Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In His Element

In His Element, 2012
(Click on Image to see Larger)

One of my friends lives in a semi-cloistered faith community. The facility where he lives used to be a fully cloistered Catholic monastery. (It’s still surrounded by a tall brick wall that reveals nothing of the interior buildings, courtyards and gardens.) With the exception of a single nun designated to handle such things, the residents of the monastery did not interact with the outside world. Visitors were not allowed in and residents did not go out. It is said that for many years the monastery’s ancient furnace was maintained by a “diminutive nun with a wire coat hanger.”
The contemplative nuns who built the monastery settled there in the late 1800s to pray for the welfare of a city that had been largely destroyed during the Civil War. For years the nuns supported themselves baking communion wafers for hundreds of churches throughout the region and also, it turns out, the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet.
During the 1980s the nuns moved to a new site better suited to their contemporary needs. The old monastery was purchased by a nonprofit ecumenical Christian group to preserve its prayer mission and, more importantly and immediately, protect its prime real estate from commercial development. Today a dozen or so kindred souls reside in the former nuns’ dormitory. They care for the buildings and grounds and oversee the facility’s programs. Their quarters are simple. They gather several times a day for prayer.
To pay the bills the group ran a school at the site for a while and continued to bake communion wafers. Neither, though, was a sustainable operation, for which reason the facility’s board instead chose to take advantage of the old monastery’s history’s and facilities and use them as, among other things, a center for personal spiritual growth, pastoral counseling training, an outreach program for area children and a venue for religious and secular retreats and conferences. Rather than remain completed cloistered, today’s residents work hard inside and outside the walls to serve communities of need and promote unity in a sometimes fractious metropolitan region.
The Chapel, where this photograph was taken, was built in the late 1890s and continues to be the spiritual center of the facility. Despite being in the middle of a busy modern city, it is an altogether calm and calming place.

1 comment:

  1. I tend to forget these kinds of places still exist. Great photo!