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Carmelite nuns will decide what happens to their monastery in Concord after it closes

  • Carmelite Monastery started in Concord as an offshoot of the Boston Carmel. ALLIE ST PETER / Monitor Staff

  • Outside of Carmelite Monastery on Pleasant Street across the street from Concord Hospital. ALLIE ST PETER / Monitor Staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/28/2020 7:55:17 PM
Modified: 11/28/2020 7:55:06 PM

The future of the Carmelite Monastery on Pleasant Street will be decided by the five nuns who live there, now that the Vatican has decided that the facility should close.

“The sisters will eventually decide on what to do with the property. There are still no decisions at this point pertaining to the disposition of the property,” wrote Sr. Bernadette Therese in an email to the Monitor. She is prioress of the Carmelites of Boston, which oversees what is known as the Concord Carmel.

Among the decisions they will have to make is where to send the remains of several sisters buried in a crypt under the chapel, including the Carmel’s founder, Mother Aloysius, who has been proposed for beatification.

“In other cases of monastery closures in other dioceses, the choice has usually been a Catholic cemetery within the diocese to which the Carmel belongs. But this decision has not yet been made at this point in time as the sisters continue to address the many aspects associated with this difficult process,” wrote Sr. Bernadette Therese.

The Diocese of Manchester announced Tuesday that the Carmelite Monastery would close, 74 years after it was founded in Concord as an offshoot of the Boston Carmel, and 68 years after it built its current home on Pleasant Street opposite Concord Hospital.

The Carmelite Order says when a monastery closes, the sisters have the choice of joining another Carmelite monastery or moving to a continuing care retirement center. “In either case, the nuns are still called to live their Carmelite contemplative lives of prayer,” Sr. Bernadette Therese wrote.

The closure is a reflection of the declining number of women deciding to become nuns. According to the National Religious Retirement Office, there were 180,000 Catholic nuns in the United States in 1965 but by 2019, that number had fallen 85% to 31,350.

The Concord monastery was founded with 18 sisters but now has just five, most of whom are elderly.

“Over the past 10 years or more, religious communities in the U.S. and in Europe have been experiencing significant declines in new vocations due to changed socio-cultural conditions. Without new membership, many contemplative communities are experiencing diminishment,” wrote Sr. Bernadette Therese. She wrote that 70 Carmelite Order monasteries have closed in recent years throughout the world.

The Concord closure is also part of implementing Pope Francis’ 2016 report “on women’s contemplative life calling for religious communities to evaluate anew the expression of their charisms,” Sr. Bernadette Therese wrote, using the term for spiritual gifts used to channel God’s goodness in the world.

That report, the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere, led to a 2018 instructions called Cor Orans that “requires contemplative communities to be members of associations in order to encourage collaboration among members and to provide sisterly support for member communities,” she wrote. “Cor Orans outlines clear rules and criteria that define autonomous monasteries. Based upon these rules, the Vatican then evaluates the future of the particular monasteries. The Vatican is the only authority that can close a monastery.”

The Carmelite order is named after Mount Carmel in Israel, where it was founded around the year 1200. It expanded into Concord after World War II because the Boston Carmel was too full to accept new nuns. The monastery had 18 sisters who came to live a cloistered life to practice what the order’s website describes as “an interior journey lived in and through prayer” for a “loving relationship with Christ.”

The Concord monastery has been largely removed from the daily of the city except for the sound of the bells that call sisters to prayer. When the device that rings the bells malfunctioned in the spring and couldn’t be repaired because of COVID-19 lockdowns, parishioners from South Church stepped in and started ringing their own bells at 4 p.m. as a replacement.

The monastery building sits at the north end of 39 acres at the intersection of Pleasant Street and Langley Parkway. Except for the monastery building on the north end of the property, the land is undeveloped. Most of it is zoned open space residential. It has an assessed value, including buildings, of almost $600,000.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)
David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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