Whether the name conjures visions of cheesecakes or has a more spiritual meaning to you, New Skete’s history is as vast and interesting as the rest of Washington County’s!
This peaceful sanctuary was founded in 1966 and now provides a place where men and women can explore the deepest meaning in life as monastics, or as visitors. As members of the Orthodox Church in America, an Eastern Orthodox Christian church, the monks and nuns of New Skete follow a daily rhythm of prayer, worship, work, study, and leisure. But their history is connected with a desire to live a contemporary monastic life.
Arriving at Two Top Mountain
In the 1960s, a group of men under the leadership of Father Laurence separated from a small community of Byzantine-Rite Franciscans based in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Connections with other monks and community members helped this group to establish roots, first in a loaned hunting lodge in Northwestern Pennsylvania then to a small farm near Shushan where the small farmhouse became a monastery and living quarters for the monks.
With the help of local farmers and by utilizing the property’s existing barns, the men began farming, raising animals, and smoking meats and cheeses as a means of supporting their endeavors and providing daily sustenance. But the first Washington County location, situated along a town road and near a recreational lake, didn’t provide the solitude required for the desired “contemplative atmosphere.” This led the monks to their current property at Two Top Mountain where they began construction in the Fall of 1967.
A few years later, shared Franciscan roots and the same desire to start afresh brought the first sisters to New Skete at Two Top Mountain. The group of five Poor Clare nuns from Evansville, Indiana was committed to bringing monastic life into the 20th century. Upon connecting with Fr. Laurence, the former abbot and founder of New Skete, the sisters journeyed to Cambridge and soon established their monastery four miles down the road from the monks.
Like the brothers, the nuns got to work in the area, cleaning houses and working at the local hospital to save for their new monastery. By 1971 the sisters were able to move into the building where they could live, worship, and work, painting icons, sewing vestments, and doing upholstering and slipcover work. Some also helped with the monks’ German Shepherd breeding and training program.
From Farming and Housekeeping to Cheesecakes and German Shepards
What began with a beloved pet, the New Skete Dog Training program is celebrated and recommended by veterinarians all over the world. With books, training programs, courses for trainers, and even an Animal Planet TV show, the New Skete Monks are leaders of the pack, so to speak, when it comes to training.
In the early days of the monastery the Monks were given their first dog, a German Shepherd named Kir. Through their bond, and the connections with all their farm animals, the brothers began studying the sciences of breeding and training dogs.
By the 1980s, the brothers’ methods of training were revolutionary, especially in an industry that mostly used punishment and the obedience-driven model directed at show dogs. Today they remain leaders in training and breeding, with multi-year waitlists and celebrity clients, but they also continue to publish books with the latest research and methods for dog owners who can’t get to the training facility.
The cheesecakes baked by the nuns may be just as sought-after but are certainly easier to get your hands on. Around the same time the dog training methodology took off, so did the bakery business at the Nuns’ monastery. With the completion of a streamlined bakery and the perfect recipe, the nuns have perfected their many flavors of gourmet cheesecakes and other goodies produced in their monastery!
New Skete Events and Trails
Itching to get a taste or experience the calming gardens and inspiring churches?
Local visitors are welcome Tuesday through Sunday to explore the monks’ churches, gardens, bell tower, and hiking trails or to stop in and shop at either gift shop for liturgical books and music, desserts, gifts, and more. Self-guided tour brochures are available at the bell tower, but leave your four-legged friends at home. All are welcome to attend worship services or make a retreat. Tours are also available for groups of 10 or more by appointment.
New Skete’s annual Open House, hosted in conjunction with the Cambridge Valley Hot Air Balloon Festival, is June 3, 2023, with guided tours, training and socialization demonstrations, plus the opportunity to tour the nuns’ bakery!
Later in the year, New Skete hosts the Blessing of the Animals! Don’t miss this unique, spiritual event in celebration of the Feast of Saint Francis (September 30, 2023).