Holy Week at the NAC rotates off an on every year between “in-house” and “travel period.” When it is “in-house” as it was last year, we have all of the Triduum liturgies at the NAC as a community. I remember those celebrations last year quite fondly as they were both very reverent but helped us to grow closer to one another spiritually as we grew closer to Christ through the liturgies given to us by the Church to recall his passion, death and resurrection.

This year we were free to go where we wanted for Holy Week. Many men choose to spend the time in Benedictine Monasteries in Italy. Given that I was blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in two beautiful Triduum celebrations during my time at Conception Seminary College, I opted for a different approach.

My current apostolate assignment is to serve as the Capo of the seminarians who give tours of St. Peter’s and work at the US Bishops’ Office for Visitors to the Vatican. Given my role at the office, and the fact that I so much enjoy being able to greet pilgrims from all over the United States, I chose to be in Rome for the Triduum, so I could assist pilgrims and attend the celebrations with the Holy Father.

As for the Triduum itself, look for more in a forthcoming entry. Now, I’d like to briefly share some thoughts and photos from my retreat earlier in the week.

In January I had been able to arrange to make a private retreat at a small Carmelite convent in Pontoise, France, where my grandmother’s aunt entered the Carmel in 1923. She is the only other nun, brother, monk, priest or seminarian besides myself in my immediate family in the past hundred years or so.

Since my birth I have had a Crucififex that this same aunt gave to my grandmother. Since entering seminary I have also carried with me holy cards recalling her birth, profession, and death in all my breviaries.

When the Bishop asked me to come to Rome, this was definitely on my radar of things to do during my time here. I wanted to make a retreat in Pontoise.

After finishing classes on Friday, I left Saturday morning before Palm Sunday and returned Wednesday evening, in time for the Triduum.

As for my time there I don’t have much to say, as I was in silence. I stayed in a small house that dated back to the 1500’s as the Carmel was established in 1605.

I was able to sit in the Chapel while the sisters prayed from the side, while I don’t speak French it was most beautiful to hear them chanting. It was nice to hear what it might have sounded like when my aunt was still alive. As I told one of the sisters, “when I hear you all chanting, I hear her chanting.”

I was really blessed that one day when I went to meet with one of the sisters in the visiting room, the one sister who spoke Spanish brought me a bunch of the archives, books and records to see.

There was a photo album from her profession which was beautiful to see. Also, many other beautifully hand written accounts of the life and history of the Carmel, in which my aunt was mentioned in a few paragraphs.

The quiet and simplicity of the time was much needed after a very blessed, exciting, and eventful six weeks (another post forthcoming on that later). [Found HERE]

One of the ways this simplicity was expressed outside of the silence that comes with any retreat, was with the meals. While I stayed in the guest house, I would have to walk across the courtyard to a small room where there was a cabinet with a “lazy susan” so they could pass me my meal in a picnic basket.

I am very glad I was able to take this time away, even if only for a few short days to rest, recuperate, reflect and pray. To learn a little more about my family history and to know better my aunt who spent her life dedicated to the Lord in prayer and contemplation.

Please pray for the sisters who continue this beautiful life of important work of prayer for the Church and the whole world, that they may be blessed with more young women open to serving and loving the Lord through a life of prayer and contemplation continuing their long and storied history.

Now for some photos:

Here’s the little house where I stayed, as well as the two doors, which both required rather large keys.




The eating experience. First the little room where I’d pick up my food, the basket, and the dining room.




Now for the really interesting stuff, the photos and books.



Lastly a quick look at the Chapel, from my window, the Chapel where I sat, and lastly the glass doors leading to where the sisters prayed.




8 thoughts on “Retreat in Pontoise

  1. Loved the photos of the Carmel. I give a monthly conference to the Discalced Carmelites in St Louis. Fr. Jay Hughes

    1. Fr. Jay,

      Wonderful to hear. Thankfully, at least for this time, the sisters just let me remain in silence. I know a priest from the NAC who set up a similar retreat at another Carmel in France and when he called to double check everything the night before, he was informed he’d be giving conferences as well.

  2. I loved reading your story and seeing those photos. Your aunt was also my “tía monjita” and I had the opportunity to to “visit” her in the monastery in Quito several times as a child. I cannot say that I truly knew her but I certainly admired her and her vocation.

  3. Wow, this is so amazing you stayed at the Pontoise Carmel!! It’s the second Discalced Carmel founded in France. Your aunt entered not long after the death of Sr. Marie Angelique of Jesus. I am reading her autobiography now and it is so beautiful!! Here I posted a few pictures from it, http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/topic/121149-discalced-carmelite-nun-communities/?p=2611240 Thank you for posting these pictures of your aunt. I really appreciate seeing them!

    I have a question, is it necessarily to speak French to set up a retreat with them like this?

    Thanks again & God bless!

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