In 1969, five Poor Clare nuns from Evansville, Indiana set out to found a new monastery whose life would embody a deep expression of their dedication to God. Encouraged by the II Vatican Council to study the origins and animating vision of their founder, they had begun to reflect on their monastic way of life in the light of modern day life and its demands.
Each of the nuns was committed to bringing monastic life into the 20th century. Practices such as living behind a grill, strict observance of silence and strict observance of fasting and abstinence had become for them an obstacle to the development of authentic, natural relationships both within the monastery and outside its walls. The Gospel call was seen by them as a call to a fullness of life which involved the growth and maturing of the whole human personality.
One of the nuns was writing to a Trappist monk at the time. At the same time, unknown to her, a brother from the Brotherhood of St. Francis was also writing to this Trappist. Because what they were writing about was so similar, the Trappist put them in touch with each other. The nuns received an invitation from Fr. Laurence, the former abbot and founder of the Brotherhood (now known as New Skete) to visit the monks at their new monastery near Cambridge, NY.
The nuns decided to establish their monastery, four miles down the road from the monks. Two more Poor Clare nuns joined the 5 and a small farmhouse was purchased with the help of the monks. Donations from family and friends helped them with furnishings and other purchases. The nuns immediately set about earning their keep by cleaning houses in town and working at the local hospital. In 1970, the monks laid the foundations across the road from the house in which the nuns had been living and built the super-structure, installed the heating, plumbing, and electrical work. It was a help to the monks as the nuns could pay them for their work. By early spring of 1971, the nuns were able to complete the outside and interior finishing of their new monastery well enough to inhabit.
The nuns began to paint icons, to sew vestments, and to do upholstering and slipcover work. They also took part in the German Shepherd breeding and training program of the monks. In 1983, a new addition was added to the nuns’ monastery... a bakery where they could produce their increasingly popular gourmet cheesecakes. Due to their increasing sales, the nuns were able to quit working outside the monastery and devote themselves to the production and marketing of this popular product.
The nuns were of the Latin Rite while the monks were of the Byzantine Rite, both within the Roman Church. From the beginning, the nuns joined the monks for Vespers and for Divine Liturgy. Gradually they began to join them for Matins and began increasing their participation in the services. The two communities began to take part in discussions and classes on spirituality and monastic living under the direction of Fr. Laurence and shared a meal on the weekend and on feast days. In 1974, the nuns, known as the Sisters of St. Clare, became the Nuns of New Skete, under the patronage of Our Lady of the Sign.
1979 heralded a major change for the nuns as the communities of New Skete, along with the parish which had sprung up around the monastery, were received into the Orthodox Church in America, under His Beatitude Metropolitan Theodosius. This brought them into closer contact with Orthodox believers from all areas of the world. To this day, we continue within the Orthodox Church in America, while we live our monastic life as authentically as possible within the 21st century, keeping in mind that the rule of the monastic life is the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. This continues to be our life’s work.
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