Nun describes simplicity of Pope’s retirement monastery

By Estefania Aguirre

Madrid, Spain, Feb 14, 2013

A view of Mater Ecclesiae monastery, the place where Pope Benedict XVI will retire to a life of prayer. Credit: File Photo/ EWTN News.

One of the nuns that lived in the monastery where the Pope will retire says his choice shows his “great simplicity” because it “is not a work of art or comparable with other Vatican buildings.”

“His decision to retire has surprised me, but he is very brave, although he is fragile and elderly,” said the nun from the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, who requested anonymity because of her cloistered life.

“But this decision is proof that he has a very lucid mind,” she stated, adding that “our self love does not allow us to see our own limitations, contrary to what Pope Benedict has done.”

“If I loved him before,” she declared, “now I love him even more.”

The sisters led a simple life with no staff. They spent their time praying and, for their 400th anniversary, the nuns made liturgical vestments for Pope Benedict to donate to poorer churches.

“One week before we left he asked us: ‘what will the Pope do without you?’ and he asked us to keep praying for him,” said the nun.

“His decision has made us cry, but he has been very brave,” she added.

The monastery, called Mater Ecclesiae, is 4,300 square feet and lies just west of St. Peter’s Basilica.

It contains a chapel, a choir room, a library, a semi-basement, a terrace and a visiting room that was added in 1993.

When Pope Benedict XVI announced on Feb. 11 that he was going to resign from the papacy and live in the convent, speculation began to circulate about when he made his decision, since renovations began in Nov. 2012.

According to the Spanish nun, who currently resides in a convent in Madrid, the building had not been refurbished in 18 years and needed minor repairs.

“We had humidity in the basement, the windows needed changing, and the terrace on top needed fixing and painting because of past snow,” she explained.

“But the building is very small, so they had to wait for us to leave to begin working on it.”

Reflecting on her experience living in the Vatican convent, the Visitation nun said she and her fellow religious felt intensely that they “were the heart of the Church.”

“It was an experience that is very hard to put into words.

Their mission was to pray for the Pope, for his trips, and accompany him in prayer on a daily basis.

The Spanish nun recalled how Pope Benedict would often thank them for their prayers and regularly checked up on their general well-being.

He originally wanted French nuns to live in the monastery, she explained, but due to the small number of vocations in France he decided it would be better to pick them from Spain.

The monastery was established in 1994 by Blessed John Paul II as a place dedicated solely to prayer for the Pope, his ministry and the cardinals.

The order of the Visitation of St. Mary was picked from among many other religious groups to live in the monastery from Oct. 7, 2009 until Oct. 7, 2012.

Their stay was extended for 15 days and they left the monastery on Oct. 22, just after Bl. John Paul’s feast day.

The seven sisters all came from convents in Spain, but one was from Colombia and another from Equatorial Guinea.

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5 Responses to Nun describes simplicity of Pope’s retirement monastery

  1. Toad says:

    At least he didn’t express a wish to go to Disneyland.

    (A comment obscure to non-Americans, probably.)


  2. Frere Rabit says:

    Having lived in three contemplative monasteries, two Anglican and one Catholic, and also spent the late summer of 2009 in a Franciscan friary on the Via Gianicolo near the Vatican while recovering from a broken foot, I have a fair understanding of how monastic solitude is easily penetrated.

    I would like to support Benedict XVI in his desire for solitude, but recommend that he return to Germany and find a better monastic retreat. He will always be sought out by the players of the ecclesiatical/political game in Rome, and he will only gain the monastic solitude he seeks by leaving Rome behind. He has seen too much as Pope. The spiritual pressures on him from the forces of darkness will be enormous. A community of prayer around him will be essential. Our prayers will be the other backup he deserves.


  3. johnhenrycn says:

    FR, there’s been some scuttlebutt since Monday’s announcement, that the decision to stay within the Vatican City precincts during retirement is to avoid the indignity of being drawn into legal proceedings in other states, either as a party or as a witness. I don’t know whether there’s any truth in that; but former heads of state, and other sundry high ranking officials, do take that prospect seriously in this day and age.


  4. Frere Rabit says:

    Indeed there are many rumours, and they will continue for the next three weeks inevitably. Our best ploy is to simply ignore it all this Lent and pray for the Holy Father, observe our Lenten discipline, and give thanks that the Chuirtch has been and will be in good hands.


  5. Frere Rabit says:

    The Church will be in good hands… Unlike my typing.


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