The Norbertine Code

Monks and canyon dwellers go mano a mano in Silverado Canyon

* * *

Saint Norbert was born in 1080 near the banks of the Rhine in Xanten, near Wesel, Germany. A man who found his heavenly calling relatively late in life, St. Norbert gave up lustful pursuits at age 30 while riding to a village near his hometown. That's when he was thrown from his horse, which was struck by a thunderbolt. He remained prone in a near-dead state for about an hour, so the story goes. Having decided to consecrate himself to the penitent life, St. Norbert became a priest at 35.

Later, he founded a religious order in the diocese of Laon, in France. The order was established in the forest of Coucy and was little more than a handful of disciples living in wood-and-clay huts. The priest eventually rose to become the Bishop of Magdeburg in Germany, where he died at the age of 53. According to St. Michael's, its priests were vaunted teachers in secular and religious schools alike in Hungary until, in the aftermath of World War II, as the communists suffocated Eastern Europe, private schools were nationalized in 1948. The priests faced imprisonment.

The Norbertine Abbey of Csorna saw two small groups of monks flee for the United States on different nights in July 1950, leaving the religious community to languish under communist suppression. In 1957, Cardinal James McIntyre invited the monks to teach at Santa Ana's Mater Dei High School, which was then part of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. About a year later, McIntyre allowed the priests to start a new foundation, one that would continue to practice their religious traditions.

In 1961, they bought their first property and opened St. Michael's Junior Seminary and Novitiate. Later, the school would start a college-preparatory program for lay students, and by the 1970s, St. Michael's thrived as a small high school, rather than a seminary, according to abbey history. By 1995, St. Michael's Abbey Preparatory School touted itself as the only one in the American west to provide an all-male residential study program for Catholics seeking a secondary education.

At the same time, St. Michael's Abbey sought to blend the traditions of old-school Catholicism with the best of modern teaching. St. Michael's became fully autonomous as an independent priory of the order in 1976, and in 1984, Rome elevated the community to abbatial status, according to the abbey.

It grew its community from a handful of members in 1961 to several dozen today. In its effort to expand over the past several years, St. Michael's scouted the county for a new location, including land off Ortega Highway. The new location keeps it in the neighborhood and is already zoned for a church and school. The priests say the hunt for a new home was brought on by the "geological instability of our present site in Trabuco Canyon." According to the abbey, a piece of its school building was lost in the El Niño downpour of 1998, and the school bled enrollment.

But the peaceful abbey has also been squeezed by housing tracts, and another proposed development, called Saddle Creek-Saddle Crest, loomed over it for years. The monks vow to keep half of the Holtz Ranch land as undeveloped open space, integrating gardens, orchards and gravel pathways among buildings made of wood, stone and other natural materials. They plan to keep the existing Holtz Ranch stacked-stone entry pillars and believe the project will complement the character of the canyon and become an area landmark.

Father Gregory Dick says canyon residents can expect "nothing different than what they've experienced from us in 50 years. It's not like we're blowing our horns by any means, [but] we've been [here] longer than most of the people in the canyons. It's also true that many people didn't even know we were up on the mountaintop, which speaks to itself."

The monks also say they have God on their side. The Reverend Eugene J. Hayes, the abbot at St. Michael's, wrote in a newsletter posted on their website that the Lord is leading the Norbertines to the land flowing with creeks and honeybees. "The Lord has a plan, and He knows what it is and how He will bring it about," he wrote. "All we must do is cooperate and receive the things He wills to give us. Ultimately, this is what our lives come down to: being generous in opening ourselves to receive the things the Lord wishes to give us, in being unstinting in our cooperation even when we don't see the larger picture, even when things don't make immediate sense to us. Because our Lord wants to give us more than we can fathom, and in preparing us to receive, He must often stretch our capacities—and stretching is challenging, painful and requires cooperation."

He—God, that is, and Hayes, for good measure—isn't getting much cooperation from many of the canyon people, though.

"It's completely out of place with a teeny, little, already-dangerous, very-busy road with lots of bicycles on the weekend," says Chay Peterson, a 25-year canyon resident and co-founder of the Canyon Land Conservation Fund. Peterson, 51, would like to see Holtz Ranch return to its natural state. She recalls the days when the Holtz family still visited the property on weekends, when there were remnants of old turkey cages and canyon residents would take photos with the family.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
41 comments
Grace O'Malley
Grace O'Malley

The Silverado folks should not be angry with St. Michael's Abbey. Instead, they should be angry with the Holtz family, who sold their farmland to developers years ago. If anyone wanted to keep that land vacant, they should have bought the land at that time & donated it to the city or county. The people who are complaining now should "put their money where their mouth is," buy that land from St. Michael's & donate it to the city of Silverado.

Lwalker
Lwalker

Eamador's one-day old blog (which is posted out of chronological order) says that his comments about the Abbey being a “sever injury and fatality, a cancer. . .” were misquoted. So if Mr. Amador is correct, did OCW libel him? Or if Mr. Amador is incorrect, and he did make that statement, perhaps Mr. Amador;s latest blog libels OCW! So OCW, any comment? Do you stand by Mr. Amador's quote in your article or was he misquoted?

Carynb
Carynb like.author.displayName 1 Like

I recently moved to the canyon, and I had no idea...How a community could except anyone with open arms. I have never seen it in my life time. The landscape is so serene, and breath taking, that you don't even realize you are home. I feel that every day. I just want outsiders to know that 1. the speed limit is 25...no matter if you are a car, walker, or bicker, cyclist. 2. don't touch. 3. Waive HI and enjoy the beauty that surrounds you

TBickley
TBickley

So Tom are you suggesting that the developed areas of OC are free from backward characters, alcoholics and drug addicts? You've got to be kidding me.

Tommcmurray
Tommcmurray

I absolutely welcome this development. Silverado Canyon has been "Left Behind" the rest of Orange County in terms of becoming a modern, safe, upstanding community. I drive my car, ride my bike and walk through this canyon every year. I have encountered many, many backward characters, from alcoholics to flat out drug addicts. Let the Development come! The Catholics will surely raise the spiritual well being of this backward canyon. Let's "Grow Up" Silverado Canyon. This time is now. Thomas MacMurray

Ed Teach
Ed Teach

In paragraph 5 of this article, the author mentions that the Holtz Family farmed their land from about 1900 to 1980. They ploughed the land, dug wells, planted orchards, raised crops, built barns & chicken coops, etc. In paragraph 14 the Holtz Ranch is described as "one of the last remaining pieces of O.C's wildlands." Wildland?!? The property has only been vacant for 32 years. What's so "wild" about that?

Jim Hook
Jim Hook like.author.displayName 1 Like

Saint Michael's Abbey has been around since A.D. 1180. They have survived fires, floods, wars, invasions, Muslims, Nazis, Communists. It looks like they have time on their side....

Ed Teach
Ed Teach

Saint Michael's Abbey mailing address (not location) has been "Silverado CA 92676" for many years. The only reason little Silverado Canyon still has a post office is because of the large amount of incoming mail for St. Michael's Abbey. Just ask the Post Office staff ... they will tell you. No ... actually they won't say anything ... they are afraid of getting their tires slashed & homes spray-painted by "environmentalists."

marty108
marty108

Ed, are you saying the church should fund our local post office for services because of the lack of taxes they pay that benefits the community?  I think your on to something.

Tibor Machan
Tibor Machan

It is not an invasion when you purchase land fair and square and build your abode on it. Calling it that is insulting--did you invade where you live now? Did your friends, parents, and so forth invade their current residences? Must you be of a certain religion these days to come to by property and live in Silverado Canyon?

Bob
Bob

It's equal opportunity.

Lwalker
Lwalker

If these Silverado people want to control everybody's use of the canyons, then we should stop supporting them every time they have a disaster. Let's stop spending county money up there and let them take care of their fires, floods and mudslides by themselves.

mesa short sales
mesa short sales

The Fullerton City Council's most recent action on the matter was to send the development agreement to voters in November. But this time, the canyon people insist they're ready.

mesa short sales
mesa short sales

The canyon people know each turn and can name the ghosts of those who once walked their dusty curves—and, along the way, built a little paradise among the oak trees, California poppies and Mariposa lilies.

Virginia
Virginia

While this is a very creative and entertaining piece of journalism it is quite unfortunate that it is written to entice the reader to believe that the opinion of ALL folks who live in the canyon is being represented. There is a very large, although silent majority of educated residents that love this canyon we call home but do believe in owner property rights. None of us want to see a typical downtown development, but threatening of property owners, the County, the Board of Supervisors etc. certainly isn't conducive to peaceful canyon living. These radical anti-development groups have already cost taxpayers thousand of dollars including putting the Silverado Modjeska Recreation Parks District at risk over a prior judgement against this property. Enough is enough many canyon residents say! We have already lost our school, restaurant, local canyon markets and our post office is in jeopardy of closing as we don't have a large enough population to support thriving commerce anymore. Quoting an odd statement in the article made by Mr. Amador, "It's real simple. It's a severe injury and fatality, a cancer the county's been put of alert about." One might respond by saying.... be careful what you wish for in threatening the County who provides resources and assistance especially during times of disaster. Silverado may soon be on the list of abandoned California Ghost Towns...

Eamador
Eamador

Virgina I was misquoted I did not say that and aplogize if you were upset. Tom Sismek and I are friends and we bumped into each other at the post office and we both agreed this article really put this issue "out there" but we were misquoted in the article.

Mike Kennedy
Mike Kennedy

A few years ago, my fiance, my two young kids and I started off on a hike up Black Star Canyon Road. After a few minutes, this guy in a pickup pulled alongside us and demanded to know what we were doing there. I politely told him we had checked beforehand and were told it was a public road, and we were just hiking. With that, he became very angry, jumped out of his truck and said, "Some people who have gone up this road have been shot at, and folks are pretty good shots out here." And with that, he pushed forward his truck's seat cushion to reveal a rifle. I told him we didn't want any trouble, and that we had read in the OC Register that it was a scenic hike, and we also checked beforehand with the Sheriff's Department. He said he didn't give a damn what the Sheriffs said, that they weren't welcome either. And so, we turned around and went back down the road as he shadowed us. I was scared, but mostly for my children and fiance. This guy was freaky. When we got to a phone, I called 911, but the Sheriff's Department said people were often threatened on that road by residents, that even Deputies had been threatened. I asked if they would send out a Deputy because of the guy brandishing a firearm, and they said no. That place is like another planet right in the middle of Orange County. Good luck to the Norbertine Fathers.

Protocel
Protocel

The canyon people know each turn and can name the ghosts of those who once walked their dusty curves—and, along the way, built a little paradise among the oak trees, California poppies and Mariposa lilies.

marty108
marty108

Yes we did, and that is exactly what we signed up for.  

fnpfan
fnpfan

So, an “open air museum” would be better than a secluded abbey? I’d take an abbey over a museum any day—a public attraction would obviously be worse for the traffic on the “teeny, little, already-dangerous, very-busy road with lots of bicycles on the weekend.”

Pat Hunt
Pat Hunt

What do I want to save our canyons from? From the real "terrorists" who want to cut down trees, grade hills, pollute streams, destroy natural habitats, drive away God's creatures and erase the beauty He created-all for profit. I enjoy sharing the beauty of the canyons with anyone who appreciates and respects this wonderful place we live in whether they are residents, bicyclists, hikers or just out for a drive. I feel truly blessed and believe we owe it to future generations to preserve this beautiful land we call home.

marty108
marty108

Well said Pat.  I don't think we are asking anything more or less then the way we live.  

 

Work around the environment don't make the environment work around you. 

 

Turn your lights off at night.

Tomsmisek
Tomsmisek

I am all for saving open space... buy it and save it. Don't expect property owners to pay taxes on land you would like to use Tom

I Remember
I Remember

As an appointed (NOT elected) parks board member, Tom, you really need to brush up on Measure M.

jac
jac

I highly encourage everyone to get their facts straight. St. Michael's Abbey has a wonderful website that includes scientific studies, renderings of propsed buildings, a Q&A section, a geological map that is quite interesting, and an invitation to visit the current Abbey. The monks are being more than generous in their offer to SMRPD in reference to the Rivera. The author of the article did research on how the Monks came to the US, but the research into the project was not reflected in the article. If the activists are quoting the Sil-Mod Plan,they need to refer to 2 sections in the plan. Page 1 paragraph 2 states"In calculating densities or lot sizes allowable under this plan, gross acreage should be used; all references to acreage in this text means GROSS acres. Then proceed to page 4 Section titled Planned Community Opportunities, the first sentence states "Three areas are identified for possible "Planned Communities" at higher densities than those on the Specific Plan Land Use Map: HOLTZ RANCH- Medium density (3.5-5.0 du/ac). Since the Holtz Ranch is 320 acres that means the Sil-Mod Plan allows 1120 to 1600 residences to be built on the ranch. Most "Planned Communities" also have churches, schools and athletic fields within them. Be happy the Abbey is not looking to build what they are allowed to under the Sil-Mod Plan because no one wants what the plan actually allows. The Holtz Ranch is zoned Agi-1. Under that current zoning Churches, Schools and Sports fields are allowed. You can oppose the Abbey being built on the Holtz Ranch but do it based upon other reasons then it violates the Sil-Mod Plan because it doesn't. Also, don't say you are the voice of the canyon, as there are most likely more people in the canyon that you do not represent.

Eamador
Eamador

In 2010 the Inter Cyn League sent Sheriff Hutchins a letter stating canyon roads including the one to the Abbey project is on are: "Hazardous, narrow... creates dangerous/disruptive conditions for motorist and bicylist" With the Abbey's total capacity for car traffic is for 726 people. This increases a dangerous condition Both the OC General Plan and the Sil-Mod Plan agree that the Canyons "shall" remain rural in character. Increasing a dangerous traffic condition is not rural in character.

missmolly
missmolly

I didn’t know this was going on, so I really appreciate the coverage and the detailed background information. After taking all of it in… I’m still having trouble understanding what the big deal is. There’s obviously no shortage of passion, not to mention different perspectives, in this community, but it seems they’re making a mountain out of a molehill. The Fathers want to create a place of solitude and keep over half of the site as open space? Makes a lot of sense to me.

Month5
Month5

You haven't read their plan. Housing for students whose parents will be dropping them off and pick them up every weekend, housing for 85 men less than half of whom will be working on sight, the rest commute to jobs of site or are unaccounted for, 250 to 300 attendees at Sunday services, too many building to count when you start looking at maintenance buildings and other support structures, an screening the beautiful existing view from the road. Most of the traffic will be on weekends which is when the road is busiest with bicycles, motorcycles, and other outdoor enthusiasts. They claim to want to be good neighbors, but their actions speak louder than their words.

DC Wooldridge
DC Wooldridge

Gym, high school, athletic fields. Doesn't sound much like cloistered monks busy growing grapes in some Sound of Music narvana. Traffic will clog the Canyons already busy roads. John Michael Covas is right about the impact on county resources and the need to move cautiously without playing follow the leader.

Gina
Gina

We’re talking about a reclusive group of monks like they’re a threat to our existence. Emotions run high when people’s homes and quality of life are involved, but honestly, I can’t think of a better occupant for that land. I think time will show all the sky-is-falling rhetoric is silly.

marty108
marty108

Please turn your lights off at night so we can see the stars.  That's what some of are asking for.  

 

We all should be able to view the window into the gods. 

RT
RT

There are clearly two sides to every story. Tom Smisek thoughtfully represented the opinions of many reasonable folks in the canyons who believe that the Fathers are a great fit for both this property and this community. Thank you, Tom, for telling our side of the story and giving us a voice.

Eamador
Eamador

Look there is Measure M Funds to help the Norbertine Fathers. These poor guys have fell in the same trap the last 3 major developers have : The County tells the developer its ok to build but the local taxpayers and homeowners say: "NO!" This has been happening since 1977. A Conservation alternative is needed as local land use policy is very poorly handled in rural Orange County.

JohnMichael Covas
JohnMichael Covas

One thing that no one has mentioned is the fact that the property while valued at $6.1 million (according to the OC Weekly) is now off the tax rolls because religious organizations pay no real estate taxes in California. If the property were assessed at anywhere near that figure the county would collect some where in the neiborshood of sixty grand in taxes. The property will probably house close to a hundred and fifty residents (including the students) and will consume scarce county resources for law enforcement, fire protection and other general fund disbursements. That means in reality that either services are going to be reduced because of lack of money or that the money is going to be made up by increased real estate taxes on the residents of the canyon. That's not very neighborly, Abbot Hayes. I have lived in silverado canyon for almost 40 years and I know Tom Smisek and let me point out that Mr. Smisek, the self-appointed honorary sheriff of silverado, has never met at development project in these canyons that he didn't like.

Lora Roberts
Lora Roberts

go build a commercial building some where commercial, not rural..........if houses are too much for the environment,, then this certainly is...

Hmgrande
Hmgrande

Unfortunately the plan for the Norbertine development is extremely unsympathetic to the site and the character of the canyons. Incredibly poor site planning turned what could have been a project (on a smaller scale) that the community might have welcomed. One that was spread and more hidden that better preserved the land and made the development blend in to the environment. The strip mall mentality of the current plan is boiler plate. I am commenting as a planning professional with a Masters Degree in Urban and Regional Planning and a specialty in Environmental Planning. I think we all would prefer the site to be donated as open space to save the remaining habitat. However, posting no tresspassing signs, requiring lease agreements for parking for events on the Riveria are further alienating residents away from this development as is the plan. I hope we are saving the canyons for future generations so others can enjoy the lifestyle that is quickly disappearing in the OC. I like most others would like to see the Ranch remain undeveloped. And by the way, I am a Catholic.

truth=peace
truth=peace

Obviously, an ant walking across the landscape needs an acre to move!! Come on. I think there is more bigotry here than meets the eye. If a school for Environmentalism was put on this site in the same exact format as the monks layout (who by the way - own the property) you would all change your tune. Sounds like the "ant" or in this case "frog" is more important than a human? Hmmm. What creatures are inhibited by your dwellings being where they are in the canyon? The shoe is on the other foot now!

Chalynn Marie Peterson
Chalynn Marie Peterson

It is easier to throw out the term "NIMBY" than it is to sit down and look at the facts. OC open space is shrinking acre by acre. Someone needs to hold back the dozers and keep balance. The environmentally minded canyon residents also happen to be the hosts of the recreational hikes, rides & nature walks, as well as outreach events that lure the city dwellers out of their stucco homes and into the woods.

Chalynn Marie Peterson
Chalynn Marie Peterson

Great in depth article Josh...wow...did your homework! Funny how Tom sees environmentalists as "whackos" who wouldn't bat an eyelash at endangering their reputations and jobs for childish malicious activity. Surprised he didn't give his usual response "Bigger houses make better people". I do hope that Todd Spitzer comes out in favor of our specific plans and helps OC Planning remember their role in developing the plans with the people of the canyons. We need to start seeing the land through the eyes of the creatures who need it for survival and also people like Joel Robinson who teach others to love and respect it...it is the last of the wild OC.

Ed Teach
Ed Teach

The Holtz Ranch is "... the last of the wild OC"??? It was a farm/ranch for 80 years. It has only been vacant for 32 years. You call that "wild"?

L May
L May

Thanks, Tom. Nice to know you draw the line somewhere. Everyone, chant with Tom and me "no Walmarts in Silverado!". It would be nice if people who don't support the Sil-Mod Specific Plan would stop the name calling. The biggest myth about those of us who seek to preserve the Specific Plan is that "we got ours and don't want anyone else out here". NOT TRUE! New residents are welcomed with open arms. In the 16 years I've lived here there have always been houses for sale. Nobody is stopping anyone from buying one of those. What we don't like is someone moving in here because the love the rural nature so much, then want to change it all.

 
Loading...