A gaggle of excited visitors from Vancouver gather around a smiling lady dressed in an impeccably white habit. They’ve all come to see the Queen of Peace Monastery, the new home for the Dominican sisters built on a hillside overlooking Squamish Valley.
“Everything was Squamish,” Sister Claire Marie Rolf says, pointing out the wooden beams in the high ceiling of the chapel and the altar made from a boulder.
Light spills through the glass face at the front of the room and past it, across the valley, Tumbling Glacier gleams in the day’s sunlight.
“Our bell was made by Thor in Brackendale,” Sister Claire says, as she tugs on a large rope hanging down a long tower. The group falls silent, as all listen to the faint sound of the bell outside.
After answering a slew of questions, Sister Claire slips behind a door for a quick breather.
“Isn’t this awesome,” she says, her face beaming with joy.
With an open house on Sunday (Aug. 5), the 23,000-square-foot monastery is the result of a lot of hard work for the 10 sisters who will call it home. Since 1999, the sisters have moved three times. Two years ago, they bought the 82-acre Squamish Valley parcel to accommodate their growing community.
“It is a work in progress,” Sister Claire says, of the new monastery.
Today, as approximately 100 visitors stream through the building, is an unusually chatty occasion. The Dominican nuns are a silent order. The Queen of Peace Sisters only speak for two hours a day, after supper. They take a threefold vow — chastity, poverty and obedience. The quiet allows reflection on the teachings, Sister Claire says.
The building’s design had to accommodate visitors and those on retreat staying at the monastery, but also preserve the sisters’ devotion to silent prayer. That takes thought, Sister Claire notes, pointing out that special phone booths and a sound-proof music room.
“Our idea is to structure the building so to maintain our monastic life, while others are here,” she says.
It’s a good thing they’re in place, as it seems the sisters will have a lot of guests. With the monastery officially having been dedicated on Aug. 8, the five retreat rooms that are scheduled to open in September are already booked, Sister Claire says. The monastery’s final plan is to build 10 guest rooms.
“There is a spiritual thirst out there,” Sister Claire says.
By the end of the year, the sisters also expect to have five new members. Becoming a nun of the Catholic religious order takes time. Approximately six years of learning the life and duties are required before one can take the solemn vow.
“We are expecting women who are for the most part under 40 [years of age],” Claire says.
The sale of the nuns’ Langley property has helped cover some of the cost for the new $5-million monastery. Although the facility has received the blessing of the Archbishop of Vancouver, Dominican monasteries are economically autonomous. They don’t receive stipends from the order, the archdiocese or the Vatican.
The Queen of Peace sisters plan to raise money through the sale of their carvings and baked goods — items that will be sold in a store at the monastery. They also will gain income through people staying at the monastery on retreats.
The sisters were to officially move into their new home on Monday (Aug. 13). The community is welcome to visit, Sister Claire says.
The monastery marks a milestone in a long journey, Sister Claire says. Since she started her life with the church in France, Sister Claire has dreamt of bringing Dominican life to Western Canada.
“My heart is here,” Sister Claire says.