The refrains of two very different songs have come often to mind over the past few months as we have made preparations for the renovation of our beloved Ottilia Hall and improvements to our Retreat Center. One refrain is a single line from a pop song – “breaking up is hard to do.” The other is a line from the Psalm response, “Let us go rejoicing.”
Yes, I know it seems strange for a line from a pop song to run alongside a Psalm, even when applying the pop line to a completely different context. Nevertheless, these two phrases have been steady internal refrains as I have watched our Sisters and staff pack, lift, move, toss, tote, and do the immensely hard work of ‘breaking up’ a hundred-year-old, three-and-a-half story household and temporarily shoe-horn ourselves into every other nook and cranny of the monastery. It has been hard to do, and we have done it rejoicing.
Preparing for renovation has meant not only the hard manual labor of dismantling and moving a major portion of the interior of our monastic environment, it has also meant the disruption of familiar routines, alterations to customary patterns and routes, the transformation of areas associated with treasured community memories – and of course the many other challenges that come with transition and change. And yet, we have gone rejoicing.
One reason we go rejoicing is that the decision to proceed with renovation was made prayerfully and together through a lengthy period of community discernment – all in keeping with Chapter 3 of St. Benedict’s Rule. With our Prioress and monastic Council leading the way, we each participated in one way or another as over several years we moved carefully and methodically from reflection to decision to preparation to implementation, with each phase rooted in prayer and mutual discernment.
Another reason we go rejoicing is that this is the house of the Lord. To use the words of St. Benedict, the monastery is “a school of the Lord’s service.” It is a place dedicated to seeking God in and through community. This is God’s house, and so we dismantle, pack, and move with joy, knowing that we dwell within the household of the Lord.
Over the past weeks, Sister after Sister has packed up and departed Ottilia Hall in a carefully planned sequence of moves. The first transitions happened well before Christmas, and the pace has slowly picked up steam with each passing week. This past Thursday, on the Feast of St. Scholastica, the final two of us departed Ottilia for our transitional quarters. Only a few offices remain, and these will be moved by the end of the month. Then renovation will begin.
While the work of ‘breaking’ has been hard, and an occasional wistful reminiscence can be heard, the overall spirit has been one of tremendous joy and great anticipation.
Yes, we are learning that the ‘breaking up’ of dismantling, packing, and moving is very hard to do, and yet we go rejoicing.
I rejoiced when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” (Ps. 122:1)
Postscipt: The furniture from the now-empty guest parlor on the first floor of Ottilia (shown at top) has found a temporary home at the east end of the monastic dining room. Also shown above is the new home of our treasured Sacred Heart statue. This statue, which has greeted generations of Sisters and guests as they entered Ottilia Hall, now anchors the northwest corner of the dining room. A few more photos from the move can be viewed on our photo gallery web page.
Regular readers of Benedictine Update, our community newsletter, will be familiar with the progress of our master planning over the past few years. Those unfamiliar with our planning process may wish to read some of our previous Benedictine Updates that may be accessed through our Community News page. Once renovation work begins, regular posts will be available on our website. Please keep us in prayer as we proceed with this exciting time in the life of our monastic community!