Mother Mary of Jesus Crucified & the North Guilford Foundation
Mother Mary of Jesus Crucified, O.P. was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1892 to Michael and Bertha (Faeber) Meehan, and was baptized Grace Johanna Meehan. From the age of eight she was determined to give her life to God and so at the age of twenty-one she quietly resigned her teaching position and, to overcome resistance by her family, slipped away to make a “retreat” at the Monastery of the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in Union City, New Jersey where she just stayed on. She was appointed novice mistress while still in temporary vows and was then chosen to help establish a new foundation -- Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey in 1919. In 1929 she was elected prioress, a position she held for eighteen years. She was responsible for building the permanent monastery in Summit and for successfully guiding the community through the financial struggles of the Depression. When Our Lady of the Rosary Monastery became debt-free and well-filled with fifty-five nuns, Mother Mary could consider fulfilling her dream of establishing a new source of Dominican life and perpetual adoration where as yet there was none. The gift of the Samual Chittendon property in North Guilford, Connecticut, a state where there was as yet no cloister and no perpetual adoration, provided an opportunity to fulfill this dream. With her customary prayer and enthusiasm, backed by much practical ability, Mother Mary undertook the preparations for the foundation of the Monastery of Our Lady of Grace. On January 21, 1947 arrived in North Guilford with twelve nuns and two postulants. Mother Mary was able to shape the Chittendon property, which consisted of a piece of land with an old farm house and two old barns, into a crowded but attractive monastery. As divine providence would have it the sisters were only a few years in the new monastery when, on December 23, 1955, the entire monastery burned to the ground. Three nuns died in the fire (two of them having received permission to go back into the building to rescue the third) and the nuns lost all their material possessions. Mother Mary caught pneumonia that night but insisted that she had no time to be sick. She moved the nuns temporarily to a dormitory at Albertus Magnus College in nearby New Haven, arranged for the funeral for the three nuns who had died, and then planned with state and city officials to move the community into the Walter House, an unused county home, also in New Haven. She drew up the first draft of plans for a permanent monastery and day by day supervised the construction to be sure that each detail was right, until the building was dedicated in 1958. Her leadership, courage and dedication were the support of one more foundation when, in 1965, the Monastery of Our Lady of Grace established Corpus Christi Monastery in Nairobi, the first Dominican cloister in Kenya, East Africa. A multitude of lives have been enriched in answer to her prayer and the unending prayer of the community she established in North Guilford, where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the full Liturgy of the Hours are celebrated daily and perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament makes prayer truly unceasing. Mother Mary of Jesus Crucified died at home, in the Monastery of Our Lady of Grace, on Trinity Sunday, May 21, 1978 at the age of eighty-six.
The "farmhouse and barns monastery" was beautifully ready for Christmas the night it burned, December 23, 1955. There was a rightness about everything that particular evening. Compline had been sung with devotion and gratitude and the nuns had been blessed for the night. The few who tarried did so with particular permission, preparing for the solemn announcement of Christmas in the morning. The permission brought all their activity under their vow of obedience. Then the fire happened, sudden, swift, and fierce. The smoke from the various inexpensive composition materials used in the building was both blinding and suffocating, even in the few minutes before the lights went out. Perfect obedience alone saved the novices’ lives as they filed out silently over floors already hot beneath their feet. Most of the professed nuns reached the yard easily, but a few lost precious time in dismay over the smoke in the main stairway. Strong sisters hurried to help two invalids. Sister Mary Dolores of the Holy Angels brought out a Sister with a serious heart condition. Then realizing that Sister Mary Regina of the Rosary was still inside, she hurried back a second time to help Sister Mary Constance of Jesus find her. All three died together in an enduring witness to the fraternal charity that has continued to be the hallmark of this community. The next day, in the ashes of the cloistered choir, a charred remnant of a page from a hymnal was found:
"Whose lives burn out before thy consecrated shrine... have only human hearts and human frailty."
The Foundation in Africa
After the fire God blessed the community in many ways, not least with vocations, and enabled debts to be paid so that by 1962 the idea of making a foundation began to surface. By the spring of 1963 Africa had emerged as the site for a future foundation. In July of that year the Most Reverend Maurice Otunga, Bishop from Kenya visited the community which now included over fifty members. One year later the current prioress and a sister companion flew to Nairobi to visit a location proposed for the new monastery, meet with an architect and draw up plans for building. Volunteers were requested and in January of 1964 twelve sisters were selected as foundresses. Permissions from the local archbishop and the Procurator General of the Order were requested and obtained. The volunteers received medical checkups and the necessary inoculations and busily made decisions of what to bring and how to bring it. On April 30th, after Mass and breakfast, the sisters boarded the bus that would take them to New York to embark on the S.S. African Neptune. Now, almost fifty years later, the remaining foundresses are back in North Guilford and Corpus Christi Monastery in Nairobi, Kenya is a flourishing community comprised of purely native vocations who have embraced Dominican monastic life.
at the Heart of the Order of Preachers
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Monastery of Our lady of Grace
11 Race Hill Road
North Guilford, Connecticut 06437