For many years Fr. Clifford Stevens, a priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, had a dream of establishing a contemplative, cloistered order of monks whose principal work would be cultivation of a personal intimacy with God. During his many travels over the years, Father Stevens continually kept an eye open for a site on which to begin building the physical plant that would become Tintern Monastery, and the foundation for his new religious community of men. While pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Parish at Neligh and St. Theresa Parish at Clearwater in the late seventies, he discovered what he believed to be the perfect site some ten miles away from Neligh, near Oakdale. Most Reverend Daniel E. Sheehan, the Archbishop of Omaha at that time, granted permission for Fr. Stevens to begin officially the work of founding the monastic community and the monastery that would be its home. Through the generosity of donors he was able to purchase the land and then, while pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in nearby Tilden, to build a barn-shaped monastery on it, naming it "Tintern" after an ancient abbey in Wales.
Construction on the barn monastery began in 1984 by John Frey and sons of Tilden with assistance from many of Fr. Stevens' supporters. This original home of the Monks of Tintern consisted of four monastic cells, kitchen, refectory (dining room), office, guest bedroom, pantry, and storage areas on the main floor. The second floor was dominated by the monastic chapel and also included a small sacristy and library.
While the building included many modern conveniences, visitors and prospective monks experienced a sense of the rustic and the austere as they approached the building. The exterior and the interior were finished in rough-cut Minnesota pine, and the furniture constructed by the Freys was made of soft yellow pine. The building was dedicated and the chapel consecrated by Archbishop Sheehan, with many priests of the Archdiocese of Omaha and beyond concelebrating the dedication Mass on May 22, 1985.
In September of 1987 NBC broadcast a short segment about the monastery on its Nightly News program. William Yoor, an engineer based in Baltimore, thus learned of Tintern's existence and became an enthusiastic supporter. In 1988, noting that steady attendance at Sunday Mass in the upstairs chapel by members of the public were jeopardizing the privacy of the future monastic community, Yoor drew plans for a new six-sided chapel and adjoining guest quarters which would restrict the public's access to the barn. He developed a scale model which he brought to Tintern and showed to Fr. Stevens. The following year, construction began on the new chapel and guest wing, built by Yoor, Frey & Sons Construction, neighbors, friends, and benefactors. The chapel's sanctuary, finished in a Southwest Spanish style with niches and built-in benches, was executed by Sr. Giotto Moots, O.P. of San Ysidro, New Mexico. Archbishop Sheehan presided at a Mass on September 30, 1990, when the chapel was dedicated to St. Joseph.
In 1991, Father Stevens for health reasons took a leave of absence away from his foundling monastery and the archdiocese. Since the monastery was vacant, Archbishop Sheehan extended an invitation to yet another newly formed religious community to occupy Tintern, The Societies of the Sons and Daughters of the Father (known as the Patrists) from Singapore. The group of 16 men and women arrived at Tintern on February 22, 1992. Fr. Douglas L Rowe, a former Jesuit from India, and Sr. Naomi Miranda were the co-founders of the new society, whose purpose included retreat work and mission activities. The co-founders, along with Archbishop Sheehan, received the temporary religious vows of the 14 male and female novices in the Chapel of St. Joseph on December 21, 1993. The new religious community soon realized that the space at Tintern was too small to adequately house the community and facilitate the mission they were founded to accomplish. Plans were made to make yet another addition to the former monastery. The Patrists built a large, two-story addition on the premises, assisted again by Frey and Sons Construction. Internal conflicts within the newly formed community resulted in its dissolution by the Most Reverend Elden Francis Curtiss, who had succeeded Archbishop Sheehan on June 28, 1993.
Tintern remained vacant for a period of nearly two years after dissolution of the Patrists. A few friends of Tintern maintained the property and found occasional use for the facility. The "Patrist addition" remained largely unfinished and unused. Eventually, as monies became available, work was begun to make that portion of the facility usable for small group retreats.
Fr. Stevens returned in the spring of 1995, intending to continue the work that he had started a decade before. In the years of his absence, however, the support base that he had acquired during the beginnings of his foundation had begun to wane. Recognizing the good work that had been done with youth retreats, he began to discuss the possibility of selling Tintern Monastery to an individual or group interested in developing the facility as a regional retreat center. The only condition of the sale was that the property maintain its Roman Catholic identity.
The sale of the property was completed in May of 1997. The Monks of Tintern, Inc., transferred ownership of the monastery property to Tintern Retreat Center, LLC, an anonymous group of investors interested in spiritual renewal, especially for youth. The member investors intended that Tintern become a retreat center but did not wish to be involved in the day-to-day operation of the facility. This brought together yet another group of interested individuals from throughout northeast Nebraska who believed in the need for a center of spiritual renewal in the region and also desired to see Tintern become a viable entity. These individuals established a corporation for the purposes of operation and chose the name Tintern Retreat and Resource Center, Inc. The twelve-member Board of Directors elected Mark Jackson of Hartington as its first president, and Bernard Starman of Elgin was hired as the first facility manager.
The first retreat was a five-day youth camp sponsored by Holy Trinity Catholic Church of Hartington, Nebraska, in July of 1997.