Six Sisters of Bethlehem living in Jocotepec are trying to establish a monastery that could be the largest of its kind in the state of Jalisco.
The Catholic sisters are focusing their attention on raising funds to build the Monasterio Santa Maria del Tepeyac at a site located five kilometers up a mountain road in Viñedos Lake – a subdivision of San Martin – a 30-minute drive from Jocotepec. So far, the only thing that has been completed is the winding road that weaves up through the rugged terrain to the hilltop site.
Since arriving in Jocotepec, Sister Marcella and the five other sisters have been busy visiting various lakeside churches to speak about the project and their monastic life.
“A significant part of our monastery will be hermitages for lay people who want to stay in the monastery for a few days in silence,” says Sister Marcella. “God will lead them into the desert, where they’ll be able to pray, read their books in silence, and experience the beauty that surrounds them. It will be a place for those who wish to renew their spiritual life and spend time with God in silence and solitude.”
If the sisters can raise the needed funds, construction of the monastery may be completed in one to two years. A group of architects from Guadalajara is in charge of the project.
To help gather funds, some of the sisters paint icons, which are offered up for sale during their visits around lakeside. Sans signatures, these beautifully painted icons are never identified.
“Everything in our life is hidden,” says Sister Marcella.
The Monastic Family of Bethlehem, or the Monks and Sisters of Bethlehem, was founded in Rome in 1950, the inspiration of a small group of French pilgrims. The Monastic Sisters were founded in France a short time later, and the Monastic Brothers 26 years later. The life and habit of the Monks and Sisters of Bethlehem is inspired by Saint Bruno, a 12th Century monk who lived in silence and solitude.
Like some of the other sisters, Sister Marcella has spent time in the Middle East. She is fluent in English, Spanish and French.
“Born in Sonora, I’m of Mexican descent,” she says. “Having lived in New York for 24 years, I was asked to move to Jocotepec, back to my home country, in order to be part of the foundation of the new monastery. I arrived last October.
“I was 32 when I entered the monastery. We accept young women from ages 21 to 35. Once accepted, they can make their first vows after five years of formation. Five later they can make their final vows.”
The six sisters live cloistered lives, studying and dwelling in silence and solitude within their small rooms – all part of a large house that has been provided to them by the parish. When complete, the monastery will house 20 sisters. A priest will also be chosen to live on the premises, in a house some distance from the monastery.”
Sister Marcella adds that whoever takes on the role of chaplain “must have the desire to live in solitude.”
The sisters come together for prayers during morning and evening prayers. They sing according to the Byzantine Rite and Latin Rite.
“We sing mainly in the language of the country in which we are residing,” says Sister Marcella. “Since we’re in Jocotepec, we’re singing mostly in Spanish. We also sing our prayers in Hebrew, Arabic, English, Latin and Greek.”
On Sundays they have a fraternal day where the sisters share one meal together. The rest of the week they eat separately.
“Each of us follows a schedule for the day, which begins in prayer,” says Sister Marcella. “Some of us choose to arise at 2 or 3 a.m. We celebrate Mass together every morning, and in the evening we sing vespers. We pray seven times a day.”
After the noontime prayer (sext), they change into their work clothes and engage in such tasks as cooking, baking, painting walls, gardening, artwork, or hospitality (welcoming visitors). If they need to leave the monastery, they can do so, for shopping and doctor and dentist visits.
She adds: “Since our Foundation in 1951, we have developed strong relationships with our brothers and sisters of other Christian churches. Everyone who wants to participate in our prayer is welcome.”