More than a Home for Monks: Conception Abbey Completes $15 Million Renovation

The newly renovated Chapter Room at Conception Abbey. (photo courtesy of Conception Abbey)

The newly renovated Chapter Room at Conception Abbey. (photo courtesy of Conception Abbey)

By Sara Kraft

“Buildings shape our thinking, our vision for the future, our priorities, and our focus for living. Importantly, a monastery is more than a home for monks,” explained Conception Abbey Abbot Gregory Polan, O.S.B. to friends and benefactors at an August 30 open house. The open house celebrated the completion of an extensive $15 million renovation project to their Northwest Missouri monastery.

The renovation was the first comprehensive work on the building since the original construction in 1881, and the open house offered a rare glimpse into the life of a monk. The Benedictine monks welcomed 200 friends and benefactors, as well as over 150 locals from Northwest Missouri to the tour the monastery. After an upcoming Conception Seminary Alumni open house, the cloister of the monastery will no longer be open to the public.

“St. Benedict says that a monastery is a ‘School of the Lord’s Service.’ That is what we have envisioned this renovation of our monastery to be – a place where our first focus is on the work of God, not only for ourselves, but importantly for you, for the Church, and for our world,” continued Abbot Polan.

The entire $15 million project was incredibly thought out and executed. The project included updating the infrastructure of the building, updating and replacing the entire heating and cooling system, safety updates including fire safe stairwells and sprinklers, and replacing 297 windows. In addition, the workers removed all asbestos, old plumbing, radiators, wiring and floor coverings.

The walls were stripped down to the original brick before being recovered in sheet rock, and the floors were entirely redone. Laundry is now located on each floor instead of only in the basement. A small chapel was added. Basement space was reallocated to include a music practice room, a barber shop, tv lounge, and exercise rooms. The monks accomplished their goal of a design that is simple, beautiful, inspiring, and consistent with the exterior of the monastery and basilica.

A project of this magnitude was was no easy task in a building that has stood for over 130 years. The monks spent thirteen months in temporary quarters so the construction crew could more easily work. Even so, the construction had to be orchestrated so the only kitchen on campus capable of feeding the monks plus guests was still open on a daily basis. For at least two weeks, a crew would take down the ceiling in the kitchen for a time, work on the plumbing, electrical, and new exhaust and put the ceiling back up before the next meal so the kitchen would be useable in order to prepare for the next meal.

No detail was spared in honoring and preserving the history of the monastery. On June 10, 2002, a lone gunman entered the monastery with several firearms and killed two monks and seriously injured two others before taking his own life. Prior to the renovation, the floor remained marked with a bullet hole at the site of where one of the men died. Contractor J.E. Dunn took a tape measure, marked the exact spot of the board, and actually placed the board with the bullet hole in the same exact spot when the new floors were laid. A picture of the funeral hangs on the wall to mark the spot.

The refectory (or dining room) had 11 murals painted in 1916 restored and added two more murals with the original concept drawings by Conception Abbey monk Fr. Pachomius Meade, O.S.B. and later refined and finalized by Evergreene Architectural Arts.

Additionally, the Alan Lankford Mechanical Room is now located where monks used to peel potatoes. A bowl of potatoes has been placed in the room in remembrance of the history of the room. Alan Lankford wrote the plans for JE Dunn and was thrilled to be part of it. He said, “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will never again come up.”

“When you visit the monastery, you will see that we have rooms where the monks continue to have life-long formation through spiritual conferences and community meetings. You will see that our refectory or dining room is different in that we accompany our meals with the reading of a variety of spiritual and historical topics. And you will see that our recreation space is geared toward building a community of brothers, where we truly care for one another and support one another,” explained Abbot Polan. “Yes, a monastery is a ‘School of the Lord’s Service,’ a place where our lives are centered on God and neighbor, and where we foster a life of prayer, simplicity, and sacrifice for the sake of others.”


October 25, 2016
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph