In Rumer Godden’s classic gem of a novel, In This House of Brede, a large cloistered community of English Benedictine nuns faces a pressing debt; one nun rather serenely says she will pray for the solution. “Like a child asking the bank manager for a bag of money to take home to Daddy?” a sharp-tongued sister asks in rebuke.
“Exactly. Exactly like that,” says the first nun.
Later, when the idea of selling of 7 of the community’s 14 acres seems like the only practical answer, the doubtful nun takes up the first sister’s cause:
“We are all ready to be noble and abnegate ourselves, but what are we really doing? If the [abbey property] is curtailed we think we should be robbing ourselves. No! We should be robbing God. This is His house; that is why people come here, to find Him; we are only the custodians…it would be quite wrong to reduce our already not large enclosure; to do our work satisfactorily we must have elbow room, breathing space. We cannot get away, even for holidays. We are not so strong and steady that we can take risks, and we must not unfit ourselves…”
Imagine spending the entirety of one’s adult life amid the same 14 acres — not going out to the movies or getting in the car of a weekend simply to enjoy a change of scenery — but ultimately finding freedom within the restriction because it paradoxically allows you to be, as Godden puts it, “not of the world but mysteriously still with it.” Free to pursue a calling to praise God throughout the day and into the night, for the sake of the life of the world. Free to have this sort of affect on the lives of others:
That’s a note left for the Dominican Nuns of Summit, New Jersey, who have nothing like 14 acres to live upon. I think they have five acres, including their cemetery. Given their successful soap and candle-making business (and their woodworking!) and the increasing number of young women seeking to visit as they discern and pursue their vocations (and the fact that their enclosure was always quite small) the community has decided they really need more room, and so they have launched a Centennial Capital Campaign. They are praying, and asking, and explaining:
“When our present monastery was built in 1939, the nuns sacrificed necessary living space in the cloister for a bigger chapel for the pilgrims coming to the monastery. The sisters have used empty cells (monastic bedrooms) for work and sewing rooms. We need these rooms for the new vocations entering our community…our elderly sisters in need of physical therapy have had to use the public space of the refectory (dining room) because it is the only room big enough. Since the refectory is close to the nuns’ chapel, the silence is disturbed by the voices of visiting physical therapists and nurses. We need an appropriate area for caring for our sisters’ physical needs.
Over the years our “closet” gift shop has expanded to every available space in the chapel vestibule…a real gift shop is needed which will make it possible to offer the Sister’s work and help toward our daily expenses.
When a Dominican nun makes her first vows she is given the black veil signifying that she has become “recognized as a house of prayer…and a temple of intercession for all people.” As Sister Mary Catharine Perry, OP writes here, “That’s a tall order. Humanly it is not possible. It is only because God wants it so that the newly professed nun can carry the world in her heart.”
To carry out the will of God, the sisters, as Rumer Godden’s Benedictine noted, “must have elbow room, breathing space.” And they must not unfit themselves. All-in-all, they are hoping to expand to add the following:
- Entrance Lobby
- Gift Shop
- Guest rooms for aspirants, retreats and family visiting
- Parlors for visiting with guests
- Guest dining room, sitting room and garden patio
- Work Rooms and Exercise Room for the Nuns
- Handicap access to both the Chapel and the New Wing