Living a cloistered life in Littleton

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Little-known monastery is home to 11 nuns

By Laura Herrington
For the Courier
On a recent Monday just before 6:30 a.m., 30 of the faithful motor up a partially hidden driveway to the historic house at 6138 S. Gallup St. They trickle into a small, unadorned chapel and sit scattered on the wooden pews, waiting for Mass to begin.

As with any other Catholic Mass, the faithful come forward to receive the body of Christ. Others come forward for a blessing. Then the priest turns to a small doorway on the left side of the chapel to give the Eucharist to the nuns. The sisters receive the Communion on their tongues, instead of their hands, to be fed like the children of God.  
These sisters belong to the Carmelite Monastery of Littleton.
The large house on South Gallup is home to a small and relatively unknown cloister of Carmelite nuns — 11, to be exact.
The monastery, next door to the Littleton Museum, was built as the country estate Wyldemere Farm in 1912. In 1947 the sisters of the Carmelite order moved in.
La Verne Lanskey of Centennial believes the sisters’ presence here and their stewardship of the monastery benefit the historic building, as well as the neighborhood.
“Having the monastery in such an old neighborhood helps maintain Old Town Littleton’s character,” Lanskey says.
Laurie Patton of Littleton has fond memories of bringing her children to the monastery when they were young.

Simple sacrifice

The Carmelite nuns offer their sacrifice through a vegetarian diet, domestic tasks and constant prayer. They wear the Carmelite habit and sandals instead of shoes — in every season. They do not step outside the monastery, except for doctor visits or other vital appointments.
When a Carmelite sister dies, she is buried at the monastery; the small graveyard has five tombs so far.
The sisters spend their days deep in prayer for the Catholic Church, the community, and the world. There is a small drop-box at the monastery where community residents can leave written prayer requests.

Interactions with the community

For sustenance and basic needs, the sisters depend entirely on donations from the community. A small group of volunteers cares for the grounds, drives the nuns to doctor appointments, and delivers food from the grocery store.  
The small Carmelite chapel offers a different religious experience. While nearby St. Mary Catholic Parish offers a more contemporary Christmas service with lights and music, the older Carmelite monastery has a more conservative, traditional service.
For priests like Father Alvaro Montero, pastor at St. Mary Parish, the monastery is “an oasis.” The religious — and even the non-religious — in the Littleton community flock to the monastery on special religious days, such as St. Therese’s Day.
Priests from local parishes rotate in celebrating Mass at the monastery. Montero believes the sisters’ support is vital to the church, although in many ways it is intangible.
“(The monastery) is such a huge support for me. I receive so much more than I give to (the sisters). I receive prayer, hospitality, support. The different priests at St. Mary celebrate Mass as frequently as the sisters need, but I receive so much more.”

'They're so happy'
Although the monastery is cloistered, Mike McCabe brings the sisters homemade jam every couple of weeks, and he talks with them through a metal grate. Others who attend Masses bring the nuns tokens of appreciation for their prayer and sacrifice.
“People in the outside world can’t understand why the nuns live like this. But they’re so happy. They have great lives,” says McCabe, who greatly admires the sisters.  
In an interview in 2001 with the Denver Catholic Register, the monastery's former prioress said, "If everyone knew how happy we are, we'd be inundated with vocations.”
The new prioress, Mother Gemma Marie Hughes, kindly declined an interview with the Columbine Courier.  

The outside world

The sisters stay informed about the world and the community through the prayer requests. They receive the Denver Catholic Register as well as L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper. They occasionally find some community newspaper clippings in the prayer-request drop box.
The young women and teen girls at St. Mary recently completed a “nun run,” visiting many groups of nuns in Colorado, to help discover if they are called to a religious life. Many of these young women, such as Megan Reetz, hope to see their neighborhood Carmelite monastery on the itinerary in future.
As the Monday morning Mass at the Carmelite Monastery ends, the priest offers a blessing, and comes closer to referring to the sisters than he has all morning.
“May you be inspired by the saints of the Carmelite order, unceasing in your contemplation of God,” he says.