GERALDA MILLER
RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL

Posted: 7/29/2006

The nuns at the Carmel of Our Lady of the Mountains monastery in Reno hold hands as they pray over their meal. A final prayer service follows the communal dinner each night at the 51-year-old monastery.

Photo by Andy Barron —– 060726 ———- PLEASE DO NOT CROP THIS IMAGE ———— Sister Anne’s room at the Carmelite Monastery in Reno.

Sister Mary Margaret Yascolt, left, plays the flute in the chapel at the Carmelite monastery in Reno. Sister Yascolt has a degree in flute performance. Sister Anne Weber’s room, above, at the Carmelite monastery in Reno.

Photo by Andy Barron —– 060726 ———- PLEASE DO NOT CROP THIS IMAGE ———— Sister Maria Ahearn holds her snowbroad while standing in the monastery art studio. Sister Maria, who loves to ski, is season pass holder to Mt. Rose.

Sister Clorinda von Stockalper, above, plays the piano in the monastery chapel. Sister von Stockalper is a professonally trained musician and former ballerina. Sister Maria Ahearn holds her snowboard while standing in the monastery’s art studio. Sister Ahearn is season pass holder at Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe.

Photo by Andy Barron —– 060726 ———- PLEASE DO NOT CROP THIS IMAGE ———— Bible study at the Carmelite Monastery.

A rosary rests on a table in Sister Anne’s room at the Carmelite Monastery in Reno.

Sister Rose Holland, who has been at the Reno monastery for 50 years, participates in worship during afternoon prayers in the chapel. The nuns also participate in Bible study.

The nuns at the Carmel of Our Lady of the Mountains monastery in Reno gather in the chapel for afternoon prayer.

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On a hill in southwest Reno sits the Carmelite monastery with a majestic view of the community it serves in prayer.

For 51 years, the Carmel of Our Lady of the Mountains has been in Reno.

In the beginning, eight Carmelite nuns wore black and white habits and cloistered themselves. Since the Second Vatican Council in 1963, the 18 women no longer remain behind their wooden fence and gradually changed from wearing a habit to everyday clothes.

They made the necessary changes to have a place in a changing society, said Sister Maria Ahearn, who has been there for 38 years.

"We have evolved to who we really are today," she said. "This is who we are in the year 2006."

Although the sisters have become more visible through their popular printing business, selling about 70,000 Christmas and special occasion cards a year, Sister Ahearn said she realizes people want to know more about their communal lifestyle.

After showing a group of young people around their 20,000-square-foot home and providing a thorough history, Sister Ahearn said they had one question for her: Did they have a dog?

"And you know why they’re asking that — how much like us are you," she said. "That’s one of the basic things."

The answer to the question is yes. The sisters take care of two dogs.

Cinder, a large, black standard poodle, greets visitors with a bark and wagging tail. Sister Ahearn takes care of Kena, a 7-year-old Lhasa Apso who loves to lie on its back and be petted.

Prayer and community

The women weave hours of prayer into their day.

On a typical day, the sisters wake up on their own and pray for at least an hour before 8 a.m. Mass.

Bishop emeritus Phillip F. Straling has been presiding at Mass since retiring last year from the Diocese of Reno, Ahearn said.

"It has been wonderful for us because he is very devoted," she said. "It’s really a great gift for us. We’re very, very grateful."

The sisters work from 9 a.m. to noon in the print shop. Four of them are trained on the printing press while the other nuns take care of other duties, such as packing orders and invoicing.

"Many people get together for lunch, and then we do another hour or so in the afternoon of work for the print shop," Sister Ahearn said.

There is an hour of afternoon prayer and spiritual reading about 3 p.m. and evening prayer at 5 p.m.

A communal meal is at 5:30 p.m., followed by a final prayer service.

"Our order is very ancient," Sister Ahearn said. "We go back to the time when people, especially women, didn’t do the apostolic works, which would be nursing, teaching.

"So the work of the monastery is prayer and the community life."

Community life also includes study groups.

On Wednesday morning, Sister Ahearn leads a scripture class attended by Sa Ra Lee, a postulant at the monastery and Annabelle Hall, a Reno resident.

Personal life

The sisters also find time to run errands, such as grocery shopping, and take care of themselves.

Sister Ahearn is a sports enthusiast who has a season pass at Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe. She said she was 60 when she learned how to snowboard.

Others use Saint Mary’s Center for Health & Fitness to stay in shape.

Sister Clorinda von Stockalper enjoys pilates and Sister Claire Sokol likes yoga.

They take turns cooking in the modern kitchen with two sinks, two refrigerators and two freezers.

"We’re very fortunate to have a lot of good cooks," Sister Susan Weber said. "Sister Claire is our dessert person." Sister Weber’s twin sister, Sister Ann, also is at the monastery.

Sister Sokol, who plays the cello, is one of three professionally trained musicians.

She wrote the soundtrack for the French film "Therese" and performed on an album by Mannheim Steamroller titled "Fresh Aire III."

Sister Mary Margaret Yascolt, who is visiting for a year from the monastery in Barrington, R.I., plays the flute and studied music at the University of Michigan.

Sister von Stockalper, who plays the piano, studied music and ballet in Milan, Italy and Switzerland before being called to the monastery.

Sacred space

Sister Ahearn said she considers the two-story monastery to be a place that is sacred and where everyone is welcome.

"This is a place we can look at your life together and we will hold it with great reverence," she said.

The halls and rooms are filled with the artwork of Sister Marie Celeste, who died last September.

"She did a lot of portraits and she said she never felt the same about a person afterwards," Sister Ahearn said. "They are forever sacred to her because they let her see their soul."

Sister Celeste’s paintings also have become sacred to the monastery, she said.

Sister Ahearn said she began to realize the value of a place set apart for contemplation but not sealed from the 21st century.

"People aren’t going to be cloistered today," she said. "That was a Spanish thing in the 15th century."

Once the sisters got out and changed their dress, Sister Ahearn said they began questioning more.

"We were all questioners and seekers, questioning the status quo," she said. "Once they said you can do things differently, then it was if we can do that differently, why can’t we do this differently."

The sisters also were fortunate they were not incorporated into the diocese, she said.

"We are an entity to ourselves," Sister Ahearn said. "We always owned this property. We always earned our own living. We didn’t receive support from the church."

Their relationship with the bishop is collaborative, she said. "He doesn’t have juridical authority over us," she said. "But we would always want to do what is good for the diocese."

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