Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ever Try Building a Monastery?

Sister Charitas and Sister Agnes at what would become our front entrance
 You haven’t really lived until you do!  That is, if you do survive to tell the tale.  On Thursday, January 30th, we celebrated our 10th anniversary of our transfer from our old monastery in Newport News to our present location in Barhamsville.  As is now our time honored custom, during our evening recreation period us old timers reminisced about our great move for our own enjoyment as well as for the benefit of the new comers who did not have the good fortune to be born into our monastic family in time to experience these “moving events”. (Pun intended)  Here are some excerpts from our newsletters of 2004 which give some idea of how it was:

Many years ago, within the format of one of our newsletters, we showed you (in words) our monastery photo album.  The response was enthusiastic, and so we want to show you a few photos from the past six months. 

The first is entitled Dateline: Jan. 30 - How did we ever do it?  It is moving day and the last contingent of bedraggled, more-than-tired sisters have just come through the kitchen door to be welcomed by the other eleven.  You see them seated around a small wobbly table, just used by three other groups in turn.  With our usual monastic schedule quite disrupted, they are having their first meal in Barhamsville.  We are happy the unusual cuisine, the paper and plastic ware, and the general disorder you see, are things of the past.

This photo we called “Poor Clare late-Winter fashions.”  This group photo was taken outside the library on the second floor after we painted our way through the corridors around the quadrangle.  Workmen from every trade are maneuvering around us, and we around them to meet some imminent deadlines.  You see us all in colorful paint-splattered sweatshirts, which our foreman, Jim Grace, had gone off to purchase for us because the heating system was not yet fully engaged. Adding to the unusual pallet of hues are the old faded habits, paint smocks, and sneakers we donned for the operation.

For the free-of-heart, love is the great stabilizer in the midst of throes.  Much has been shared about the great move that was completed by January 30th, meaning that we were all under our new roof, even if without heat in the dorm, or hot water, or telephone service.  These were easy to compensate for, at least that night, with a huge, happy feeling of accomplishment.  No one really needed warm water or central heating to sleep that night.  A few days later, we celebrated the feast of our Mother St. Colette and in his homily Father Russell Smith urged us to look at our beginnings (that is, our Founders) and stretch their graces into our own day.  He reminded us that we were at a defining moment - a moment of fidelity.  Little by little, over the coming weeks, the army of workers, still finishing up parts of the monastery, diminished and the wrinkles of much disruption began to smooth out. 

Little did we know back then that those “wrinkles” would take about eight years to “smooth out”!  A monastery is a living thing, so development, improvement and adjustment continue, though at a much more serene pace.  Our cloister courtyard is a good place to see the changes for the better on the material plane.  We hope that it symbolizes the living growth of our Poor Clare community here on Mt. St. Francis.

Cloister Courtyard 2004
Cloister Courtyard 2014

On this feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we thank God for giving us a temple where we can live and praise Him.  The psalmist says, “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain to its builders labor”.  We can testify after ten blessed years that the Lord indeed has built this house. May the candle of our Poor Clare life ever burn brightly in the Church!

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