(Older article just after new (current) monastery was built)
MINOOKA -- The Catholic nuns who built Annunciation Monastery warmly welcomed bustling throngs of friends, well-wishers, benefactors and neighbors during several open houses this week. But this newly built monastery west of Minooka soon will fall silent after the nuns retreat completely into a quiet life of prayer and contemplation.The nine Poor Clare nuns who call Annunciation Monastery home have taken a vow of enclosure. In doing so, they have promised to lead their lives in silent seclusion on the monastery's grounds. Their solemn vow was relaxed for the nearly three years it took to build the monastery. During that time, the nuns interacted with people from all walks of life, including architects, contractors, professional laborers and community volunteers.
A construction-savvy Mother Mary Dorothy Urschalitz, the monastery's abbess, joked about dealing with Grundy County code inspectors. "Really, you'd like the codes to go jump," she said after conducting a tour of the monastery during an open house Tuesday.
The Poor Clares adhered to their traditions as closely as possible with work going on all around them. But with the monastery completed, the time has come for the nuns to return to their former lifestyle. Bishop Joseph Imesch, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Joliet, will dedicate Annunciation Monastery during a Mass at 2 p.m. today. The bishop also will establish a papal enclosure that will take effect this evening. At that time, the Colettine Poor Clare Cloistered Nuns of Joliet will retire into prayerful solitude behind the monastery's walls. All dealings with the outside world will be handled by two externs -- Poor Clare nuns who do not vow enclosure.
This week's open houses offered a rare glimpse into a private world. Annunciation Monastery's facade, with its gray brick walls and blue-tiled roof, conceals a spacious interior of modest decor.
A chapel and a visiting parlor are the only public areas.
Community members will be invited to attend daily Mass at the monastery. The sisters, however, will attend the same service in an adjacent chapel.
The Poor Clares may greet family members four times each year at the monastery. But because of their vow of enclosure, the nuns remain behind a steel grate during the visits.
The nuns sleep in Spartan private quarters they refer to as cells. The tiny blue room that was open to the public this week contains a firm bed, a desk, a chair and a small closet area. A single crucifix hangs on the wall. The monastery's 10 cells are all much the same, Mother Dorothy said.
The Poor Clares built their monastery with help of volunteers from throughout the area. A local carpenter, for example, transformed old oak pews from Rockford's St. Bernadette Church into cabinets and bookshelves for the monastery's library. Two volunteers who asked that their names not be used for this story stained the wood last winter.
The nuns also proved to be skillful collectors. The monastery is adorned with religious statues, stained-glass windows and crucifixes that were donated by churches and community members. The bell tower from St. Mary Immaculate Church in Plainfield also found a home at Annunciation Monastery.
The tornado of Aug. 28, 1990, knocked over the tower that stood in front of the church since the late 1970s. The parish returned the tower to its designers, Anzelc Welding and Fabricators of Rockdale, while a new church was built. But the parish council didn't want it back because it didn't fit with the new church's design, said owner Tom Anzelc. The structure sat in the company's yard for eight years. Anzelc was preparing to scrap the tower when Mother Dorothy came across it while she was commissioning volunteer work from him. She convinced Anzelc to galvanize the tower and install it with a statue of the Blessed Mother at the front of the monastery. "It started out in Plainfield, and it ended up in Minooka. But it's still standing. And it's found a good home," Anzelc said.
In 1990, the Joliet Diocese began a quest to find a contemplative order interested in making its home here. The Poor Clares in Rockford responded to the local church's call by allowing nine of their nuns to found a monastery within the diocese. Mother Dorothy, who was abbess of Rockford's Corpus Christi Monastery, agreed to oversee the founding of the Joliet monastery. After a lengthy search, the pioneering nuns settled on 27 acres of wooded property on East Minooka Road. The land is bounded on the north by Interstate 80 and on the west by Aux Sable Creek.
"It's a nice place, very close to the little village (Minooka) and to Joliet," Mother Dorothy said. "And it isn't too noisy if you don't listen to I-80."
The nuns moved onto the property in 1995 and lived there quietly -- first in a mobile home, and later in a small ranch-style house they built while construction began on the monastery. The house will provide extra work space for the nuns. Mother Dorothy is matter-of-factly philosophical about the nuns' vow of enclosure. "It's an extra penance. We should do something for the Lord. He's done so much for us," she said.