faith, and Holy Trinity tends toward an ecumenical view of spirituality. They are currently in the process of purchasing a 15 volume religious encyclopedia to add to those concerning religions and science, Islam, and Buddhism. Due to the nature of the surrounding community, the library houses many books about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, its beliefs, and its history, particularly its history in the St. David region.

An overwhelming majority of the collection has come from donations (around 90 percent). When purchases are made, the materials are nearly always in a spiritual subject area, most often current Catholic topics. Donated items are sold or given away if they do not fit into the library’s collection or are duplicates. Holy Trinity has partnerships with other churches and communities as far away as Africa which accept weeded materials from their collection. They work to support and supplement the Tombstone, Benson, and Cochise County libraries (the three nearest public libraries). Holy Trinity’s library also serves religious studies students from the University of Arizona, Cochise College students, local high school students, and diocesan and parish staff in the area.

The library at Holy Trinity is overseen by Sister Corinne Fair. Sister Fair earned her Master of Library Science at the University of Arizona in 1989, eight years after she assumed the job duties of the monastery’s librarian. There are volunteers who shelve items, catalog materials, and assist patrons. One primary permanent volunteer lives nearby year-round. Other assistance comes from those individuals who stay in St. David, often at the Holy Trinity recreational vehicle park, at different times throughout the year. It is clear from speaking with residents at the monastery that Sister Fair is the backbone of the organization. She believes that the library is one of the “especially holy places in any monastery,” the place where the mind and spirit are nourished by studying scripture and literature.

Sister Fair has chosen to use the Library of Congress Classification system in the monastery’s collection. She and the volunteers log onto the website of St. John’s College (a Benedictine school) and utilize the lists of call numbers available to organize the collection. The specialization of the collection has required unique utilization of the skills Sister Fair learned at the University of Arizona. She quotes one of her cataloging professors as saying, “What we will do in this class will be exactly by the book. When you get your own library, get creative.” The Library of Congress has each section of the Olivetan orders (of which these Benedictines are a part) scattered throughout the religion subject heading. Because the Holy Trinity library needs them all in one section, Sister Fair rewrote parts of the cataloging protocol to better suit her needs. The computerized cataloging project has not been completed yet, as the library is relying on volunteers to complete the massive undertaking. To date they have cataloged approximately 9,000 volumes in this manner.

The Holy Trinity Monastery library is a member of the National Church Library Association, which is rather active in the Tucson area. Most of the librarians are extremely dedicated volunteers without a formal library education. Sister Fair is one of the few to hold a Master’s degree from an ALA-accredited university.

Holy Trinity’s library is open on weekdays from 8:30am to 5:00pm, with weekend and evening hours by appointment. The circulation system consists of a notebook in which patrons sign their name and write down their phone number along with the titles of the materials they are borrowing. As is prominently stated on their website, there is no set loan length for materials. Borrowers who visit from outlying areas are welcome to return items by mail if they do not have a trip to St. David planned in the near future.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the monastery’s founding, and there are several events planned to celebrate this milestone. In February, a new building on the grounds is being dedicated. The Spring retreat, two weeks prior to Easter, will attract oblates from around the country. In Late May, one of the resident monks will be ordained as a transitory deacon (a yearlong obligation before being welcomed into full priesthood). In 2004, Holy Trinity realized completion of a three-year program, Living Stones, designed to train lay leaders for work in parish communities. One of the seventeen graduates of the program was Holy Trinity’s own Sister Fair. She participated as a result of her own desire to learn what was being taught; also, she explains, she wanted to maintain a presence in the group from Holy Trinity Monastery. Continuing education is an essential component of any librarian’s career, regardless of the form it may take.

When this monastery’s library began, it was merely a shelf full of books owned by the founder, Father Louis. As the library has expanded in size, so has its patronage. There are more community members using their services every year, a testament to the openness and acceptance of all factions in this Mormon town. As Benedictines have done for centuries, the leaders at Holy Trinity Monastery practice what they preach. The library plays a fundamental role in fulfilling the monastery’s mission in the world, reaching out to the religious and local communities in a spirit of faith and education.

Special thanks to Sister Corinne Fair for her extensive assistance and words of wisdom.
Holy Trinity Monastery can always use enthusiastic volunteers.


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