"Our Holy Mother Teresa said all we need is a little corner where we can love and praise God," said Mother Sylvia Gemma, superior of the Carmel of Jesus Mary and Joseph.
The cloistered nuns' new address is on Rincon Road, Kensington.
Rincon, Spanish for corner.
The nuns have been living in rented, rustic quarters in Canyon, outside Moraga, since coming to the Diocese of Oakland from Nebraska in late July 2012. They live a life of solitude and prayer, especially for the bishop and priests, and for all the people of the diocese. They speak, even to their families during their visits, from behind a grille.
Thanks to a generous benefactor, who has asked to remain anonymous, the nuns will be moving — perhaps in as few as six months — to the former Carmelite Monastery of Christ the Exiled King. That community had dwindled to four members, with two entering nursing care and two going to live at the Cristo Rey Monastery in San Francisco.
The benefactor purchased the 3.62-acre property, with its two main Spanish-style buildings dating to the 1920s and 1950s, and gave it to the Diocese of Oakland, with the stipulation that a religious order be housed there.
Before they can move in, however, a number of problems, major and more major, have to be addressed. Foundation, roofing and electrical work are being scheduled. In many places, the damaged ceiling is covered in plastic tarp, with hoses collecting the leaking rainwater into storage tubs. Cracks in walls need to be repaired.
A tour of the basement reveals cracks, and in one spot, a slip of about six inches off the foundation.
A caretaker's cottage deemed to be beyond repair will be demolished, as will an outbuilding near the entrance.
But in the eyes of the sisters, it is the answer to a prayer.
"It's very monastic," said Mother Sylvia Gemma, noting the choir, recreation rooms and cells for the sisters. (Cells are the sisters' sleeping quarters.)
"We don't usually need a lot of space," she said, "but we do need solitude."
The sisters saw through the current disrepair to the beauty of days past, as well as days to come.
"It must have been wonderful," she said. "What makes it so much more dear is that the sisters lived there, praying and sanctifying," said Mother Sylvia Gemma.
The property is adjacent to the University of California-owned Blake Gardens and Blake House. The main house, built in the 1920s is on the downhill slope, with the addition, completed in the 1950s, across a courtyard.
The sisters had considered the property once before, about six years ago, Mother Sylvia Gemma said, but it was not to be theirs. "It wasn't our Lord's providence at that time," she said.
When they learned it might be available to them, some of the sisters made a visit to the monastery. "The more we saw it, the more we just loved it," she said.
The Kensington monastery provides the individual cells for the sisters, as well as a recreation room, where the sisters do their handwork daily, a good-sized kitchen and an infirmary.
There are some lovely details in the building. The sisters do not converse during meals. The exception to the silence is reading by the mother superior. The dining room provides a tiny wooden ambo for that purpose.
The property is edged by soaring redwood trees, which require some maintenance. The gardens, which will need to be replanted, are ample; the sisters, who do not eat meat, plan a small orchard to provide them with fresh fruits.
They composed a letter to the sellers shortly before Christmas, and the sisters wrote that Mary and Joseph sought refuge at the time of the birth of her son.
"How providential we are the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph," she said.
The letter concluded, "We too, ask for posada. Would you allow us to make this our home?"
When the news came — on the Feast of St. Valentine — that the sale had been completed, the sisters were elated. "We all exploded with joy," said Mother Sylvia Gemma.
The sisters express their gratitude to Father Wayne Campbell and the people of St. Monica Parish in Moraga, who provided for their needs when they arrived almost two years ago. Parish members donated furniture, brought food and other gifts and helped provide transportation when needed from the secluded site.
The Very Rev. Robert Herbst, OFM Conv., in his role as vicar for religious — he is also judicial vicar and acting chancellor — is overseeing the repairs and renovations to the property. The diocese is seeking donations to cover the cost, which over the next year is estimated at $1 million.
Other work is planned for the property, with timelines for that stretching five, 10 and 20 years into the future.
When the sisters move to Kensington, they will bring with them the altar from their chapel in Canyon, which came with them from Nebraska. The public will be invited to Mass in the new chapel, where the sisters will be secluded behind a grille. But their voices will be heard.
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