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.
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.
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 ...
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