(Photo courtesy Sisters of Perpetual Adoration/Echo Media)
Sisters of Perpetual Adoration with Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone Aug. 21 after the first profession of Sister Mariana. The monastery was founded in 1928 by sisters from Guadalajara, fleeing the Mexican government persecution of the Catholic Churc
Cloistered nuns attracting vocations in San Francisco archdiocese
September 19th, 2016
By Valerie Schmalz
Each of the four monasteries of contemplative nuns in the Archdiocese of San Francisco is attracting new vocations – young women who are choosing to embrace an enclosed life and lifetime of prayer, fasting, penance, and work in a small community of women religious behind the walls of a cloister.
“It’s very radical, it’s not easy,” said Dominican Sister Joseph Marie of the Child Jesus, vocation directress of the Cloistered Dominican Nuns of Corpus Christi Monastery in Menlo Park. But she said, “When God calls you, you have that desire, nothing else, and he will give you the grace.”
Corpus Christi Monastery has one temporarily professed, two novices, and one postulant in its community of 12 nuns. “In the last four years, the number of elderly nuns that died has equally been replaced” throughout the cloistered Dominicans in the U.S., said Dominican prioress Sister Maria Christine of the Cross, which she says “defies” any metrics.
After a number of years without new vocations, the Monastery of Perpetual Adoration on Ashbury Street in San Francisco now has three novices and another young woman in Guadalajara, Mexico, who hopes to enter soon, said Sister of Perpetual Adoration Alma Ruth Vargas, novice mistress. At present there are 11 nuns, she said.
The Carmelite Monastery of Cristo Rey, located across the street from the University of San Francisco, now has 14 solemnly professed nuns, and another four temporarily professed. The Mother of God Carmel in San Rafael has six nuns including one novice.
“In San Francisco we have seen a considerable rise in the contemplative orders,” said Presentation Sister Rosina Conrotto, director of the archdiocesan Office of Consecrated Life. “I’m not sure how the Holy Spirit is working in this regard but I think it is really a gift of the Spirit and …this is a gift to the church.”
“Pope John Paul calls it a priceless gift. It is a priceless gift, not just for the church but the world,” said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone in his homily at Perpetual Adoration Sister Mariana’s first profession on Aug. 21. Cloistered nuns have received a vocation to “devote one’s whole life, not merely moments” to God, he said.
“By solemn vows we are entrusted with the task of praying for the church,” said Dominican Sister Maria Christine. “We are consecrated specifically to praise God.”
“We pray for Catholics and non-Catholics, for all God’s people,” said Carmelite Mother Elizabeth of the Trinity, prioress of the Carmelite Monastery of Cristo Rey.
The Catholic Church sets the cloistered contemplative vocation apart. Cloistered communities of nuns are governed by papal enclosure, “a grave obligation of conscience both for the nuns and for outsiders,” according to “Verbi Sponsa,” a 1999 “Instruction on the Contemplative Life and on the Enclosure of Nuns” approved by St. John Paul II, a document referenced by Pope Francis in July in his new apostolic constitution on cloistered nuns “Vultum Dei Quaerere” or “Seek the Face of God.”
“By virtue of the law of enclosure, nuns, novices and postulants must live within the enclosure of the monastery, and it is not permissible for them to leave it, except in cases provided for by law; nor is it permissible for anyone to enter the area of the enclosure of the monastery, with the exception of cases provided for by law,” states “Verbi Sponsa.”
“I think for young people in general being called to a radical way of life is very important,” said Perpetual Adoration Sister Teresa Guadalupe, 29, who on Aug. 6, after a year as a postulant was clothed in the white veil and scapular of a novice.
“Young people, our dreams are big. The world gives so many options outside but when we feel a calling from the Lord, we want to give it all,” said Sister Teresa, who grew up in Arizona, where she graduated from the University of Arizona.
Each nun is called to an order and a monastery with its specific charism, according to sisters at several monasteries. Each monastery is a separate juridical entity under the diocesan bishop, as well as belonging to a religious order.
Sister Teresa said as soon as she met the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in San Francisco, she felt she belonged. “The joy of the community was just something that, it was just wow!” she said. “I was talking with them and laughing with them. That was very important.”
“Each story is different. The way the Lord calls each sister is different,” said Mother Elizabeth of the Carmelite Monastery of Cristo Rey.
Cristo Rey Monastery’s sub-prioress, Carmelite Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart, who grew up in the outer Sunset district near San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, said she originally did not believe it was possible to have a personal relationship with God. Her vocation, she said, was “mysterious. There was absolutely no influence from anyone else. It was just a mysterious encounter with the Lord through nature.”
Dominican Sister Andre Marie, a novice, was a pharmacist who six years ago went to a charismatic conference in Oakland and that’s how it started, she said. “The call got louder and louder so I couldn’t suppress it. In 2014, I found the monastery on the Internet,” she said, and watched a YouTube video about how to become a nun to begin her path to the Menlo Park enclosure.
Carmelite Mother AnnaMarie Vanni found the San Rafael monastery when she went with a friend to listen to Byzantine music and talked to one of the sisters. “When she talked about her life of prayer, how it was all encompassing, being in the heart of Christ and meeting everyone in the heart of Christ,” Mother AnnaMarie said, she realized, “This is what I want to do. I have done it for 40 years and it’s great.”
Carmelite Monastery of Cristo Rey
721 Parker Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94118-4227
carmelofcristorey.org/ (under construction)
Carmelite Monastery of the Mother of God
30 Blackstone Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903
Corpus Christi Monastery
215 Oak Grove Ave.
Menlo Park, CA 94025-3272
(650) 322-1801 Ext. 19
Monastery of Perpetual Adoration
771 Ashbury St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
From September 22, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.