Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration close Washington monastery, trusting in God’s providence
June 29, 2017
After 63 years of serving the Archdiocese of Washington through prayer, the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration closed their monastery in Washington on May 31 to merge with the Poor Clares monastery in Cleveland.
True to their name, the nuns at the monastery have spent their lives in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and have provided a quiet space for many others to join them. They rotated turns spending time in Adoration, “so the Lord wouldn’t be alone,” said Sister Seana Marie Desing, who took her vows as a Poor Clare in 1961.
Sister Seana Marie said her life spent in contemplation has made her “so aware of God’s providential care.”
“Coincidences happen so frequently,” she said, but she has come to see that “there is no such thing as a straight coincidence. It is God putting pieces together.”
Sister Seana Marie and Sister Inez Marie Salfer, who now reside in the nearby Carroll Manor Nursing Home in Washington, point to the story of how their community got started as one example of God’s handiwork.
When a judge felt there was a need for a contemplative community in Washington to pray for the government, he asked the Franciscan Monastery in Washington if they knew of any order that could do this, and they reached out to the Poor Clares in Cleveland.
Around the same time, a lady offered her home as a place for Eucharistic Adoration, so the Poor Clares got a second request to open a monastery in Washington. They started to gather supplies to send sisters here, but before they moved, the lady got sick and had to rescind her offer. Nevertheless, the sisters were not going to turn back, and a couple of them went down to Washington to find a home.
As they were on their way to the Franciscan Monastery, they drove by a man putting up a “for sale” sign on his home. The sisters knew they couldn’t afford the brick house, but they got out of the car to go talk to the owner anyway.
The man happened to be a Catholic doctor whose wife had just passed away, and when he found out that the sisters were looking for a place to hold Adoration, he decided to sell it to them for whatever price they could afford. The monastery was dedicated on June 13, 1954.
“God’s hand was all in this,” said Sister Inez Marie. “…All these pieces starting to come together.”
Sister Inez Marie also saw God putting together pieces in her own life. She can trace back her call to contemplative life to her childhood while she was growing up on a farm in Minnesota. Whenever her parish had their 40 hour devotion, each family was assigned a particular hour to adore the Blessed Sacrament. Often, her family was assigned 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., which was the exact time that they needed to milk their cows, and if they varied from that schedule their cows would be in pain.
Sister Inez Marie recalled how her father always planned ahead with meticulous devotion so that he would gradually move up the time that they milked the cows by 15 minutes per week, so the family would be able to make it to their Adoration time.
“That is why I love Adoration,” said Sister Inez Marie, who also remembers reading about St. Thérèse of the child Jesus when she was in third grade, and thinking that she wanted to be that type of nun. But since she didn’t know of any contemplative communities, she first joined the Sisters of Notre Dame and was a teacher before transferring to the Poor Clares in 1972.
In order to sustain themselves in their simple lifestyle, the Poor Clares took up the trade of washing church linens, such as altar cloths, albs and purificators. For many years, the sisters washed and ironed the linens from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, along with linens from a long list of parishes and religious houses in Washington. For their first year in Washington, they did not have a washing machine, so they had to do it all by hand.
While they are not as literally poor as the saints who founded their order – St. Clare and St. Francis of Assisi – Sister Seana Marie noted that they live a simple lifestyle, where they don’t have many personal expenses. They each have two or three habits that they wear, and since they are cloistered, they don’t go out to do things like eat or see movies.
Despite the simplicity of their lifestyle, the income from washing linens would not have been enough to fully sustain the community, so they relied on the generosity of other people as well.
Their days at the monastery were structured around the Liturgy of the Hours, and would begin with morning prayer at 6:20 a.m. followed by morning Mass, usually celebrated by Dominicans, and then mid-morning prayer. Then, the nuns would eat breakfast, and divide up their daily tasks of washing, cooking, and adoring the Eucharist for one hour each every day, in addition to the time they all spent in the chapel saying the mid-afternoon, evening and night prayers.
By living a contemplative life, Sister Seana Marie said they live a “profound witness to the first commandment that God comes first.”
“People of all walks of life can see that and remember that God comes first,” she added. “We don’t have any other reason for being than to worship God.”
Their Adoration chapel had a wall in line with the monstrance to separate the cloistered nuns from the general public who came to pray. At the entrance to the public half of the chapel were pieces of paper where people could write prayer requests and then place them inside a slot through the monastery’s enclosure door, where there was a box on the other side to catch it.
On the inside of their house, the nuns used to see visitors through a grate in the wall. Now, there is a counter with a window where visitors can sit opposite them to talk. They were also kept company by their dogs, Dixie and Marlie.
Sister Seana Marie noted that their small chapel drew a diverse segment of people desiring a quiet place to pray, including a group of ladies who worked on the Metro who would come every day on their lunch break, and a man who was there every day at noon to ensure the sisters were able to spend time together without one of them needing to be in the chapel.
In keeping with the original inspiration for their community, Sister Inez Marie said they frequently got calls from people inside or near the White House asking for specific prayer intentions, sometimes before the issue became public. She particularly remembers that they got a call asking for prayers about the Cuban Missile crisis before the news broke. They were once nicknamed the “telephone nuns” because of their willingness to pray for intentions that people called in.
After the Poor Clares leave their monastery, a new religious community will be moving in. Some of the Sisters of Life, who were founded in New York 1991 and have grown to include about 100 sisters, will be settling into their old home. The Sisters of Life are a contemplative and active order that promotes the dignity of life by counseling pregnant women who are considering abortion or who need assistance. They also provide healing ministry for women who have had an abortion.
“That’s the consolation,” said Sister Inez Marie. “As we have to leave, it’s consoling to know [the monastery] will be used for a dire issue today.”
Many of the Sisters of Life will be taking classes at the nearby Catholic University of America, which Sister Inez Marie noted will be a short drive or walk, since “most of them are still young enough to walk,” she joked.
Mother Mary Angela Perry and Sister Mary Rita Koricich, the two remaining sisters in the monastery, will be traveling to Cleveland to join the monastery there, while Sister Inez Marie, Sister Seana Marie, and Sister Mary Patricia Armbrust, will remain at Carroll Manor Nursing Home for their health care.
While they are sad to see their community move away from Washington, Mother Mary Angela wrote in a letter announcing the monastery’s closure that the sisters, as always, have “a hopeful trust in God’s loving care and providence."
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