In one day, volunteers build heaven on earth for a cow

Walt Marnett, left, and Paul Villotti cut lumber as other volunteers put up the sides of a new barn April 16 on the grounds of the Priory of Ephesus, home for the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. (Kevin Kelly/Key photo)

By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor

GOWER — Holy cow?

Maybe not holy, but a Jersey donated by Paul Villotti to the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles is about to become the luckiest dairy cow walking the planet.

A small army of volunteers spent April 16 building first-class dairy cow accommodations — her own barn and a fenced-in, pristine five-acre pasture that she will have all to herself. This will be one, contented cow.

And all she has to do is what comes naturally. Twice a day every day, once every 12 hours, she will be milked by loving hands, providing the sisters with up to 35 gallons a week of raw, farm-fresh milk that the sisters — many of whom are no strangers to farm life — will turn into milk, cream, cheese, butter and yogurt.

It is one more step toward turning the Priory of Ephesus, the 260 acres of secluded, rolling land northeast of Gower, into a working farm that will soon support not only the sisters, now numbering more than 20 and building, but the guests they hope to attract for spiritual reflection at what will one day be a full monastery.

“All in God’s time,” said Mother Cecilia, prioress of the order. “If we do what we are supposed to do, be faithful and pray, then God will take care of us.”

He’s doing a pretty good job so far. In fact, the old-fashioned barn-raising, one week before Easter, follows their move into their brand-new priory, which happened one week before last Christmas.

Yet another miracle said Mother Cecilia, as the volunteers worked with very few hitches.

“We started this day and we had no fence, no barn,” she said. “We will end the day, and it will be complete. Thanks be to God.”

And to the people who came to help, largely hearing the need by word of mouth.

Villotti, who is the father of Sister Tarcisia, was there along with many members of the Villotti family.

Their numbers were shored up by several members of the Latin Mass community at Old St. Patrick Church, many of whom sharpened their construction skills during the “sweat equity” restoration of the historic church in downtown Kansas City, some 40 miles from the sister’s new home.

The volunteers included Rachel Noffke and Timothy Kramer, who came from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan.

“I’ve been doing nothing but studying. It’s good to work with your hands,” said Noffke, who said she made a spring break retreat with the nuns and felt a need to give back.

“They pray for the church, so the church supports them so they can pray,” she said.

“We see the beauty of this community and how close they are to God,” Kramer said, as the two students hammered fence posts into the ground.

Walt Marnett, 79, had no problem keeping up with the younger workers on the crew that was sawing, nailing and building the barn.

“If they (the sisters) need help, I come,” he said. “Maybe I can’t work like I used to, but I still come.”

Ben Laxton, a Marine Corps veteran, even came to learn a thing or several. He spent the day with his brother-in-law, Joe Villotti, as they strung some of the two miles of wire fence around the huge pasture.

“Whenever we get a chance to help out, we do it,” he said. “And I get a chance to learn things.”

Even the day itself turned out to be a small miracle. It started out rainy, with temperatures dipping to near freezing.

By noon, a bright sun burst through a cobalt-blue sky, and by day’s end, the temperature had climbed well into the 60s, perfect for a day of hard work.

“God wanted us to be here,” said Paul Villotti. “These nuns needed help, and we came. And it’s a good excuse for all of us to get together.”


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November 26, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph