Delafield, Wisconsin Nestled in a wooded area it sits, the sounds of prayer filtering from its walls. It is a place of learning and piety, peaceful in its setting in God’s country. On its campus priests, monks, and laymen debate and revel in religion, instilling traditional values and giving glory, all the while sharpening their minds and souls. For a student walking the grounds, there is a presence, holy and serene, that makes the old church at Nashotah Lake the very definition of a seminary. There were, however, darker times, when piety was cast aside for at least one. And though such times are not often seen in the brochures shown to prospective students, one cannot escape history.
In many cases the definitive cause of a haunting is a matter of vague conjecture. True, a person may have died a violent death or may have had unfinished business, but the actual reason why he is tied to the earthly plane remains, at best, guesswork. There also seems to be a distinct division in people’s beliefs as to what happens to a soul after death. In the case of Nashotah House and Seminary, there are no such questions.
In 1841 three newly ordained deacons traveled into the western frontier of America to spread their religious beliefs and build a mission. Arriving on the banks of Nashotah Lake, they knew their journey was over. They began construction of a single red church, which was completed within a year.
It did not take long before the little Wisconsin chapel became a gathering place, not only for community worship but also for others who wished to follow the footsteps of the original three and dedicate their lives to the service of the church. Five years after its construction, the little church was granted a charter from the Wisconsin territorial legislature as a college of “piety and learning.” It held true to its beginnings, its mission being to prepare men and women to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
However, as in modern times, no man can avoid human nature, and often such nature meets with deadly results.
In 1852 a young monk named Daniel Pope was found hanged in his room. Although there was no note, and there was no indication that Pope ever even contemplated his own death, the hanging was ruled a suicide. As suicide is considered a mortal sin, the monk’s body could not be interred on the holy ground of the seminary. His body was instead placed in a plain pine box and buried in a nearby cornfield, where his grave stood marked but untended for many years.
Twenty years later, on his deathbed, another monk confessed to murdering Pope. His reasons were never made clear, though over the years there have been rumors that a woman, and some impure thoughts and actions, were involved. At first, and for unknown reasons, the church refused to move the body, lending credence to the theory of lustful thoughts being the motive behind the murder. The refusal coincides with the first reported sightings of the “Black Monk.”
After a few years the decision was made to give Daniel Pope his rightful resting place. However, when the dead monk’s grave was exhumed, they discovered his casket was empty.
Though not the only restless soul to haunt the seminary, Daniel Pope, the Black Monk, is by far the best known. A New York Times story published in 1902 detailed a sighting of the dark-robed figure at the funeral of one of the founders, Rev. James Lloyd Breck. He appears solid enough, say those that have seen him, but where others wear brown robes, most with the hoods pulled back, Pope stalks the grounds and halls wearing a robe of black, the hood pulled over his head, obscuring his face. Students and faculty alike have reported seeing the apparition, confident that he is still seeking his rightful place of burial on consecrated ground.
Another spirit reported to haunt the hallways of the seminary is that of an early dean named Azel Cole, who died in 1886. In an account in 1983 the daughter of seminarian told of an apparition that approached her in a hallway, silent and reverent. She recognized the former dean from an old picture.
The haunting persists still, but, rather than be frightened, the seminarians appear to embrace their spiritual residents. Many feel that the presences reinforce the spirituality and holiness of the seminary. In point of fact, the seminary’s football team is named “The Black Monks.”
Halloween, often decried and shunned by traditional religion, is a big event at the seminary, as Nashotah House plans traditional activities for the more than fifty children of the seminarians who live on the campus. Tractor hay rides and trick-or-treating are both annual events, followed by cider and doughnuts for the children.
The Black Monk keeps to his own schedule, having been sighted at nearly every hour in every part of the seminary at every time of year. Similarly, Azel Cole, though not sighted often, does not appear to have any set schedule. Whether seen or not, those who live at the seminary claim their presences are always felt.
The seminary offers courses at a regular schedule and provides tours of the campus for prospective students. They also offer special one-week intensive courses on a variety of spiritual subjects.
When passing through, if one sees a monk dressed in black robes, it’s usually best to step aside and let him pass.
See you in two weeks!
Original artwork by Bill "Splat" Johnson