For nearly a century, the cloistered nuns of the Monastery of Angels have lived quietly on a four-acre property just below the “H” in Los Angeles’ famous Hollywood sign.
From this odd place, they bake their famous pumpkin bread and make candy to sell in their gift shop and online. They also send a constant stream of prayers to heaven 24 hours a day.
For memory :
8:20 a.m. on December 3, 2021An earlier version of this post misspelled cultural historian Richard Schave’s last name as Schreve.
Now, however, it looks like the nuns of the Monastery of Angels are about to be kicked out.
The Dominican Order that oversees the monastery has declared that it no longer meets the criteria designated by canon law and will be closed. The order also hinted that conflicts between the nuns contributed to the decision to shut it down.
(And yes, it’s a monastery, not a convent, even though it houses nuns. That’s what the Dominicans call it when the nuns are cloistered.)
The property is valued at over $ 2.7 million per county but would likely sell for much more, experts said. However, it is not known whether it will be released to the market. The Dominican Order said no decision has been made to sell the property and that it will continue to explore possibilities for the future.
“It is our hope to maintain the chapel for worship and prayer,” said the order’s statement. “The gift shop, pumpkin bread bakery and candy making will continue to operate with the expertise of our current lay staff.”
The nuns will of course not be thrown onto the sidewalk. The remaining sisters will be transferred to other monasteries or assisted living facilities of their choice and will continue to be cared for by the Dominican Order, according to the statement.
Since rumors of the shutdown began circulating earlier this week, more than 2,000 people have signed a petition inviting the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles José Gómez, as well as the master of the Dominican Order and the president of the North American Assn. Dominican monasteries, to be reconsidered.
Theresa Baker, whose father worked as a gardener at the monastery in the 1940s, is helping lead the fight.
“What we’re trying to find out is how to stop whatever they’re doing and stop the dismissal of the nuns,” she said. “The reason they give for needing them to leave doesn’t make sense.”
Baker said the Monastery of Angels has always been a place to turn to in times of desperation – when someone is sick or dying or when a miracle is needed.
“There is nothing like it in Los Angeles, and if they take it away it will be very sad and tragic,” she said.
The monastery has already experienced problems. In 2009, just after the onset of the recession, the nuns issued a notice stating that the monastery was in danger of becoming “a condominium or a mall or worse” due to the drop in sales in the gift shop, decrease in donations and decrease in investment income.
The inhabitants mobilized to help the nuns by buying them new mixers to make pumpkin bread, among other means of support.
“If they needed anything, the community was always ready and willing to help them,” Baker said.
The Monastery of Angels was founded in 1924 and was supported early on by some of LA’s wealthiest families including the Doheny, Dockweiler, Van de Kamps, and Hancocks. This support enabled the nuns, in 1934, to buy the vast Hollywood estate that had belonged to the owner of the copper mine Joseph Giroux.
Carlos Sanchez, the director general of the monastery, said that when he first arrived over 20 years ago, 45 nuns were living there. Today that number has dropped to just five.
Several nuns have died in the past year alone – three from COVID-19, one from cancer and one from heart failure. Others were transferred out of the monastery.
However, in a recent letter to Baker, Br. Gérard Timoner OP, master of the Order of Preachers (better known as Dominicans), said the central problem of the monastery was not the number of sisters, but rather the dysfunction among the nuns.
He said there was a “lack of a common and effective will on the part of the sisters to truly live according to the Rule of Saint Augustine: ‘to be with one heart and with one mind, on the way of God.'”
Baker, who regularly checks on nuns to see if they need anything, said she was aware of some difficult figures in their ranks, but a few nuns don’t get along isn’t a good reason for close an entire monastery.
“It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “It’s not rational.”
Baker and others initially turned to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to intercede to keep the monastery open, but this proved unsuccessful. The archdiocese said it has no financial or decision-making power over the monastery as it is part of an autonomous religious order.
“I suspect that the sisters need to address the issue with their Dominican brethren who are their elected leaders,” said Timothy Matovina, professor of Catholic theology at the University of Notre Dame. “It could be the prioress, or perhaps someone from the Dominican order who is above her, although it is possible that officials in the Archdiocese have weighed in on the matter informally. “
Those who want to fight the closure fear that the remaining nuns are too old or too scared to stop their removal on their own.
The nuns did not return several calls to the monastery for comment.
Richard Schave and Kim Cooper, cultural historians who took tour groups to the monastery through their Esotouric business and who participated in many local preservation campaigns, tried to help Baker and others to keep the nuns at home, but said it was difficult.
“It’s been really amazing trying to figure out how to advocate in the Catholic Church,” Schave said. “All the transparencies and processes that we as laypeople are used to dealing with in government do not exist in canon law. It is literally a medieval process.
After meeting with canon law experts on Thursday, Schave and Cooper said there may not be much the community could do to prevent the remaining Dominican nuns from leaving the monastery. However, they see a way forward.
“We sincerely hope that Archbishop Gómez can be empowered to invite another contemplative community to settle at the Monastery of the Angels, so that there can continue to be a spiritual Catholic presence in the Hollywood Hills,” said Schave.
The nuns rarely leave their homes except for medical appointments, but Hollywood residents have said their presence is palpable.
Lian Lunson, an actress and filmmaker who lives near the monastery, noted that it is located just down the street from the former Krotona Theosophical Society complex and the LA home of the Vedanta Society.
“It’s like this fantastic spiritual triangle,” she said. “And the energy that these nuns send out with their prayers all day is so important to this community. You can feel this energy.
Diz McNally, writer and entertainer, has lived near the monastery for 22 years. Every morning, around 11 a.m., she goes to the small, simple chapel in the park, open to the public. (The nuns also pray in the chapel, but on the other side of a metal screen for visitors.)
“You don’t have to be Catholic to go there,” McNally said. “You can just sit in the monastery and collect your thoughts and know you’re in the heart of crazy Hollywood, but it’s quiet.”
On Christmas Eve, she plans to invite friends to attend midnight mass at the monastery. When the service is over, the priest usually invites everyone out into the aisle, where one of the nuns distributes hot chocolate and another distributes small slices of pumpkin bread.
“It’s so old fashioned, it’s so locked in time,” she said. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to him. I want this to go on and on.