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Monastery construction to begin this summer

Danielle Ryan

(3/1) The Carmel of Jesus, Mary & Joseph, a thriving religious order of contemplative nuns, are about to build a new Monastery at 465 Water Street in Fairfield.

In June 2016, the nuns officially broke ground on the site of the future monastery, and a year later, in August 2017, the site was cleared, the driveway and chapel parking lots paved, and drainage systems were installed. The design of the new building is inspired by the monasteries of St. Teresa of Avila and will allow the nuns to raise farm animals, grow vegetable and flower gardens, and praise God in nature.

The current monastery located in Elysburg, PA is overcrowded. Rooms meant for recreation or work are being used as living quarters to accommodate an abundance of vocations. The construction of a new monastery would allow the nuns to make another foundation and both properties would be able to continue accepting new vocations into their folds. "We call it ‘making a new foundation,’" Mother Stella-Marie of Jesus, Prioress of the community said. "Our Communities are supposed to be small, family groups of no more than twenty-one Nuns."

Their building project, like their vocation, is unique but inspiring. While the Sisters rely entirely upon the generosity of friends and benefactors, they are determined to draw as completely as possible on genuine materials and skilled workmanship in the construction process, raising up a building that is authentically American yet calls to mind a simple, long-lasting, European convent from times past.

"Amongst the anxieties and concern for the future, so prevalent in today’s society, it’s always a sign of hope when you build something that will last," said the Prioress. "We are amazed to discover that associations exist in the building industry which share the same goals as us and encourage the use of genuine, durable materials such as stone. We are delighted to see resources available that promote beautiful, long-lasting buildings. The concept of ‘ethical, sustainable living’ has always existed in the Carmelite life – in our life it’s called ‘the Virtue of Poverty’! Our life is based on joyful poverty and simplicity, avoiding all selfish wastefulness. It is our hope that, in planning a beautiful, simple building for the glory of God, we will also be supporting a very healthy movement in the building industry. Our humble Monastery will become a focal point and a lesson in stone and timber for the many people who come to seek God in our Chapel. We are confident that the Monastery will be built, and will serve as a memorial to the faith and generosity of Pennsylvanians, proving that Americans really do value the genuine, durable materials and skilled craftsmanship of their forefathers."

Today, the Carmelite Nuns maintain a simple life, entirely focused around their vocation of prayer. They are strictly cloistered and their religious services are conducted in the ancient Latin language. The Sisters remain unseen by outsiders, communicating principally by letters or through a wooden turntable set in the wall of their Monastery vestibule. The silent daily routine of prayer and labor is interrupted by several periods of joyful community recreation.

Mid February, the nuns received approval for the construction of the barn and the basement was finished on the caretaker's residence. Work will continue moving along with construction on the monastery beginning this summer. The nuns hope to finish it within five years, pending necessary funds raised within this time. They have already raised enough to begin Phase 1, which consists of the construction of four small structures that are part of the cluster of small buildings within the monastery’s complex. These will form the basis for an even larger construction operation in 2019, as the main monastery living areas are built.

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