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Hollywood’s hidden monastery not for sale, according to order

For nearly 100 years, the cloistered nuns of the Monastery of the Angels have been praying for the people of Los Angeles 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from a four-acre campus just below the Hollywood sign.

In this tranquil space, the nuns sell spiritual books, medallions and prayer cards, as well as hand-dipped sweets and their beloved pumpkin bread to help support themselves and other local parishes. A simple chapel open to the public hosts mass every day at 7 a.m.

But as the number of nuns fell from a high two decades ago of more than 40 to a low of three in recent months, the monastery’s friends and neighbors feared the historic property could be put up for sale. Now a spokesperson for the Dominican monastery has confirmed the resort is safe, at least for now.

A statue on the grounds of the Monastery of the Angels in Hollywood.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

“There are a lot of rumors going around, so let me be clear: there are no plans from the Dominicans to sell the property, and it’s not even being considered at the moment,” he said. said Lloyd Pantell, a lawyer representing the monastery. . “The areas open to the public – the gift shop, the confectionery and the chapel – will continue to operate as in the past.”

Sister Maria Christine, prioress of the monastery, said the aim of the Dominican order is to improve and extend the mission that the nuns began almost 100 years ago: to provide an oasis of peace for prayer. silence and contemplation.

“We welcome the voices of support from the local Catholic community,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “Together we will continue the work of preserving the monastery grounds as a holy and sacred space dedicated to the enrichment of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Rob Hollman, a nonprofit consultant who teamed up with local curators Richard Schave and Kim Cooper to launch the Los Angeles Angel Monastery Foundation, said the news that the monastery wouldn’t be sold was “great to hear”.

“We want to see it survive and thrive and be accessible to the community and not lose another institution to the bulldozer,” Hollman said.

Monastery of the Angels Foundation, which has no affiliation with the monastery or the Dominican order, is in the process of applying for nonprofit status. It aims to raise enough money to buy the monastery if it comes up for sale, help maintain the buildings and grounds, and keep it open to the public for prayer and contemplation, even though there are no more nuns who live there.

Hollywood’s hidden monastery not for sale, according to order

Volunteer Monette Sarthou holds a loaf of the monastery’s famous pumpkin bread baked on site and sold in the Monastery of the Angels gift shop in Hollywood.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

“The goal is to make it a sanctuary for the people of Los Angeles,” Hollman said. “It really is a hidden gem.”

Brody Hale, a lawyer from Tyringham, Mass., who runs the St. Stephen Protomartyr Projectwhich seeks to preserve Catholic churches and monasteries across the country, has been advising founding members of the foundation since December, when it received a Google Alert about a Times article outlining fears the Monastery of Angels could be destroyed. sale.

“As part of this job, I do a Google News alert search every morning for monastery closings, church closings, and church demolitions,” Hale said.

Not every church slated for demolition can be saved, but if he feels there are people out there who are ready to get to work, he reaches out to offer his expertise.

” I am a lawyer. I’m good at stalking people if I need to,” he said.

Hale said it’s important to maintain Catholic sacred spaces, even if local communities can no longer sustain them.

“These structures and spaces tend to radiate many graces, as they say in Catholicism,” he said. “They are spiritually uplifting, mentally uplifting and simply beneficial to all who visit them.”

Travis Awardan architect specializing in sacred cultural spaces, agreed that the preservation of Catholic churches, monasteries and other places designed for religious contemplation has value, even for those who are not believers.

“Geometry speaks, memories speak, and the spirit of a place is vibrant if you’re open to it,” he said. “To stay still in the modern world, to go deep inside, is not an easy thing. If you start mutilating sacred space, you start losing touch with a large part of being human.

Hollywood’s hidden monastery not for sale, according to order

A statue of Jesus, erected in 1955, is illuminated on the grounds of the Monastery of the Angels in Hollywood.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

The Monastery of the Angels was founded in 1924 and was supported in its early days by some of the wealthiest families in Los Angeles, including the Dohenys, Dockweilers, Van de Kamps and Hancocks.

In 1934, the order moved to a sprawling Hollywood estate that had belonged to copper mine owner Joseph Giroux. Fourteen years later, Catholic women in Los Angeles raised funds to build for the sisters a new cloister, chapel and office complex on the same site, designed by architect Wallace Neff.

For decades the monastery has been supported by fundraising tea parties and fashion shows at which celebrities such as Bing Crosby and Don Ameche have performed, but in recent years it has suffered financial and financial problems. decline in the number of its members.

In 2009, just after the onset of the recession, the nuns posted a notice that the monastery was at risk of becoming “a condominium or mall or worse” due to declining donations and investment income. There were then 20 women in the cloister. After several nuns died or moved into assisted living facilities during the COVID pandemic, only three live in the monastery today.

Carlos Sanchez, general manager of the monastery, said the remaining nuns were in good shape.

“They don’t need any help, they walk around, they work, they garden, they oversee all the candy production, one works in the gift shop,” he said. “And they pray all the time. They always pray.

Sanchez, who has worked at the monastery for 20 years, said the past few months have been unsettling.

“Everything seems like it’s frozen,” he said. “Hopefully someone with great vision comes in and knows what to do with the place.”

Hale, the Massachusetts attorney, said that despite the Dominicans’ statement that they have no plans to sell the property, he thinks people who care about the monastery should think carefully about what action to take if that plan were to change. .

“While I certainly welcome the statement that the property will not be sold, I await further details on what this means,” he said. “In the meantime, I think everyone is going to prepare for all eventualities and think about the future very carefully. I certainly am.

Los Angeles Times

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