Trappistines

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The Cistercians of Strict Observance
(Video of a Sister taking her Solemn Profession)

The Cistercian Order was founded in 1098 by St. Robert and his companions with a desire to “ to live a life in stricter conformity to the Rule of St. Benedict.” In response to some laxity in observance in some Cistercian monasteries in the following centuries, a reform movement occurred in the 17 th century at the Abbey of La Trappe in Normandy France. This reform marked a return to a stricter observance of the Rule of St. Benedict, leading to a new branch within the Cistercian Order, The Cistercians of Strict Observance or Trappist/Trappistines. The Trappist Order is a dual sex order in which both males (monks) and females (nuns) share in the responsibilities and administration of the Order but live separately. Typically, a monastery of monks will be within a few hours drive of a monastery of nuns, in keeping with the solidarity of the Trappist Order. The Trappists have Monasteries/Abbeys all around the world with seventeen houses in the United States, including twelve for monks and five for nuns. The first Trappist monks came to the United States in 1848 from France and settled in Kentucky, while the first Trappistine nuns came from Ireland in 1949 and settled in Massachusetts. On April 29, 1987 six Sisters from the Monastery in Massachusetts embarked on a journey to form a new presence in the South. They settled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Crozet, Virginia.

When the Sisters first arrived at the property in Crozet, which had been purchased by the Mother House in Massachusetts, there were only two log cabins and a cheese making barn. The older cabin was built in 1810 although it has since been modernized with electricity and running water. The Sisters resided in these cabins for almost two years while the Monastery was built using donations from friends, and benefactors. Construction of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery began on November 10, 1987 and was completed in March, 1989. Upon completion of the monastery, the cabins were turned into retreat cottages for guests. In 1990, with the help of friends in the surrounding communities, the Sisters began making Monastery Country Gouda Cheese in the pre-existing cheese making barn to support their contemplative lifestyle. In 1991, their cheese was featured in a front page human interest article in The Washington Post; since then the Sisters have not needed to advertise because they typically sell out their supply of cheese before Christmas. In the following years Our Lady of the Angels grew in number from six Sisters to twelve Sisters, and in early 2006 they began an expansion of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery. In late 2007, the Sisters also began an expansion of the cheese making barn, including updating old operating equipment. The expansion of the Monastery was completed in 2007, and the renovation of the cheese making barn ended in August 2008. The current community at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery consists of eleven Sisters and one postulant; members represent a variety of cultural backgrounds, including Polish, American, and Indian. The Sisters range in age from 30 to 78 years old. Additionally, the Sisters have two dogs- Amber and Jesse.

The completed and expanded Our Lady of the Angels Monastery houses a public chapel, a library, cells with a half bath (bedrooms), a shower/tub room, novitiate, offices, chapter room, dining room, kitchen, laundry room, two visiting rooms, and a sacristy, as well as gardens, an inner courtyard, and a cemetery. When a Sister from the Trappistine Order dies, the Abbot from the Trappist Abbey of Holy Cross in Berryville, Virginia (their closest brother abbey) officiates at the funeral. On the Monastery property are many trails for hiking, a pond, the cheese making barn, two guest retreat houses, and a house where the Sisters’ Chaplain from the Holy Cross Abbey resides. There is monastic papal enclosure for the Sisters’ living space, but the chapel and visiting rooms are open to the public. Icons and religious artwork can be found on the walls of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, and one of the Sisters is an artist. Additionally, the community is musically inclined- playing guitar, organ, harp, recorder, violin, hammered dulcimer, and singing.

The Trappistine Sisters lead a contemplative lifestyle that revolves around the Liturgy of the Hours, the Eucharist, sacred reading, prayer, work, and community. They rise every morning at 3:00. At 3:15 they have Vigils (night prayer), private prayer, spiritual reading and breakfast. At 6:30 they have Lauds (morning praise). The Sisters then have either a conference with the Superior, a community meeting, or class (for the novices) at 7:00. At 7:30 every morning, Mass is celebrated, followed by Terce (mid-morning prayer). The Sisters then work until 11:00. At 11:40 the Sisters have Sext (mid-day prayer), dinner, and then an optional siesta, private prayer or reading. At 1:30 they have None (afternoon prayer), which is followed by more work until 4:00. At 5:30 the Sisters have Vespers (evening prayer) followed by silent mediation in community, supper, and private prayer or reading. They end their day with Compline (concluding prayer of the day) at 7:00. The Sisters turn out their lights every night between 7:30 and 8:30. On the Mass is at 8:00 a.m..[Is this right?] Although the Sisters have not taken a vow of silence, they prayerfully remain silent during their day, speaking only as necessary

In addition to making cheese, an activity in which every Sister participates, there are jobs devoted to maintaining the monastery such as cleaning, cooking, cutting the grass, laundry and sewing, shopping for food, taking care of the animals, answering the door and phone, and preparing the guest retreat cottages. The jobs are arranged in a schedule that allows the Sisters to work in different jobs on different days of the week. The making of cheese is the main source of income, allowing the Sister to lead a contemplative lifestyle, but they do receive donations from friends, benefactors, and people in the surrounding communities. Within Our Lady of the Angels Monastery is a Monastic Council which consists of the Mother Superior, her assistant, and a few other Sisters. The Monastic Council meets to discuss issues pertinent to the community. If the input of the entire community is needed then a Community Meeting is called. The Sisters also have a Liturgy Commission that handles religious and other event planning. Additionally, the postulants and novices form a group based upon the Novitiate Formation Program at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery.

The Sisters celebrate Holydays as well as American holidays. To celebrate Holydays the Sisters sometimes make presents for each other, and have festive meals with speaking allowed, and eat desserts; however, the main focus and celebration on Holydays is the Liturgy of the Hours. To celebrate American holidays, birthdays, jubilees, and vows, the Sisters will decorate their dining rooms and have a special dinner with conversation. Celebrations distinctive to Our Lady of the Angels Monastery are the official anniversary of its foundation, which is commentated on May 1, and the feast of their patron, Our Lady of the Angels, which is celebrated August 2. Each year the Sisters privately renew their vows on the anniversary date of their first vows. The Sisters also celebrate a Silver Jubilee for a 25th year anniversary of their vows and a Golden Jubilee for their 50th year anniversary. About twice a year the Sisters receive family visitors who may stay for a few days at a time. The monastery also offers retreats for those who want quiet reflective time to spend with God amid the beauty of nature on the rolling hills and serene countryside of Our Lady of the Angels property. Additionally, the Sisters receive prayer requests from people in the community, through emails, and cheese orders.

Our Lady of the Angels Monastery offers public Mass on Monday through Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 8:00. Typically around four to five people attend the daily Mass with around thirty to forty attending the Sunday Mass and “wall to wall” people on Christmas and Easter. A Chaplain from the Trappist Abbey of the Holy Cross Abbey presides over all Masses and lives in a separate house on the Our Lady of the Angels property. The Mass primarily draws people from Charlottesville, Crozet, and the surrounding counties.

The Cistercians of Strict Observance (Trappistines)
Our Lady of the Angels Monastery
3365 Monastery Drive
Crozet , Virginia 22932
(434)-823-1452

Sources:
Our Lady of the Angels Monastery public relations director
Our Lady of the Angels Monastery website

Profile prepared by Amanda Tellefsen
October, 2009

 


 

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