By Michele Jurich
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.
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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