A farewell Mass for Camden’s contemplative nuns

With the toll of the noon bells, and the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary chanting, the final public Mass in Camden at the Dominican Monastery on Haddon Avenue came to a close on Dec. 9.

For 113 years, the stone building next to Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center has served as a light in the darkness, and a “powerhouse of prayer,” for Camden and its residents, as the monastery’s cloistered sisters have taken turns saying the rosary 24/7 behind its walls.

At one time, approximately 30 sisters populated the monastery. Now Sisters Anna Marie, Damien, Teresa and Angela will soon depart Camden to live at the Monastery of Mary the Queen in Elmira, N.Y.

Bishop Dennis Sullivan and local priests celebrated the final liturgy, assisted by deacons and a seminarian. In attendance were the community of the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary and those who have found comfort in the prayers of the sisters.

Monday’s Mass, one of celebration and sadness, was “bittersweet,” said Dominican Father Anthony Cataudo.

As chaplain of the monastery since 2000, Father Cataudo has said Mass for the sisters and led retreats and devotions for them. With the closing of the monastery, he will live at St. Peter Church in Merchantville.

While the sisters living at the monastery had little contact with the outside world and rarely left the grounds, the chapel was open to anyone who wanted to attend Mass there.

“This is a powerhouse of prayer,” said Deacon Emil Ralbusky, who has been a daily communicant at the 6:45 a.m. Mass for the past 25 years. “It’s a holy place.”

Fifty years ago, Joseph Broccoli was an altar server at the monastery. On Monday, he and his wife, Karen, from Hainesport, attended Mass, as they have done for over 20 years.

“It’s sad to see them go; we’ve come to be close with the sisters,” said Karen, who said that they would frequently bring fudge and sweets to the sisters, and attend to some of their needs.

John Taulane, a retired teacher from Collingswood, attributes personal miracles to the sisters.

Before he was born, his older brother, Michael, then 2 years old, was seriously hurt in a road accident in 1950, and taken to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.

With their son having died on the operating table three times, Michael’s parents walked next door to the monastery to ask the sisters for prayers. The child pulled through.

“I bring my petitions to them,” John said. “They are a direct pipeline to heaven.” Five generations of John’s family have prayed at the monastery.

In his homily, Bishop Sullivan invoked the words of Mary to the angel Gabriel, in the reading of the day’s Gospel, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

The bishop compared the sisters to the Blessed Mother. “We admire their obedience, their faith and their cooperation with the grace of God,” Bishop Sullivan said.

Father Brian Mulcahy, Provincial of the Province of St. Joseph for the Dominican Sisters, read a letter to the congregation from the order’s Master General, Father Bruno Madore.

The Master General thanked the sisters for being an “icon of God’s presence” in Camden, and “a light shining in darkness” to so many.

On May 20, 1901, six Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary, with their founder, Father Damien M. Saintourens, moved into their new residence at Euclid and Haddon avenues.

The remains of the monastery’s inhabitants, including Father Saintourens, and 44 sisters, were transferred from the monastery grounds to Calvary Cemetery in Cherry Hill.

Future plans for the Dominican-owned monastery are not yet known.

Written By Peter G. Sánchez for the Dec. 13 edition of the Catholic Star Herald

Bishop with Contemplative nuns

Photo by James A. McBride for the Catholic Star Herald

Bishop Dennis Sullivan stands with the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in-residence in Camden after Mass Dec. 9. From left, Sister Anna Marie Pierre, Sister Mary Regina Berkel, Sister Teresa Margaret Murphy and Sister Damien Marie Fusco with Sister Miriam, Prioress of the Monastery of Mary the Queen in Elmira, N.Y., where the Camden sisters are relocating. Behind them are Father Robert Hughes, Vicar General; Bishop Sullivan; and Father Brian Mulcahy, Provincial of the Province of St. Joseph.