Boom: rise in vocations spurs Cisterican nuns to build new monastery in Wisconsin—UPDATED

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Following a vocations boom at Valley of Our Lady Monastery near Madison, Wis., an architecture firm is designing a new monastery complex for the community of Cistercian nuns, the only one in the English-speaking world.

“It’s very exciting to see this happening, very providential, the fact that this comes out of so many young women seeking this monastery out for this life,” Matthew Alderman of Cram and Ferguson Architects told EWTN News on Oct. 16.

The planned monastery is being designed to house 35 nuns. There are presently around 20 in the community, a number which has doubled in the last decade, an “explosion in vocations.”

Valley of Our Lady was founded in 1957, and the present facility on a very small plot of land in the Diocese of Madison is “from the mid ’60s,” Alderman reported. The contemplative community is the only foundation of Cistercian nuns of the Common Observance in the English-speaking world.

“They’re getting interest from young Catholics and young vocations, it really is very inspiring,” Alderman said.

The Cistercian order was founded at the end of the 11th century to return to a literal observance of the Rule of St. Benedict by cloistered monks and nuns. St. Bernard of Clairvaux was an early abbot of the order and promoted its expansion across Europe.

Alderman described Cistercian architecture as characterized foremost by simplicity.

“Everything’s done with great care and deliberation; nothing is superfluous, everything has significance, everything has a practical significance, both from a liturgical perspective and from the perspective of making the building work.”

The geometry of Cistercian architecture, he said, is “very simple, very pure” and is an early form of Gothic architecture, which can best be described as an example of “the transition from Romanesque to Gothic.”

“This project shows it is possible to do good Gothic without having to skimp on it … great care has to be taken in simplifying the design to make it cost-effective, but it can be done,” he emphasized.

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Alderman has more at the New Liturgical Movement website:

Valley of Our Lady has attracted a significant number of new vocations in the past decade. Its Cistercian sisters wear the habit, pray the Liturgy of the Hours with great devotion, and live a simple, cloistered life in common. They maintain themselves through the making of altar breads and other craft products. Firm principal Ethan Anthony, who has undertaken multiple visits to the historic “Three Sisters of Provence”— the ancient Cistercian monasteries of Le Thoronet, Sénanque, and Silvacane—has worked closely with the sisters to ensure the new monastery fulfils both their spiritual and practical needs. One of the largest projects undertaken by the firm in recent years, it is, to my knowledge, the first new traditional ecclesiastical project to draw on the simplicity and balance of Cistercian monastic architecture, and the first ever undertaken in the United States.

The nuns have established a website to tell more about the project, too, and offer ways to donate.

UPDATE: A reader notes:

You might want to clarify your statement that the Wisconsin monastery is the only monastery of Cistercian nuns in the English speaking world. It is the only monastery of Common Observance Cistercian nuns – there are at least 5 monasteries of nuns of the Strict Observance (OCSO – or Trappist) in the US alone: Wrentham, MA; Santa Rita, NM; Mississippi Abbey, IA; Crozet, VA; and Redwoods, CA.


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