Mediaeval church headed for Hearst swimming pool ends up with Sacramento Valley Trappists

How Sierra Nevada Brewing helped


The following comes from a December 26 story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Father Paul Mark Schwan shivers in the morning chill of California’s Sacramento Valley, a blue hooded sweatshirt layered over his monk’s robes. It’s almost eerily quiet at the Abbey of New Clairvaux, an order of Cistercian monks in this town 20 miles north of Chico, where Schwan serves as abbot. A blanket of mist hugs the walnut orchards as the abbot picks his way across the muddy ground.

Before him lies a surreal site: an intact mediaeval church with vaulted limestone walls and peaked windows, looking as if it was dropped there by accident.

“I believe these stones were going to be used as a changing room for an indoor swimming pool,” says Schwan, 56, looking thoughtfully at the building. “Thanks be to God it didn’t happen.”

This is the famous Chapter House of Ovila – a 16th century Spanish Trappist monastery with a history so dramatic, it almost belongs in a pulp novel. Originally imported by William Randolph Hearst to be used in a grand estate that never was, the monastery stones were all but abandoned in Golden Gate Park for more than 60 years.

But through the tireless lobbying of Schwan’s predecessor, and a 12-year campaign by the monks to raise $7 million for a painstaking reconstruction, those stones found a home in Vina.

To help raise proceeds for rebuilding, in 2010 the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico began brewing the Ovila Abbey beers, a series of Belgian Trappist-style ales, in conjunction with the monks.

This spring, the chapter house was finally unveiled. One of only a few mediaeval sites in all of North America, its ribbed vaults and pointed arches are classic examples of Gothic architecture.

At least another $2 million is needed, Schwan says, for window glass, floors, electricity and other basic amenities needed before the monks can use it as their church.

“Will it take another 12 years?” says Schwan. “I prefer it not.”

To read the entire story, click here.

To add a comment, click on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ icons OR go further down to the bottom of comments to the Post your comment box.


  1. i read about this in the san francisco chronicle and was thrilled.

    friends have been to the monastery for retreats and are so happy the quonset hut chapel is being replacede by this lovely church!

    • Anonymous says:

      max, the article states that the stones have been in Golden Gate Park for 60 years. Do you know any additional information about that?

      • no ANONYMOUS but i was schocked to read that the stones had been left lying around in the golden gate park for so long.

        i’m glad they were finally reassembled and are bieng put to proper use finally!

  2. The monastery is situated next to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and in particular next to the region where blue grouse can be hunted in september. I wonder … max, are you listening? … since these wild game birds are so tasty, if a little feast, impromptu naturally, with some of their high end ale brought to table as well. max, how ’bout you arrange it, what with your appealing negotiator talents?

    • SKAI, i’m flattered you think i have appealing negotiator talents.

      however, i’m a lousy shot even after all these years, so if i were in charge of hunting we’d end up with potatoes or something equally morose.

      my brothers are much betters hunters than i, so i’ll ask them to arrange your feast. i’ll purchase the ale…or better yet, guinness!

      • max, the whole point is to help the monks with their brewing operation, by drinking their ale. But you could bring the Guinness and we’d have a contest to see which is better. Get your broz onto the grouse hunt, which would hopefully mean more excellent wild gamebird feasting for the monks and more ale for all.

  3. Maryanne Leonard says:

    Praise be to God! What a wonderful story. Thanks, Cal Catholic!

  4. Life Lady says:

    Wow, I can’t wait to visit this place. God bless the abbey and the monks, that they will pray for us all, and glorify God with this place..

  5. Give this lovely place to the F.S.S.P., S.S.P.X. or the Institute of Christ the King, they are busting at the seams with young men in the seminaries and need the room. They are all holy men learning the Traditional Latin Mass and sacraments. Pray for them!!

  6. Now all it needs is the Mass of All Ages, the Tridentine Mass, and it would be perfect.

    • Are the Trappist’s not Catholic enough for you?

      • Well, it was the Trappists who somehow failed to keep the late Thomas Merton in the fold. Had it not been for the onset of novus ordo think, then maybe he’d have finished out his vocation well instead of in spiritual agony.

  7. Fr. Stephanos Pedrano, O.S.B. says:

    The building is not a church, it is a “chapter house.” In monasteries, the monks listened to a daily reading of a “chapter” from the “Rule-Book” of St. Benedict (who died in A.D. 547). Eventually, monasteries began to build a special room or house for this daily reading and for other official meetings and conferences of the monastic community.

    • Abeca Christian says:

      Thank you Father for letting us know. Maybe they need our donations? I don’t want the secular to get their hands to this. My prayers are with them and as I look more into this story..hopefully my donation too, not much but something to help.

      • I just donated almost ten bucks by buying a six pack of Sierra Nevada Torpedo beer … The specialty beers directly associated with the monks via Sierra Nevada Brewing were not available in the store I shopped in. Perhaps they are available in one of the specialty specialty type beer/wine stores. This Torpedo ale is pretty good I find as I work my way through the first bottle.

        • Maybe they could distribute their specialty brews by special order, and then you pick it up at the store you designate.

  8. Blake Konczal says:

    The stones were not going to be used by Mr. Hearst for a swimming pool changing room. They were in fact supposed to be the centerpiece of a medieval museum he wished to give to the City of San Francisco. For a myriad of reasons the museum was never built. If you ever go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) you can see many medieval pieces that were to go in the museum unbuilt in San Francisco. Note the signage indicating “gift of the Hearst Foundation.”(At LACMA you can also see the reredos for the unbuilt cathedral of L.A. Archbishop Cantwell. Like Hearst’s chapter house purchased in Europe and saved from destruction. The reredos is cut into pieces as there is no room large enough to display the whole).

  9. Would be good if someone would set up a remote monastery and self sustaining … by the rule of manual labor … in southern Calif. Somehow there has to be a way to get the faithful priests out from the devices of the puppet managers.

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 250 words, and should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.

Post your comment

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 250 words, and should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.