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Claretian cloister loses sense of isolation

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Catholic Times) - It’s hard to live the life of a contemplative nun when you’re dodging foul balls, trying to tune out rock music, surrounded by neighbors regularly waving at you, and hearing traffic go by all day long.

CLOISTER - Poor Clare nuns in Portsmouth attend liturgy and take the occasional visitor by way of the screen.

CLOISTER - Poor Clare nuns in Portsmouth attend liturgy and take the occasional visitor by way of the screen.


That’s the dilemma facing the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration every day at their monastery in Portsmouth. Its location in a residential area just off busy U.S. Route 23 makes it hard to concentrate on their mission of adoring the Eucharist and praying for the needs of the diocese and the world. Their job demands a sense of being apart from the world, but they’re surrounded by the world on all sides.

That’s why they’re looking for a new monastery site which would allow them a better opportunity to fulfill the role they have chosen.

User-friendly monastery

The Poor Clares came to Portsmouth in 1956 at the invitation of the late Bishop Michael Ready and lived for 30 years in what had been a hilltop mansion donated by the Reinhardt family of Portsmouth to the Diocese of Columbus.

“As the nuns got older, it became harder to live in that building because it had many levels and lots of stairs. It also was hard to get to during the wintertime because of its hilltop location,” said Mother Dolores Marie, PCPA, abbess of the monastery.

The diocese owned other land on the hill and had built Notre Dame High School on part of the land. In the 1980s, a new monastery was built just down the hill from the school, and the nuns moved there from the mansion.

Their new home was built as a one-story structure to make it easier for the elderly sisters to get around. From the outside, it looks like a ranch-style home similar to other houses in the neighborhood. Mother Dolores Marie said it blends in almost too well.

“The high school baseball field is just above the hill from us, so when there are games or practices, we’ve always got foul balls coming down,” she said.

“We used to have people coming here all the time to get the balls until we worked out an agreement to throw everything back that landed here. So we’re always keeping an eye out for baseballs or softballs.

“You can tell when there’s a game on, not just because of the crowd noise and the foul balls, but because people usually bring rock music with them and it can get pretty loud. In addition, even though we do have fencing to protect our privacy somewhat, this is a residential neighborhood and we’re surrounded by homes up and down the hill.

“The neighbors are friendly and wave at us and we wave back. We know they’re just trying to be nice and we appreciate that, but it does affect our work. Then there are times when you see people just seeming to stare at you as though you were animals in a petting zoo or relics from the past.”

There’s also the issue of traffic. The monastery is just off a busy residential street, and it’s easy to hear the noise of cars and trucks coming up the hill from four-lane U.S. Route 23, the unofficial dividing line between eastern and western Ohio, which connects Toledo and Lake Erie in the north with Portsmouth and the Ohio River in the south.

“It’s just not a good situation for us here,” Mother Dolores Marie said. “We don’t want to be totally isolated, but we need to be somewhere with fewer distractions so we can concentrate on being alone with God.

“Being in the far southern end of the diocese, we’re also far from the bulk of its population and a lot of people don’t realize we’re here. We’d like to move closer to Columbus to increase people’s awareness of us, with the hope that it might attract vocations. Even though we’ve been in the diocese since 1956, we’ve never had anyone from the diocese join our order in that time.”

Searching for new space

Bishop Frederick Campbell gave the Poor Clares approval to look at possible sites for a new monastery about a year ago. “We spent a lot of last year looking at properties around Columbus and realize we don’t have the money to build a new monastery from scratch,” Mother Dolores Marie said.

“At this point, we’re looking for sufficient land with an existing building that’s large enough for our needs. We’ve found one site near Hebron (in Licking County) with a decent-sized building and decent acreage, but it would take a lot of time and money to convert the building, so we’re continuing to search.”

Any building where the nuns would relocate would need to have sufficient area for sleeping quarters and room for a chapel, a community room, a refectory, space for shipment and storage of altar bread, a sewing room, a library, and offices.

Mother Dolores Marie said it’s going to be hard to leave Portsmouth because the nuns have developed strong ties to the community and will always be grateful for the help they have received from area residents.

“It’s sad for the people here who have been our longtime supporters, but we’ve spoken to them and they understand our problem,” she said. “We want to stay in the diocese if we can find the right place, the right situation, which will be an indication of God’s will for us. We have yet to find that place, but I am sure the Lord has prepared it for us somewhere.”

The Poor Clares also have monasteries in the Ohio communities of Cleveland and Canton, as well as in Arizona, Washington, D.C., Poland, and France, where they were founded in 1854 by Mother Marie de Ste. Claire Bouillexeau and Father Bonaventure, a Capuchin friar.

They take their name from St. Clare of Assisi, who worked with St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century and founded the original order of Poor Clares. This order’s particular mission, as indicated in its name, is to pray constantly before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration, in thanksgiving, and in reparation for the sins of humanity.

Centrality of the Blessed Sacrament

Mother Dolores Marie said the order was thrilled to learn of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy’s issuance on Dec. 8 of a document titled “Adoration, Reparation, Spiritual Motherhood for Priests.” The document called for a movement, with 24-hour Eucharistic adoration at its center, designed to unceasingly pray on behalf of priests.

“This is very important to us because we are dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament,” said Sister Marie Ste. Claire, PCPA, another of the six Poor Clares who live at the monastery . “We wouldn’t exist without the Blessed Sacrament, and the Blessed Sacrament wouldn’t exist without priests.”

What the Vatican is asking for is something the monastery has done for years. Throughout the year, each of the sisters is assigned one week to specifically offer all her prayers for the intentions of priests and for vocations to the priesthood.

The sisters also would like to remind the people of the diocese that because their mission is one of prayer, they are anxious to receive prayer requests at any time. They may be contacted electronically at nuns@stjosephmonastery.com, via phone or fax at (740) 353-4713, or through the mail at 2311 Stockham Lane, Portsmouth 45662-3049.

“About 20 or 25 of our key supporters died last year and many are in poor health. Everyone can help us through their prayers or financially,” Mother Dolores Marie said.

“We’re extremely grateful for the assistance we do receive, in particular the help from the Monastery Women’s Club and the regular visits the seminarians from the Pontifical College Josephinum have made to help maintain the grounds. We pray every day for the needs of the people of the diocese and would like to ask them to pray that we be allowed to remain here to serve them.”

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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of Catholic Times (www.ctonline.org), official newspaper of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio.

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