It is only about a two and half hour’s drive from New York City, but the Monastery of Bethlehem, in Livingston Manor, New York, situated in the beautiful Catskill Mountains, seems like a world apart.
Anyone who has escaped the pressures of the world to go on a solitary spiritual retreat at the monastery, can attest to the tranquility that can be found in this place of great natural beauty, amidst vast forests, hills, and lakes.
Silent, solitary retreats
To join the sisters of Bethlehem, of the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno in their liturgical lives of silent prayer and work is for many retreatants, a chance to begin a new chapter in their lives marked by spiritual growth and renewal from time spent in being attentive to God. For others, it is simply a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of modern life that leaves them refreshed, body and soul.
A history of the Monastic Family of Bethlehem
The sisters who inhabit this idyllic spot are part of the Monastic Family of Bethlehem, of the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno, a Catholic religious order founded on November 1, 1950, following the promulgation of the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven.
Shortly afterwards the promulgation of the dogma, a group of French pilgrims received the call to establish a new monastic order that would help share the life of the Mother of God, present in the Trinity, in a life of silent adoration of the God the Father. The Monastic sisters were then founded in France, followed by the Monastic Brothers, who were founded in 1976. Today the number more than 600 nuns and 70 monks living in 34 monasteries around the world.
From France to the new monastery in Livingston Manor, New York
In 1986, at the invitation ofthe Archdiocese of New York, the sisters were offered an abandoned summer camp to found a new monastery in Livingston Manor, New York.
Upon leaving for the United States in 1987, their founder, Sister Marie, said to the small community, “What is awaiting you in the United-States, is prayer, only prayer, but a prayer which is also sacrifice.”
In transforming the old camp into what they call a “garden of the Most Holy Trinity,” the sisters hoped to create a place where anyone can come before the mystery of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
A life of adoration, silence and solitude
Today, 14 sisters, ages 32 to 75, are living at the monastery, and share in the life of solitude, silence and prayer.Describing themselves as a “small United Nations,” the sisters hail from France, Belgium, Spain, Lebanon, Singapore, Korea, Canada. Soon three sisters from Austria, Poland and Mexico are will be joining the community.
A typical day for the sisters is one of adoration, silence and solitude. The sisters follow a monastic tradition that hearkens back to that of the Desert Fathers. At day’s break the sisters celebrate the joy of the mystery of the Annunciation with a time of lectio divina and adoration in solitude. They then go to chapel to celebrate the Liturgy, and receive the Eucharist. After spending a half hour in silent Thanksgiving, they return to their cells for prayer. Study time, followed by a solitary meal, then physical exercise come next. Work and prayer, with the final meal of the day taken in solitude follow before the sisters return to the chapel for Vespers. At the end of the day the sisters return to their cells for prayer before going to sleep.
The vocation of the monastery: handcrafted artwork
In order to sustain this beautiful life of prayer and adoration, the sisters must make a living through their artwork. Beautiful hand-painted pottery and chinaware, handmade rosaries and other crafts are produced by the sisters and available for sale online and in their monastery gift shops.
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