PITTSFORD — After nearly two years of silence, the bells of the Monastery of Our Lady and St. Joseph soon will ring again.
On Oct. 13, a group of 11 Discalced Carmelite sisters from Schenectady will take up residence at the monastery, 1931 W. Jefferson Road. There, they will be joined a few weeks later by sisters from the Rochester Discalced Carmelites, who thought they had vacated the building permanently in early 2004.
At that time, seven Rochester Carmelites — facing high repair bills combined with illness and aging of the sisters — moved to the nearby Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse after obtaining Vatican approval for their cloistered community to live in a noncloistered setting. Their 57-acre property was put up for sale, and many of the monastery’s items were sold at an auction.
Meanwhile, the Schenectady Carmelites likewise were facing the prospect of giving up their residence, the Monastery of St. Teresa of Jesus. According to the prioress, Mother Mary St. John of the Cross, maintenance costs on the large building had become too high and the monastery’s once-peaceful surroundings had seen a sharp increase in business and traffic.
The Rochester Carmelites had been working toward selling their monastery to Benderson Development Company Inc., but that deal fell through in February 2005. Shortly thereafter, Mother John and Mother Victoria of Our Lady of Guadalupe, prioress of the Rochester Carmelites, began talks in earnest about consolidating the two communities on Jefferson Road.
Working through the bishops of both dioceses, Matthew H. Clark in Rochester and Howard J. Hubbard in Albany, the sisters petitioned the Holy See. In mid-September they received a decree of approval from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Thus, the 50-year-old Monastery of Our Lady and St. Joseph will remain a Carmelite monastery.
“God works in mysterious ways,” remarked Tom Nientemp, a parishioner of St. Louis in Pittsford who helped facilitate the Rochester and Schenectady Carmelites’ impending move as well as the Rochester sisters’ relocation in 2004.
Five of the seven Rochester Carmelites have remained at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse, which includes an infirmary section; one nun left the order; and another moved out of the area. All five remaining sisters plan to return to their monastery, most likely in November, although medical needs may delay the move for some of them.
A re-opening Mass is planned for mid-October, with Bishop Clark presiding. The monastery will also offer a 7:30 a.m. Mass each weekday as well as weekend liturgies, with times still to be determined.
Mothers John and Victoria lauded the support of Bishop Clark, Bishop Hubbard, Nientemp and Father Daniel Condon, chancellor of the Rochester Diocese. Mother Victoria gave special praise to the Sisters of St. Joseph, who created a living arrangement in which the Carmelites could continue their contemplative lifestyle.
Sister Janice Morgan, president of the Rochester Sisters of St. Joseph, said she’s happy the Carmelites are returning to their monastery, “but sad to see them go because they’ve become a part of our life … they have been our blessing.”
Mother Victoria said in turn that she’ll miss the Sisters of St. Joseph. “It’s not going to be easy to go,” she remarked.
Meanwhile, the Schenectady Carmelites are departing permanently from the Diocese of Albany. Yet Mother John, who has resided at Monastery of St. Teresa of Jesus for 49 years, said she’s happy about the property’s future. She noted that it’s in the process of being sold to a program that assists former inmates with substance-abuse problems.
Sister Morgan said the Sisters of St. Joseph will send a bus to Schenectady on Oct. 13 so that all 11 Carmelite sisters can travel together to their new home. Mother Victoria, for one, is eagerly anticipating this arrangement.
“I have all kinds of energy and strength that I never had before,” she said.
“We’re united. It’s a feeling that it’s God’s will,” Mother John added.