Rebuilding Our Monastery
“I will always take care of you.”
–Promise of Our Lord to Mother Saint Clare
Fifty-one years after our arrival, time had taken its toll on our monastery which had experienced many structural “aches and pains.” Every possible “band-aid” had already been applied. Our patient contractor came to the unavoidable conclusion: The monastery would need to be rebuilt. But what could have looked like the end of our history was actually a new beginning: a door opening onto God’s unfolding plan.
The structural engineer’s sad report indicated that two-thirds of the monastery would need to be demolished; the good news was that the Chapel, refectory, the small dormitory above it, and the choir hallway with its few rooms were the one-third which would still remain. But where would Poor Clare nuns who have nothing of their own get enough money to rebuild the rest? Should we stay or should we relocate? After much prayerful listening to the Divine Architect, we decided to stay. So the next matter for consideration was what would we build and where on the existing property?
What had once seemed impossible to decide, all of a sudden became quite simple. Our plans came together and we presented them to the architect who would “translate” them into feasible building plans. Trusting in Divine Providence, we were ready to go forward. Hearing that Poor Clares were planning what had to be a multi-million dollar restoration of their monastery, our gallant Knights of Columbus stepped in and began fundraising for us.
A project of this magnitude is vibrant testimony to our loving God. We were literally surrounded by spiritual giants whose self-sacrifice would be the real foundation of our new monastery. How blessed we were not only in our three wise men (our contractor, our architect, our financial advisor), but also the many neighbors, subcontractors, and donors all coming together for the rebuilding of this House of God. We wanted to do our part as well. We followed in the footsteps of our Father Saint Francis and our Mother Saint Clare and began to beg for the stones necessary to rebuild the House of God we would be privileged to live in, offering a blessing for every stone given for the love of God.
Believing in God’s love with a constancy that is a proclamation to the whole world that God is enough and everything else is not enough, we met the hurdle inherent in any substantial building project: the budget. Decisions had to be made about everything which all would have to comply with the Los Altos Hills City Building Code. Our preliminary plans were submitted on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, 2001, the first step to actual approval. The Town Hall Meeting scheduled to discuss our building plans was on February 14, 2002, the 52nd anniversary of our arrival in these beautiful hills, and the Planning Committee gave their permission a few weeks later.
D-day (demolition day) approached, and we began utilizing the small part of the monastery that would be left to us. Our life began a completely different mode. We knew it was going to happen, and we were looking forward to this first step, yet to watch the buildings we had come to love be completely destroyed in a matter of a few hours was something we could have never been completely prepared to see. As a testimony to our real need to rebuild, one building completely collapsed as the mechanical “building eater” (as we called it) approached. That memorable day we saw the material part of our history disappear into a pile which stood higher than we did. We had a front row seat in this rather destructive display of the transiency of things. We walked together among the rubble of fifty years and more of monastic living which had been written into the now demolished walls. They had been the framed space where Poor Clares had sung God’s praises by night and by day. We were on our way to the rebuilding of our monastery.
Soon the rubble was cleared away and the stark emptiness was ready to receive the foundations. Before we knew it, buildings were beginning to sprout from that barren earth. We were hidden observers by day and eager explorers by afternoon, as soon as the men had left.
A new year dawned, and each month marked visible progress in the transformation of wooden frames into walls and rooms. In the third year of our building adventure we were making progress and could set October 4, 2003, the solemnity of our Father Saint Francis, as the date Bishop Patrick J. McGrath was to officiate at the Dedication Mass, but we had a long way to go before that momentous day, and there were more miracles of God’s grace to come right around the corner.
Our architect had the wonderful idea of erecting a ten foot Cross in the very center of the courtyard. Another dream come true was having a concrete planter for flowers around the Cross. We were living knee deep in miracles. Our building voyage was drawing closer to the Bishop officially declaring our beautifully executed and architecturally sound building a cloister.
People are so very, very good to give without counting the cost so that God alone can be their reward. For us to repay these wonderful missionaries of God’s love would be as impossible as building a monastery without any money. Both miracles are only possible for our loving God. Miracle after miracle of generosity flooded our once empty shell. We can truly say that this House of God was built out of love. Every inch of our new monastery could be claimed by the sacrifice of so many faith-filled people who donated to the rebuilding cause for the love of God. Our new monastery was officially a cloister now. Our three wise men had brought us safely into the harbor of our beautifully executed and completely secure monastery. On November 24, the feast of the Vietnamese martyrs, the City of Los Altos Hills gave us permission to officially occupy it. We were totally debt free—No, not really. We will always have a debt of gratitude only our dear Lord can adequately pay to those who assisted us so generously.
–from The Empty Shell