by Penelope Green for The New York Times
SUMMIT, N.J. — It’s been a rough year for the mechanicals at the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary. The lawn mower died, along with the chaplain’s car, the compressor for the kitchen refrigerator and one of the “new” washers (that is, a machine bought sometime in the mid ’80s).
But the 19 sisters who live here are sanguine about these and other expenses, which include more than $94,000 a year for health insurance. “Oy,” is how Sister Mary Catharine, the gregarious 46-year-old novice mistress, shrugged off the recent breakdowns.
On a recent summer morning, the sisters stood in their chapel and sang the daytime prayer in high, clear voices. Dominican monasteries are essentially engines of prayer; singing, which the nuns do seven times a day, is a deeper, fuller way of praying, Sister Mary Catharine said, “because we are using our whole person.”
Outside the choir door, a bulletin board was layered with a collage of cards, printed emails and letters, flags of hope and despair, asking the sisters for an intercession.
“We get them from all over the world every week,” said Sister Mary Catharine. “We have regulars. If you don’t hear from someone, you notice and worry.”
A woman fighting depression phoned most mornings and evenings. “We tell her, ‘It’s O.K. We’re praying for you,’ ” Sister Mary Catharine said (now she calls less often). “Sometimes I don’t know what to say. Some sisters are better at this than others.”
On a table, a handful of LG Tracfones were charging, as backup in case a sister on an errand has a breakdown (the monastery owns two 10-year-old Subaru Foresters) or an item needs to be added to her shopping list. Of course, said Sister Mary Catharine, nuns are notorious for not turning the ringer on.