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placeholder November 24, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA

Workers are busy making the Kensington monastery ready as time, weather and deferred maintenance have taken their toll on the uninhabited structures.

Carmelites prepare for move to new home in Kensington

When the Carmelites of Lincoln, Nebraska, moved from a farmhouse to their newly constructed monastery, they rode in a hay wagon.

It was December.

"We were singing and shivering," recalled Mother Sylvia Gemma, who was among the sisters making the journey.

The Blessed Sacrament, she pointed out, "stayed nice and warm," secure in the hands of Msgr. Timothy Thorburn, who made the trip in a car.

When the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph moves from Canyon to Kensington this month, it may not be as picturesque a journey. But it will be as heartfelt.

The sisters say the move will be made little by little, and look forward to it. "We'll bring the Blessed Sacrament and place Him in His new home, in the place of honor in the tabernacle," Mother Sylvia Gemma said.

Workers are busy making the Kensington monastery ready for the community of 10 who will live there. The monastery — a combination of two buildings, one from the 1920s and the other from the 1970s — had been uninhabited for several years. Time, weather and deferred maintenance have taken their toll.

Roofers were busy fixing the leaky roof. The Spanish-style tiles have been removed; the unbroken ones will be cleaned and replaced. After a thorough scrubbing and repair, the stove is ready for action. A new refrigerator is on order. And for dishwashing … a triple sink will be installed. The sisters wash their own dishes, praying for the souls in purgatory as they work.

The sisters' recreation room, where they will gather to sew and do other tasks, will be one of the few places the sisters will speak to one another. A large fireplace is being restored to use, and should provide warmth as they work. New overhead lights have been installed.

A library has been carved out in an upstairs area. The cells, smaller than 8-feet-by-10-feet, have been refreshed with paints named "creme cheese frosting" and "marshmallow." Electrical work was completed in each cell, updating them to today's standards. Some cells, for example, had no light switches.

Guest quarters are also undergoing renovation. When the sisters' families visit, they may stay there. Or a young woman discerning a vocation may stay there during a visit.

Among the projects is the renovation of the chapel. On one side, the public will be able to attend Mass, on the other side of the altar, unseen, will be the sisters. At their backs will be breathtaking views of the Golden Gate.

The work is quiet for a construction zone. There is great attention as they replace some of the detail lost to time, the elements and vacancy. Electrical work, painting, plumbing and flooring are among the priorities. Oliver & Co. is the general contractor.

On this particular day, the contractors await special onsite visitors. Three sisters, in their long black and brown habits, including long black veils, will be there to make some decisions.

Carrying a camera to document the work — sisters who join them in later years might be interested in knowing what the monastery looked like "before" and a tape measure — they are concerned how the altar, which they brought with them from Nebraska, will fit into the space. The sisters also bring cookies to the workers, who are just leaving after their day's work.

As Mother Sylvia Gemma looked around their new home, she said quietly, "We're very grateful to Our Lord for all his loving care over us."

Among the sisters' decisions this day: exterior paint color.

The monastery, purchased for the diocese by a generous donor, has a long time line for the repairs. The exterior painting, for example, will not be done all at once. Because there is scaffolding up, the west-facing side of the building will be painted first. The rest will have to wait for three to five years.

To assist the sisters in making the choice for the paint, the contractor painted large swatches of three choices on the exterior walls, in sunlight and shadows, so the sisters could get an idea of what it would look like. Several colors were auditioned for the wooden trim around the windows.

The sisters' choice for the exterior was calico rose for the walls, J's big heart for trim.
Or, as one sister pointed out: rose for Our Lady, and J… well …

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