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Monastery property to continue as space for service and love

Posted by | Barbara Curtin Miles

MOUNT ANGEL — Like many of Oregon’s elders, the Benedictine Sisters are downsizing.

They are selling the four-story monastery that has housed generations of nuns since 1888. They have bequeathed most of their ministries to younger hands.

By the end of May, all the remaining sisters will have moved from their 30-acre campus to nearby spots in independent living, assisted living or nursing care.

Finances have played a part in the decision, but only a part.

“Vocations have dwindled, and to maintain this huge monastery for 16 sisters just isn’t feasible,” said Sister Dorothy Jean Beyer, the community’s donor relations officer and retreat coordinator for Shalom at the Monastery.

Dorothy Beyer, third from left, stands with other new Benedictines on the day of her first vows in 1963. (Catholic Sentinel archives)

She grew up across the street from the imposing brick edifice on Mount Angel Highway.  When she entered the novitiate in the 1960s, vocations were at their peak with about 140 sisters.

Sister Dorothy Jean Beyer grew up in the Mount Angel area and professed vows as a Benedictine in 1963.

Now the remaining sisters are in their 80s and 90s, said Sister Dorothy Jean.

Their increasing medical needs will be better met at the nearby Providence Benedictine Nursing Center, Orchard House Assisted Living and Mount Angel Towers – three of the local institutions that owe their start to the Benedictines.

The plan has been about six years in the making. Sister Dorothy Jean, along with pastoral administrator Sister Jane Hibbard and the Benedictine Sisters’ Board of Trustees, are negotiating sale of the campus with Catholic Community Services Foundation. It’s an arm of the Salem nonprofit that serves about 5,000 people in 10 counties.

Donors have already contributed a significant down payment, said Josh Graves, CEO of Catholic Community Services. The agreement could close by August, he said.

“Catholic Community Services is dedicated to serving seniors and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” he said. “The property is an amazing place to continue this work.”

Catholic Community Service hopes to develop the monastery building into a total of 30 units for farm workers – a longtime ministry of the nuns — and families experiencing homelessness.

Queen of Angels Monastery has been home to Benedictine nuns since the 1880s. In keeping with the Sisters’ care and love for those on the margins, the property is likely to become a refuge for farmworkers and families facing homelessness.

The Benedictine sisters will no longer own the property, but this doesn’t mean the end of their monastic community.

The sisters have rented space at Orchard House for prayer and cherished activities such as sewing and solving puzzles, said Sister Dorothy Jean. They’ll continue to walk the tree-lined campus and visit the tranquil Saint Scholastica garden.

They’ll keep an office in the monastery, and they’ll continue to offer talks and retreats.  The monastery chapel, which was rebuilt after the 1993 Spring Break Quake, will still host jubilees and funerals.

Resilience has been part of the sisters’ lives ever since the 1800s, when a small band from Switzerland settled above an abandoned Gervais saloon. Their descendants have weathered financial woes, two world wars and more.

Sister Dorothy Jean finds inspiration in Joshua 1:9, a biblical verse for all who face change:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Barbara Curtin Miles, a retired journalist, serves on the board of directors for Catholic Charities of Oregon.