After several decades in their cloister, the Carmelite sisters from the
Monastery of Our Lady and St. Joseph have moved to the Sisters of St.
Joseph Motherhouse while considering options for their future.
Meanwhile, the Carmelites’ property at 1931 W. Jefferson Road is up
for sale. The final Mass at the monastery was celebrated Jan. 11.
In October 2003, Sisters Ann, Teresa, Magdalen and Ruth — who had
all lived at the monastery since it opened in 1956 — relocated to
receive better medical care across the town of Pittsford to the SSJ
motherhouse, 150 French Road. Earlier this month they were joined by
the three remaining members of their Discalced Carmelite community —
the prioress, Mother John, along with Sisters Victoria and Malachy —
who have moved into independent-living quarters at the SSJ facility.
According to Mother John, this rare occurrence of a cloistered
community moving to a non-cloistered facility was prompted by illness
and aging among the seven sisters who resided at the monastery. They
range in age from 53 to 92.
In addition, Mother John noted, the sisters were faced with mounting
repair bills at the monastery. She said she contacted Sister Janice
Morgan, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester, after
realizing it would become more challenging to remain at the monastery
in the years to come.
“We knew it would be very difficult to take care of ourselves,”
Mother John said.
Sister Morgan said her community was more than happy to help out,
stating, “Our charism is to reach out to the neighbor and certainly the
Carmelites are our dear neighbors.”
However, some issues involving church law have needed to be ironed
out. Mother John and Sister Morgan said they’re working closely with
Bishop Matthew H. Clark and Father Daniel Condon, diocesan chancellor,
on these matters.
In 1999, Mother John said, the Vatican Congregation for Institutes
of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life issued a
document authorizing a local bishop to permit a cloistered community to
live outside their cloister for up to three months. Having received the
permission of Bishop Matthew H. Clark, the Carmelites invoked the
three-month period this month when the last three sisters moved to the
SSJ motherhouse; the three-month period does not apply to sisters who
move for medical reasons. Should the Carmelites wish to continue living
at the motherhouse, Mother John said a formal request must be made to
the Holy See.
Meanwhile, the Carmelite sisters have already been granted
permission from the Holy See to transfer ownership of their 57-acre
property in the event of an eventual sale. According to April Debes,
spokesperson for the Sister of St. Joseph, negotiations are currently
taking place but the monastery has not yet been sold.
The Sisters of St. Joseph have made arrangements at their
motherhouse to enable the Carmelite sisters to model as closely as
possible their charism of contemplative prayer. For instance, a
separate chapel has been created so the sisters can gather several
times daily for prayer.
Although it has been a difficult move, Mother John said a
psychological burden has been lifted because the sisters are no longer
consumed by daily chores at the monastery that were becoming
increasingly difficult for them.
“All those stresses have been taken from them,” she said. “The
sisters feel very comfortable in this setting.”
Mother John said many of the 60 Carmelite monasteries across the
United States are facing similar issues of aging and declining
populations. Two common solutions are for sisters to either relocate to
another monastery or for two or more monasteries to merge with each
other. Yet she said that all the sisters felt it was best “to stay
together as a community” and added that she has received support from
other Carmelite communities for their decision.
The Carmelite sisters are now living among approximately 130 other
women religious as well as 10 priests. For the time being, Sister
Morgan said, the Carmelites are staying at the motherhouse as the SSJs’
guests, but would pay to live there if a permanent arrangement were
made. Thus far, Mother John said, the SSJs’ help “has been a
Carmelite sisters, devoting themselves to a life of prayer, were not
permitted to leave monastery grounds except for medical reasons.
However, the monastery had been open to the public for daily Mass and
private adoration, with the sisters separated from other worshipers by
a grate. Congregations would swell each year during the week of the
Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament across the street from
the monastery at Locust Hill Country Club.
The Carmelite community was established in Rochester in 1930, with
the original monastery located on Saratoga Avenue in Rochester. Four
years later the order moved to a site on East Avenue, where it remained
for 22 years before moving to Jefferson Road.
Regarding the latest move, Mother John remarked, “We have changed
location and our setting, but our mission hasn’t changed. We have the
obligation and privilege to pray for people of the diocese.”