“If you find us a monastery, we will dedicate it to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” –Mother Agnes
On February 14, 1950, four Poor Clare nuns arrived at the then Gibson Estate in Los Altos Hills to establish their monastery. Los Altos hills at that time must have been a breathtaking site since the hills were covered with apricot orchards—acres and acres of blossoming trees for as far as the eye could see. When better than St. Valentine’s Day to begin this house of praise for God?
The hilltop cloister dedicated to The Immaculate Heart of Mary would have at its heart the tabernacle of her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, which would be the focal point of the lives of these Poor Ladies who strive to be footprints of the Mother of God. On February 16, 1950, two Jesuit priests offered the first Holy Mass in the ballroom basement of the estate.
Since Mr. and Mrs. Gibson needed a place to stay until their own new residence was ready, they occupied the downstairs and the Sisters lived upstairs—not an ideal arrangement for a community of cloistered contemplative nuns, but it fit right in with the adventure of Franciscan living. Eventually, the Sisters had the estate to themselves, and they started to transform it into a monastery. Through the help of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, the Sisters gradually obtained all that was necessary to turn a private residence into a Poor Clare Monastery.
Within the first four years, the Sisters were able to add a beautiful permanent chapel and choir, a refectory, and a dormitory to the existing buildings. One of the stipulations by the Los Alto Hills City Council at that time was that they not ring any bells to disturb the spirit of the countryside. In not too many years, and with a little patience, the bells were added, and friends would be commenting on how much they loved listening to the bells and knowing the Sisters were praying for them.
Mother Veronica, one of the foundresses, dreamed however of a “real” monastery with a cloister courtyard, but this would have to wait. For the first fifty years of the foundation, the monastery was composed of the Gibson estate, the new chapel, choir, refectory, and dormitories, and two houses which were moved in from different parts of the property and aligned (more or less) to the rest of the buildings.
“Do you realize what you have?” Mother Veronica repeatedly exclaimed. She was giving enthusiastic thanks for the gift of community, the living stones she saw before her own eyes as new young sisters entered the monastery, and all the sisters living together in that mutual charity which is the bond of perfection.
Stones (the hard, heavy kind) were something with which she was especially familiar. There were a lot of very large stones around the property when the Sisters first arrived. They learned to put them to good use. Moving them to more profitable locations, they found a way to line the driveway with them, to make flower beds out of them, to take what once were obstacles and turn them into blessings. Today, every time we see those stones, we are reminded of the faithful poverty of our foundresses, who left their material needs in the hands of the Lord with complete confidence. They learned by experience what they already believed by faith:
“Lavishly He gives to the poor.”
From “And No One Saw His Footprints”