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CURRENT ISSUE:  March 23, 2015
VOL. 53, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
 
A journey into the Church, interrupted twice by war
 
Loved by parishoners, father Seamus laid to rest
Young carmel reflects
historic connection for nuns
 

By Michele Jurich
Staff writer


Five novices join with five nuns in the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph at a Mass at St. Monica Church in Moraga in 2012.
Jose Luis Aguirre/The Catholic Voice

The Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is coming up on its third anniversary in the Diocese of Oakland, but the Order of Discalced Carmelites has a history in the area that dates to the Mexican Revolution when the intrepid Mother Luisita brought her sisters to safety in California. A small band lived at Saint Mary's College in Moraga. A grille in the college chapel is a memento of their stay.

Five sisters were greeted at the end of July 2012 by then-Bishop Salvatore Cordileone. The sisters took up temporary residence in Canyon, within the boundaries of St. Monica Parish, where they were befriended and beloved by parishioners and their pastor, Father Wayne Campbell.

"Our Holy Mother founded Carmel really to pray for the church, to pray for priests in particular," said Mother Agnes, OCD, who served as mother superior of the carmel until returning to Nebraska. "That's really our life, to give our lives for priests, and for the faithful."
On Sept. 21, 2012, just days before he was installed as archbishop of San Francisco, then-Bishop Cordileone celebrated the Solemn Pontifical Mass before 800 at St. Monica Church. In the pews were five nuns in brown habits and black veils and five novices with white veils, a rare appearance outside the cloister.

A benefactor purchased a former Kensington monastery last year, giving it to the diocese to become a home for women religious. Years of vacancy and deferred maintenance took their toll; the process of renovation will unfold over the next 20 years.

The nuns moved in November. "From the first minute, it was really home," said Mother Sylvia Gemma, OCD, the superior. "It's like a beautiful dream: a real monastery, such a beautiful monastery."

Ten sisters are in residence. Since coming to California, two young women have entered formation. Mother Sylvia Gemma corresponds with women who are discerning a vocation.

Current correspondents range in age from 7 to their 20s. "Little girls who are homeschooled sometimes write a letter," she said. "Parents teach them how important it is to pray and see if Jesus is calling them to religious life."
Mother Sylvia Gemma puts pen to paper and responds.

Neighbors are becoming accustomed to the return of a monastery. The chapel is open daily for Mass. The public sits on one side of the chapel; behind a grille, on the other side of the chapel, are the nuns. Bells ring daily. Upon moving into the monastery, "One of the sisters said, 'We feel like little birds who have been set free. We can live our life,'" Mother Sylvia Gemma recounted.

Those lives are lived largely in prayer and silence. The sisters pray for the bishop, for the priests and the people of the diocese.

"We pray for you, to represent you each day before Our Lord," said Mother Sylvia Gemma.

On March 28, the Sisters will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Avila, the founder of the Discalced Carmelites.

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