On July 24, five cloistered Carmelite nuns arrived in their newest foundation in the bucolic landscape near Moraga, California. The new foundation is Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph of Canyon, California. The nuns are from the Carmelite monastery in Valparaiso, in the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, headed by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz. The Carmelite rule, established by Saint Teresa of Avila, stipulates that a Carmelite community may number no more than 21 women. Her observation was that when this number was exceeded, loss of community occurs. The Valparaiso community had exceeded that number.
The arrival of the sisters is timely. The last remaining cloistered nuns in the diocese of Oakland had been the Carmelites at the Monastery of Christ the Exiled King in Kensington. The monastery was established in 1948. But as the sisters grew older, their experience was described in a 2005 article in the Oakland Catholic Voice: “Recent years have been ‘a phase of communal suffering,’ the nun said, because members of the community are growing older and fewer, and it has become more difficult to carry out work duties and meet the obligations of prayer.” Recently, the elderly members of the Kensington community joined their sisters at the Cristo Rey Monastery in San Francisco. Oakland’s Bishop (San Francisco’s new Archbishop) Salvatore Cordileone recognized the need for a cloistered order in his diocese.
For 27 years, San Francisco’s Ignatius Press had been located in a building rented from the Carmelites, right next to their monastery of Cristo Rey. The editor at Ignatius, Father Joseph Fessio, thus had a close relationship with the Carmelites–one of his former secretaries had joined the order – and familiarity with their needs and the need of the Oakland diocese.
Earlier this year, CalCatholic reported on the 50th anniversary of ordination of Father Cornelius Buckley, chaplain at Thomas Aquinas College. On March 14 there was a testimonial dinner in San Francisco honoring Father Buckley. One of the speakers was his old friend Father Fessio. The event was attended by prominent Catholics—two of whom were Bill and Mary McInerny. Father Fessio approached Mr. McInerny and said “Bill, you’ve got friends. What can we do about getting the Carmelites reestablished in Oakland?” Father Fessio told CalCatholic “Bill took the bull by the horns” and within one week spoke to members of the McCosker family, solid Catholics who have owned a ranch four miles from Montclair, since the presidency of Benjamin Harrison. Family members met with Bishop Cordileone, Mr. McInerny, and Father Fessio and agreed to find a way to provide the Carmelites with a permanent location on the land, in honor of their parents. Father Fessio said “The whole foundation is due to the generosity of the McCoskers and the heroic efforts of Bill McInerny.”
The Carmelites were met at the airport by Bishop Cordileone, who accompanied them to their new home. The premises are not yet finished, and the Carmelites will still be in need of support, as they fulfill their mission as “… women who have discovered the absolute value of the Kingdom of God, and wish to realize this in their monasteries, as a praying sisterhood at the service of the Church.”
The Carmelites hope to build a full monastery, capable of housing 21 community members. Now the on-site building is capable of housing the five advance members (one of whom, Sr. Perpetua, is Father Fessio’s former secretary), although it is being subdivided to house 6-7 additional members who will arrive soon. The sisters can use assistance with their day-to-day expenses. The chapel is up and running. The inaugural Mass in the chapel was celebrated on Wednesday, July 25 at 7:00 a.m. The celebrant was Bishop Cordileone.