They weren't the usual Abbey Guesthouse clientele. Two families, each with children in tow, were clustered in the lobby, ready to say goodbye to their sons. The sons were staying to begin their first year at Saint John's University, and the families were about to head to the airport to catch flights back to their homes in Southern California.
This scene defies the stereotype of what most people expect to find at a monastery guesthouse. Yet, this was just one of many scenarios that planners anticipated when the Abbey Guesthouse opened in December 2006. Above all they saw the need for flexibility that would allow it to serve formal retreat groups and individuals seeking quiet time. Beyond that, it had to serve the Abbey, the University and the many other entities at Saint John's. For that reason the thirty rooms were split between quiet and more social zones; but each could supplement the other in time of need.
At ten years the Guesthouse gets high marks for its design, for its lovely views of the lake and woods, and for its cuisine. Likewise it has settled into its service to groups and individuals seeking time out from busy lives. But how has it fared in meeting the needs of other departments at Saint John's?
To date the Guesthouse has fulfilled a dizzying array of requests from people connected to the University. It is not at all uncommon, for example, to meet alumni who have returned for a visit to the University. For the vast majority it's the first night they've spent on campus since graduation. For many it is a chance to reconnect with a place that figured prominently in their own development.
Then there are those who make use of the facility to attend University functions, including lectures, concerts or athletic events. The demand varies, but on football weekends reservations are a challenge, especially when the competition plans well in advance. Just ask the couple from California who attended every home game during the four years when their son was at Saint John's.
On the academic side, the Guesthouse regularly houses visiting researchers at HMML, guest speakers and prospective faculty who are on campus for interviews. It's also provided meeting spaces and meals for University departmental meetings. And perhaps its most significant service to the University has been its ability to house in a single facility members of the Board of Trustees, on campus for their quarterly meetings.
And what has been the most unusual request to come to the reservations office? Perhaps that honor goes to the alumnus and his wife who booked all the rooms for the celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary.
On its tenth anniversary the Guesthouse has started to feel like it has always been here. Still, it's a facility no one takes for granted, and that is a fitting tribute to the planners and the donors who brought it into being.
Inside the Guesthouse is a board of honor that lists all those whose financial support made the project possible. The well-informed will recognize names that are friends of the Abbey and various friends of the University. Each gave for particular reasons, but together they brought into being a facilility that sits at the heart of the campus and embodies the spirit of hospitality. At Saint John's that remains -- as always -- a core value.