NOT JUST ASSUMPTION ABBEY: New $20 million monastery now underway, three other religious facilities located nearby

This rendering, taken from the website, shows the architect's drawing of the new Monastery of St. Joseph now under construction southwest of Assumption Abbey in Douglas County, a few miles north of Rockbridge. The $20 million monastery will be large enough to house 48 nuns when completed and will also include a chapel and a Fathers Shrine to honor earthly fathers, grandfathers and priests. The shrine and many of the services in the chapel will be open to the public. 

For more than 20 years, the monks at Assumption abbey have supported themselves by baking gourmet fruitcakes – 125 each weekday, 11 months of the year. This photo, taken from the abbey's website, shows monks having a pause in their bakery work to pray the Terce, or mid-morning prayer. After the prayer, which usually takes about 10 minutes, they return to their work.

Assumption Abbey was established in 1950 in southern Douglas County and sits on 3,400 acres a few miles north of Rockbridge. The photo, above left, taken from, shows the abbey's main building; the campus has several outbuildings, including a guesthouse.

The 200-acre hermitage, next door to Assumption Abbey, was founded in 1976 and offers a quiet place of solitude for spiritual contemplation. The hermits gather in the chapel for daily Mass and for a weekly communal meal. They spend most of the rest of their time alone working, praying or contemplating lessons of their faith in their cabins or outside in the hermitage's hilltop setting in the woods.

These seven Christian hermits and candidates currently reside at the Nazareth Hermitage, off N Highway in Douglas County north of Rockbridge. Pictured, front row, from left: Father Jesus Alberto, Sister Mary Agnes, Brother Joseph. Back: Sister Grace Mary, Sister Margaret Mary, Sister Perla Maria, Sister Maria Dara.

Editor's note: This feature describing Assumption Abbey and the Nazareth Hermitage is the first of three stories that describe four religious communities and facilities that operate a few miles north of Ozark County in Douglas County. The other two facilities, St. Joseph's Monastery and Holy Archangels Christian Orthodox Retreat Center, will be profiled in upcoming editions of the Times.


Most Ozark Countians probably know about Assumption Abbey, the monastery famous for its fruit cakes that has operated a few miles north of Rockbridge in Douglas County since 1950. But many area residents may be unaware that three other Christian facilities also operate in the same area along N Highway, including a new $20 million structure that is now under construction to house the Monastery of St. Joseph.

The two other facilities in the same area are the Nazareth Hermitage and the Holy Archangels Orthodox Christian Retreat Center. All four facilities have Ava addresses but are very close to Ozark County and also to the new Bryant Creek State Park off N Highway.


Assumption Abbey

Assumption Abbey, known locally as simply "the monastery," consists of a main building and several outbuildings, including a guesthouse that is available to members of the public who seek a temporary retreat from everyday life. The abbey sits on 3,400 acres in Douglas County, just north of the Ozark County line near Rockbridge off OO Highway a short distance east of N Highway. Its website ( describes the abbey as "a community of monks of the Cistercian Order" that started when Cistercian monks came to the area from New Melleray Abbey in Iowa in 1950 "to establish the monastic life here." 

Cistercian monks are part of the Benedictine tradition in the Roman Catholic Church. 

The original land for the abbey was donated by the late Joseph and Lily Pierson; the site borders Bryant Creek and serves as "an oasis of prayer, peace and solitude, in praise of God," according to the website.

In the monastery's early days, the monks supported themselves by making cement blocks that were used in the construction industry. But for the last 20-plus years, the monks' business has been baking gourmet fruitcakes based on a recipe developed by Jean-Pierre Auge, who had served as chef for England's Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The monks currently bake 125 cakes each day, Monday through Friday, 11 months of the year. 

The $38 cakes are sold at the abbey from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays (customers are directed to ring the bell at the abbey's entryway to call an attendant). Fruitcakes can also be ordered by phone (1-888-738-0117) or through the website. They're shipped internationally and have been sold at times by such well-known merchants as Williams-Sonoma. 

In recent years, the number of monks at the abbey has decreased as the resident monks' age increased. Looking to keep the monastery going, it was decided several years ago to invite a congregation of Cistercian monks in Vietnam to make Assumption Abbey their home. Father Alberic Maisog, the abbey's former father superior, told the Times, "In 2019, we gave our monastery to them."

The monks "spend much of their day in silence" as they go about their assigned jobs in the bakery or in the care and maintenance of the facility, Father Alberic said. They come together for communal prayer in observing the Liturgy of the Hours at 3:30, 6:30 and 9 a.m. and again at 2, 5:45 and 7:40 p.m. That adds up to three and a half hours of communal prayers every day, plus each monk's solitary prayer, contemplation and spiritual reading. 

Sunday Mass at the abbey, held at 9 a.m., is open to the public, as are Masses and liturgies on other days. 

The monks cooperate with the Catholic hermits who live in the nearby Nazareth Hermitage, as well as the nuns who are building the impressive monastery a short distance southwest of the abbey. The hermitage adjoins the southern boundary of Assumption Abbey's 3,400 acres. 


Nazareth Hermitage

Located off N Highway a few miles from Assumption Abbey, Nazareth Hermitage was founded in 1976 on 200 acres by three founding hermits – a monk and two nuns. The nearby abbey donated the land for the project.

Hermitage coordinator Brother Joseph Reisch told the Times the hermitage includes seven individual hermit dwellings (small cabins on top of the hill or set into the wooded hillside) surrounding a rustic chapel. The arrangement draws from the ancient term "laura," which traditionally has described a hermitage and means "a circle of dwellings around a chapel – like a laurel wreath," Brother Joseph said. 

"We're kind of an oxymoron," he said with a chuckle. "We're hermits who live in community."

Right now, all seven hermitage dwellings are occupied. The current population includes three candidates who are completing an observation and evaluation period, in which they are making a final determination that they want to be a hermit – just as the resident hermits at Nazareth Hermitage prayerfully evaluate whether the candidates will be a good fit for hermitage life. The hermits and candidates range in age from 50 to 81. Brother Joseph is 59.

One of Nazareth Hermitage's founders, Father Leon Brockman, was a Cistercian Benedictine monk at the nearby abbey for several years, Brother Joseph said. "Then, with permission, he began to live in solitude," he said. 

During that early time, Father Leon was contacted by two nuns who were not Benedictines but followed other religious traditions in the Roman Catholic Church. Sister Mary DeVries and Sister Miriam Gehringer told Father Leon they also desired to live a hermit life. Together they founded Nazareth Hermitage. The three founders are all now deceased and are buried on the hermitage grounds.

The hermits and candidates currently living at Nazareth Hermitage come from a variety of backgrounds and traditions within the Catholic Church (one of the current candidates is a priest from Miami, Florida) but all "share in common monastic spiritual ideals with our Benedictine neighbors at Assumption Abbey and St. Joseph's Monastery," Brother Joseph said.  

Most persons desiring to join the hermitage must have several prior years of "religious formation" before they can be officially considered for the hermit life. Current hermits at Nazareth Hermitage come from different areas and upbringings. Brother Joseph, who was born in Illinois but grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, became familiar with this area when his parents retired in Mountain Home, Arkansas. He entered Assumption Abbey as a monk in 1987 and spent several years there before leaving to seek other work and evangelistic endeavors, including working with the developmentally disabled. 

With his prior experience at the abbey "baking 200,000 to 300,000 fruitcakes," Brother Joseph in 2004 was called to return there. He resumed his work in the bakery but also began to help at the nearby hermitage, where he now lives as a hermit and also serves as hermitage coordinator.   

Besides the seven individual cabins and the chapel, Nazareth Hermitage includes a laundry, kitchen, pantry, infirmary, dining room building, garage and an incense-blending building. The hermits gather a couple of days a year to blend the incense that is then sold to churches for use in religious services. On the hermitage's website (, the blended incense is described as "our small industry."   

Most of the time, the hermits work, pray or contemplate religious scriptures and lessons alone in their cabins or while spending time out on the hermitage's grounds or walking in the surrounding woods. They gather in the chapel for daily Mass and for a communal meal once a week. They can also "meet together for faith sharing in common areas," the website says. Most of the time, though, they live, work and pray alone. 

Brother Joseph said the hermitage gives to and receives from the surrounding community. "We have a large garden and grow more than we need, so we end up giving some away," he said. "We'll take it to town [Ava] and leave it at the health clinics there or the food pantry to be given away." 

Likewise, the hermits appreciate occasional in-kind gifts from area residents and neighbors. While they used to follow a vegetarian diet, "guidelines have changed," Brother Joseph said, "and we eat what God provides." For some of the hermits, that includes meat – usually chicken, Brother Joseph said. He added that some of the hermits, himself included, would also accept gifts of venison if an area resident offered it.  

For more information about Nazareth Hermitage, or to offer support, visit the website, or contact Brother Joseph at

In next week's Times: The new Monastery of St. Joseph, now under construction north of Rockbridge, will be big enough to house as many as 48 nuns.

Ozark County Times

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