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Cloistered nuns plan new chapel at St. Dominic’s Monastery in Linden

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In 2008, the religious community of cloistered Dominican nuns arrived at their long-awaited home: St. Dominic’s Monastery in Linden. From atop their Blue Mountain property, the women could see the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley and the greenery of the 198 acres that surrounded them. They had a beautiful spot to spend their lives in prayer and contemplation, but the monastery wasn’t complete. More than a decade later, they're hoping to finish their permanent home.


For a religious community oriented toward living a simple, quiet life in one place, these women have seen big changes. Many of the nuns have moved from big cities to rural mountainsides in their quest to find a long-lasting home.


Their journey to Virginia began in 1984 when the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., where they had lived for nearly 75 years, was no longer able to provide them with chaplains. But the nuns were welcomed in Washington, and they moved into a home in the city at the corner of 16th and Emerson streets. Their temporary residence on a 1-acre plot ended up lasting 22 years. They longed for more space in a safer, quieter locale.


They sold their home and moved in with nuns at the Dominican Monastery of the Mother of God in West Springfield, Mass., as their own monastery was being built on an old apple orchard outside Front Royal. Two years later, six professed nuns and one postulant departed West Springfield and arrived in Linden.


The nuns say they love their spot in the midst of nature. "The most obvious difference between Linden and D.C. is the beauty of the surroundings," said Sister Mary Magdalene. "One’s heart is naturally drawn to God as one gazes on the beauty of his creation. More importantly though, is the love of the faithful who live in this area. From the very beginning, we were embraced and welcomed."


Today, 12 women live in the monastery, eight of whom are solemnly professed. Their median age is 37. Every day they attend Mass and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. When not at prayer, the nuns are engaged in the normal tasks of running a household, such sewing, bookkeeping, maintaining the grounds and caring for infirm nuns. Their work is accomplished with a “spirit of silence” to foster recollection of God, said Sister Mary Fidelis, prioress. Each evening they gather for recreation. They interact with visitors, whether in the chapel, in the parlor or through the front door, through a grille, or slats.


St. Dominic’s has many characteristics of a traditional monastery such as a four-sided building surrounding a central courtyard. But the original plan included more — a blueprint based on the monastic way of life. They’d like to add guest quarters, a music room, larger parlors to greet visitors from behind a grille, a refectory, or dining hall, two more cells or bedrooms, bringing the total to 24, and an infirmary that can accommodate two hospital beds. There is no room for a hospital bed in the current infirmary.


Another of their needs became more apparent a few months ago as they celebrated the solemn profession of vows of Sister Mary Grace. The tiny chapel overflowed with her friends and family and the sanctuary was crowded with clergy who wanted to celebrate the occasion. Their new chapel will no longer be makeshift, but a church that will seat 110 people on the side for the public and 24 in the cloistered area. The old chapel will become a library. So far, the sisters have raised $2.5 million of the $6 million to $8 million they’ll need to complete the renovations and the new chapel.


In addition to accommodating their growing numbers, part of the goal of the construction project is to have spaces created specifically for their intended purposes, said Sister Elizabeth Marie. Many material things, such as their habits or the grille, demonstrate the spiritual reality that they are women consecrated to God living a life set apart. "The very existence of a monastery speaks clearly of the reality of God and that we were created for something beyond this world," she said.


"Our lives as nuns point to heaven, the goal of everyone’s life. We pray that our silent, hidden life, as well as the architecture of the monastery, will remind the world of that reality."


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021