Just a stone’s throw away from downtown Loveland, Ohio sits a cluster of turn-of-the-century barns and houses. These empty buildings used to be a working farm and spiritual retreat founded by two Dutch women and 16 other U.S. Grail members 80 years ago, in 1940. The Grail is a women's movement that grew out of the Catholic church, and the women of the Grail had a vision for world peace, justice and renewal of the earth.
“The Grail in Grailville was a reflection of the times, and in the 1940’s and the 1950’s there weren’t a lot of options for women,” says Noreen Wilhelm, former National Director of the Grail in the United States. “Young Catholic women could get married, join a convent, or join the Grail and see the world.”
Young women between the ages of 18 and 25 would come to the farm to live and attend what they called The Year School, creating an expanding community of women working towards a vision of social justice and world peace.
“It’s not like joining the League of Women Voters. It’s not like joining the Art Institute,” Wilhelm says. “ You make a commitment. You make a commitment of your life into the Grail. You make a commitment to the women who are a part of your Grail group.”
Rose Mary Clark’s been a member of the Grail since 1967, Barbara Gibbons since 1957. Rose Mary and Barbara first experienced Grailville as teenagers at church summer camps, and later came back to attend the Year School, which focused on spiritual deepening and training of the Grail values. The women lived and worked on the farm while attending classes.
“It was a four hundred acre farm, and we did the farming. We plowed the fields and picked the tomatoes…” Rose Mary says. “At the time I was there, there were more or less a hundred and twenty people in and out. There were people from all over the world, which gave us a global view. Which in the 1960’s was not prevalent I don’t want to give the idea that we spent all of our time working the farm. We worked the farm so we would have food to eat, and we processed all of our food. We also took classes. I was in religious education.”
“I was in the music area because that was my main love,” says Barbara. "We did all the liturgy, we made a couple of records. When I got my college degree in music I came back to Grailvillle and was on staff for two years directing the music there. Those are my most fun times.”
Much of the old Grailville farmland has been put into a conservation trust with the Clermont County Parks Department, and the local school district is looking into purchasing the 100 acres that contain the old buildings for a new elementary school. But across the street from the old Grailville farm sits the new Grailville.
“[The Oratory] was originally a cattle barn, and 1812 cattle barn,” says Terrie Puckett, the current director, looking around the room where wooden beams reach up to the ceiling, framing the long two story room. "On the floor, where church pews would usually be, it’s wide open. It’s set up today with our indoor labyrinth. To meditate, to sit, to walk the labyrinth, and just as a getaway space that’s calm."
Grailville now consists of this barn and a handful of other buildings on 75 acres of the former property. It’s evolved with the times and currently serves as a land lab, business incubator, and community meeting rooms for nonprofits, women-owned start ups, and environmental groups.
“The majority of our members are over the age of 65. It used to be if you were over 25, you were too old, “ says Terrie. “Well the type of woman who comes to the Grail these days is very different from that 19 year old looking to serve the world, right? When Barbara, when Rose Mary, when they came into the Grail it was a lifetime commitment, and there were some questions about whether you could be married and have a family and have a job and do it. Now it’s assumed you do have all those things, so it’s a different feel.”
Although the Year School, which was the center of the old Grailville, no longer exists, Grailville is still a place about building community. This summer Terrie worked with a group of young volunteers.
“We reached out to different high schools and colleges, people we knew, and we had fifteen workers between the ages of 13 and 22. And it was this amazing three plus months where there were young people working and learning about the Grail and being a part of that messaging. And I see a glimpse - a tiny glimmer - of what it must have been like in 1944 when they had 120 young women of that age, running about on the property.”
The Grail will be celebrating its 80th anniversary in the U.S. in 2020. The Grailville hiking trails throughout the property and the indoor labyrinth are open to the public year round during daylight hours.