Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception - The First "Good-bye"

The Redemptoristine Nuns of Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery celebrate today the 54th anniversary of their arrival at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus, New York.  Six sisters came from Canada (three US citizens) at the invitation of the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorist Congregation of priests and brothers to establish the first American monastery of their contemplative order on property surrounding the major seminary of the congregation. It was December 7, 1957, a time when these sisters were still accustomed to complete enclosure and therefore quite overcome by their entrance into the seminary chapel where they were greeted by all the gathered students and faculty and ushered to the front row to participate in Solemn Benediction. Two sisters still speak of the bishop they saw standing behind the students in the entry foyer. Later, in questioning the Redemptorists about this bishop they learned that no bishop was present. Could it have been the spirit of Bishop John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-1860), Redemptorist Bishop of Philadelphia? They will not know until they reach the other side. On this auspicious note began the long story of close relationship between the Redemptorists and our community of Redemptoristines sharing this park-like environment of 400 acres on the banks of the Hudson River.

Tonight we will celebrate the Vigil Office of Readings for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mother in the chapel of our monastery. We have invited the clergy and religious of our area, our lay associates and a few other friends to the first of our efforts to bid farewell to this home and to the people we have come to know so well in this place. Although the location of our new home remains a question we do know that we will be relocating some time in the spring.  

In 2001 we moved into this new building and saw the old monastery go down. We salvaged its cornerstone but made no attempt to open the stone in which, it was said, a box of memorabilia had been placed. A few months ago we thought it about time to do the deed. While quite spoiled by moisture the collection we found reflected the community and the piety of its members. Evidence indicated that individual sisters had placed particular items into the metal box. The collection included a relic of our foundress Maria Celeste Crostarosa, a framed picture of Mother of Perpetual Help, holy cards, scapulars, a crucifix, ten different medals honoring Jesus, Mary and the saints. There were also the remains of a 1958 issue of Perpetual Help Magazine published in Canada and featuring photographs taken inside the enclosure of the Canadian Redemptoristine monastery. Most interesting was a copy of the leaflet given to guests who came to the open-house of the then new monastery from June 19-26, 1960. The sisters say they were exhausted by those days of meeting and greeting and escorting people through the building - a last opportunity for lay people to see the inside of the monastery before the enclosure was officially established.

You will note the strong emphasis on separation and enclosure. Today, as we will do so with joy this evening, we freely mingle with our guests praying with us in chapel, learning our charism as associates, seeking spiritual direction or just entiring into the quite of contemplation in this holy place. 

Tonight we will pray with our friends honoring Mary, a source of strength. We will deepen our collective journey into Advent time. We will enjoy some refreshments afterward in our large gathering space just outside chapel. It will be our pleasure to thank those gathered for their friendship and support. Time marches on and history too with the hand of God beckoning, calling us into the unknown with the promise of divine companionship.

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