Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Contemplative Nuns Relocate

Announcing Our Move:
The Story of Our Process
and Our Hopes for the Future

It has seemed an extraordinarily long time in coming. We are grateful for the support, patience and advice offered to us by so many. We are particularly grateful to our Redemptorist brothers who have so generously contributed to our ability to move into our own home.

With the help of God we will move to
4 Jersey Street
in East Rutherford, New Jersey during the last week of May. This urban residential location may appear to be a very surprising choice. Some background for our decision-making in this regard can be reviewed in an article posted to this blog a few months back, “Monastic Architecture: The Household of God”.

We learned just one year ago that we would have to move from Mount St. Alphonsus. The search began. The list of our particular needs was great; among them many factors which do not figure into the considerations of a regular family.

The monastic pilgrim travels two inseparable parallel paths in a journey of self-abandonment and interior transformation into Christ; the way of prayer and the avenue that is life in community. Within the enclosure created to support and protect a life of intensive intimacy with God and intensity of relationship with a stable group, all of the functions of the monastic household are carried out twenty four hours a day, seven days a week within a fixed group of members. Unlike the nuclear family or the small group of apostolic religious living together, the contemplative monastic residence must have room for everyone to do everything together most of the time. No members will be off to a ball game or have a late night at the office. No one will go out to work. No one can arrive home after a long hard day and announce their departure to take in dinner and movie with a friend. These realities determine architectural form. The dining room and community room (living room) have to be larger than one might expect. Anyone whose work for the community requires a private office space has to have one within the confines of the monastery. The income generating work of the community, whatever it may be, will call for considerable space, the equivalent of a small manufacturing enterprise including materials storage, assembly, shipping, ordering, etc. All of the members of the community will share the work of maintaining the household. Cooking, cleaning, communication, greeting and housing guests, and scheduling, to name a few typical household tasks, also affect the need for space within the enclosure. In addition, just as the nuclear family has a role in educating its young members so does the monastic family. Like any good parent, the monastic community seeks to provide sufficient resources as well space for instruction and study to equip and inspire new members for the life they have chosen. Monastic structures are designed to provide for both this intensive life in community and the solitary search for God which is the vocation of each member.  

In addition to these considerations was the desire to have daily Mass in our own chapel (something many contemplative communities are doing without), handicapped accessibility, building condition, supportive surrounding community.

In our process we personally inspected many sites and thoroughly investigated others via the Internet and lengthy phone conversations with realtors. We walked through private homes, a bed and breakfast inn, a former mansion built by one of the Ringling brothers, former novitiates and retreat houses and cast our net as far as West Virginia.

Last October we received a call from a young priest at Most Sacred Heart Church in Wallington, NJ. His godmother is a friend of our community and she had appealed to him to call us because the church’s former convent (sold in 1983 to the Franciscan friars) was on the market. He offered a rundown more complete than any realtor’s. And we were off.

Built in 1963, this unusually large parish convent has never been empty or neglected. The Franciscans maintained it as a friary, development offices and headquarters for the St. Anthony Guild. As does any venerable building of the 1960s, it requires regular tender loving care and watchfulness. But sturdy it is and commodious. The property is long and narrow running from corner to corner on a short block. Directly across the street from the chapel end of the building on Paterson is Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in the town of Wallington which is the third largest concentration of Polish-Americans in the nation.

From the first floor entrance visitors will have access to two parlors, the chapel, a meeting room and a half bath. The enclosure on the first floor includes community room, prioress’ office, library, dining room, kitchen (newly modernized), walk-in pantry, a large bedroom with a private bath and two half baths, one handicapped accessible. At the rear, near the pantry is an exit to a ramp for the handicapped and access to a two-car unattached garage and drive way with parking room. Two sets of French doors lead from the public meeting room to a large raised concrete patio facing a small back yard. And the chapel – just the right size - exposed brick throughout with beautiful stained glass windows. There are two sacristy rooms.

The second floor has 11 bedrooms. Original small bedrooms were modified into five large rooms with private baths. There are three sets of small rooms with connecting doors and three single small rooms. None of these have private baths. However two bathrooms on the hall were recently remodeled, one totally handicapped accessible.

The basement offers a large sewing room for our cape department with a smaller room adjacent for storage and CSsR habit department. This level also includes space for archives and computers as well as a laundry room and half bath.

The adaptations already made to the building support our use and save us expense. However, there is much to be done: handicapped ramp to chapel in place of three shallow steps in the hall; modifications to first floor bedroom bath for accessibility and safety; painting; security system; dual burning furnace needs to be changed from oil to natural gas; bathtubs changed to showers in some bathrooms; more interior lighting for safety; and repair or replacement of existing chair lift to second floor and installation of another to the basement. And these are only the most immediate. We have a two-year plan, a five-year plan, etc. To achieve all of this, we have been working with an architect, building contractor, and countless other professionals.

Not only do these items carry a price tag but so does the house itself. In this regard we have received tremendous assistance from the Redemptorists. However, as first time home buyers, without any equity from a previous home sale, we have had to enter into the realm of home financing. In order to pay off this debt we will be launching a major fund-raising campaign. We have applied for and received grants for remodeling and handicapped adaptation but grants are not available to help with purchase loans! Therefore we will depend on the generosity of others and the small income we generate. To this end we are developing a new website. Its ‘home page’ is already up on the Internet and has a Pay Pal “Donate” button for those who feel comfortable making a contribution on-line. Here's the current link: http://www.redemptoristinenunsofnewyork.org/

What cannot be left out of the recommendations for this building is its location in the heart of an active Catholic community, its proximity to other Catholic parishes and also locations of Redemptorist missions. These factors increase the likelihood that we will be able to create a rotating schedule of priests willing to come to offer Mass in our chapel.
Perhaps we will have Mass at a time when parishes do not offer them so lay people will come to join us for Eucharist. We are also eager to re-establish our lay associate program and to offer occasions for spiritual enrichment in terms of contemplative life-style as well as spiritual direction.

We did not seek this move. However we have sought to see God’s invitation in it. We live in an era of change at every level. The People of God cry out for a spirituality of depth and meaning, for community, and for the need to be encouraged by those willing to witness to the love of Jesus Christ in the Church and the world. Religious life is in the throes yet again of coming to grips with the signs of the times and discerning how to respond, how to reconfigure in order to remain true to the mission. In all of this we seek to bring to fulfillment in a different time and a different place the eternal truth of Maria Celeste’s revelation to follow Christ, to be so united to Him, that we become “Living Memories” of Christ radiating the love of God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this is more necessary now than ever; when we are no longer surrounded by meadows and river but by the flow of God’s people inviting us into their pilgrim journey.  


Jane OBrien said...

Oh, what a lovely report, Hildegard. I especially love the final paragraph and your desire to "rconfigure for the mission." May each of us do that in this time in which change calls us all to a new ascetism of mobility and flexibility and the courage to embrace new opportunities.

Blessings on your venture!! I grew up in the Hudson Valley and have never been anywhere more beautiful: it is imprinted on me. I have read the grief in your entries over the last year, and now I read your courage and hope. Thank you for sharing your journey

Marsha B West said...

Thank you, Sister Hildegard for such a comprehensive explanation and description of your move and your new home. It really does sound right for you. God bless you in your new accommodations and may you become a true blessing to the neighborhood.

Daisy said...

May your new home be full of peace and blessings Hildegard.

Confession: I peeked at the neighbourhood from Google maps! Took a little stroll around. There are lovely old homes and streets.

Moniales said...

Dear Sisters,
Welcome to New Jersey! We did in fact know you were coming but we were told not to breath a word...and we were good!
Perhaps we will have a get together before you move in to your enclosure permanently?
E. Rutherford is a great place to be as you will have many priests available for Holy Mass, etc.

People are very warm and generous and will LOVE having a monastery in the area!

A Blessed Easter,
Your Dominican Nuns in Summit, NJ