When we learned that the Dominican Order might no longer be able to maintain the Monastery of the Angeles in Hollywood, and that the land might be sold for private use or redevelopment, we came together to find a way to keep this special place intact and accessible to the community. Please read on to learn about how the Monastery of the Angels can be preserved as a sacred space, and how you can be a part of its future.
Sacred spaces, be they churches or cathedrals frequented by the laity or monasteries inhabited by cloistered religious are an integral part of Catholicism and the practice of the Catholic faith. A teaching of Catholicism is that the world is divided into two types of space, “sacred” and “profane,” with sacred space reserved solely for Catholic worship and sacramental activity. It is the sacred nature of churches and other sacred spaces which allows Catholics upon entering them to separate themselves from the world beyond their walls and deepen their connection with God and the Catholic faith itself. While it is generally the case that the laity enter churches primarily for the celebration of masses at different points throughout the week and on momentous sacramental occasions throughout their time on earth, some Catholics are privileged to connect with sacred space far more frequently.
Contemplative religious men and women dedicate themselves to praying ceaselessly for those outside the walls of their enclosures. While not in active service to the world, their contributions to those living in it are invaluable; it is often said that it is impossible to calculate the tragedies averted and the graces gained for all living in the world through the prayers of the contemplative religious. For centuries it has been the case that in order to create an environment most conducive to prayer and the contemplative life that cloistered religious men and women have resided in dwelling places constructed in such a way as to draw the hearts and minds of those inhabiting them as close to God as it is possible to get while here on earth. Sacred art and architecture have been employed to achieve this result, with some of the most notable visual artistic renderings associated with Catholicism created for Catholic monastic structures. For nearly a century, Los Angeles has been blessed to have a foundation of cloistered Dominican sisters within its city limits, and for nearly three quarters of a century, these sisters have carried on an improbable existence, living a quiet contemplative life in one of America’s most fast paced and secular communities, Hollywood.
Completed in 1949, the Monastery of the Angels, situated on four tranquil acres surrounded by all manner of secular activities has since its construction housed a community of cloistered Dominican nuns who have undertaken a ministry of prayer for the world while living away from it. Who can say what graces have come to Hollywood through their prayers or what tragedies the community has not witnessed owing to the fidelity of these nuns to God and their vocation. Now, as their numbers decrease, these nuns are faced with the need to take leave of the Monastery of the Angels, leaving the question of what will become of this sacred space? It is without question the case that the Monastery of the Angels draws the hearts and minds of all exposed to it toward a deeper contemplation of their Catholic faith and their relationship with God. Thus, losing the monastery to non-Catholic redevelopment will both deprive Catholics in Los Angeles of the ability to take spiritual nourishment from its grounds and also remove a place of prayer from a community that badly needs it.
In order to ensure that in spite of the need for the Dominican nuns to leave the Monastery of the Angels that the monastery will continue to exist as a Catholic sacred space, Catholics have come together to take such actions as are necessary to preserve the sacred Catholic nature of the monastery. The plan contained in this document illustrates that it is yet the case that the Monastery of the Angels can continue to serve as a sacred space within the city of Los Angeles, as both a beacon of the Catholic faith and as a place where its adherents can come to pray, even if it is no longer the site of a community of cloistered religious or regularly celebrated masses. It is the desire of the Monastery of the Angels Foundation of Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization in the process of formation, to acquire and take responsibility for the continued care and maintenance of the Monastery of the Angels as a Catholic sacred space, in order that it can continue to serve as a place of Catholic prayer and the site of the occasional celebration of mass. This arrangement will ensure the monastery is able to continue to exist as a Catholic sacred space, in order that its presence may both offer a place for those who enter it to pray privately and also serve as a source of inspiration to those who may enter it and contemplate the faith of those who sacrificed to build it as they consider their own relationship with Catholicism and it’s sacred art and architecture.
STRUCTURE OF THE MONASTERY OF THE ANGELS FOUNDATION OF LOS ANGELES
The Monastery of the Angels Foundation of Los Angeles is presently in the process of incorporating in California. Once this has been achieved it will be seeking exemption from federal taxation for contributions which it receives under Section 501 C (3) of the federal tax code from the Internal Revenue Service. The organization will be led by a board of directors, in accordance with the laws of the State of California which set out the requirements as to those who must be chosen by the group to compose a properly constituted corporate board.
HOW WE WILL UTILIZE AND CARE FOR THE MONASTERY OF THE ANGELS
Our sole interest in caring for and maintaining the Monastery of the Angels is in order to guarantee that it will continue to exist as a Catholic sacred space, regardless of how frequently mass would be celebrated within its chapel. At no time in the future will the Monastery of the Angels Foundation of Los Angeles sell or otherwise alienate the any portion of the Monastery of the Angels or its property, thus ensuring that the structure and its grounds will remain a Catholic sacred space in perpetuity. The monastery’s chapel, cloister and grounds provide a truly unique and desperately needed space in Hollywood for individuals seeking quiet contemplation to gain it in the midst of one of the most secular and fast-paced settings in the world.
While it will be the case that under the stewardship of the foundation the Dominican nuns who constructed the monastery will have departed, the structures and grounds they will have left behind will take on a new ministry of presence to the community, as the public will be able to enter these areas to gain a reprieve from the secular world outside the monastery’s walls. Catholics visiting the monastery will have the opportunity to contemplate not only the work of the Dominican nuns and the Catholic faith generally but also how they are personally impacted by their Catholic faith and the calls God may be placing in their lives. All who visit the monastery and its grounds will be able in the midst of the tranquility which envelops them to consider any number of things their minds may be drawn to. While the monastery and its grounds will be open to all, the fact that the space remains Catholic and sacred will be clear to everyone who visits.
When the monastery chapel is not being utilized for the celebration of mass or other sacramental activities, we plan to open it on a routine basis for private prayer. It is also our goal to continue 24 hour Eucharistic adoration in the chapel, and to ensure that the volunteers necessary to undertake this ministry are available. During such times as the chapel and monastery are open, volunteers will remain inside in order to ensure that the safety of these structures is maintained. We believe it is important to have the doors of the Monastery of the Angels open as frequently as possible to ensure that Catholics from within the City of Los Angeles and points farther beyond are able to connect with it as deeply as possible and to have as much time for private prayer and devotional activities such as the recitation of the rosary as can be provided to them. Likewise, we will make the monastery’s grounds as available as possible to Catholics and others who may feel most able to connect with God in an outdoor setting. We will assess the condition of the grounds, and institute a plan to increase the level of spiritual contemplation able to occur upon them through the installation of additional benches, plants, statuary and such other items as would increase contemplation upon them.
By retaining the Monastery of the Angels as a Catholic sacred space, we will ensure that the public at large will be aware that it is a site of Catholic religious activity above all other things. As is the case with many other Catholic churches, both within the United States and especially throughout Europe, the Monastery of the Angels Foundation of Los Angeles envisions providing opportunities from time to time for individuals to receive a guided tour of the monastery upon request, in order that they may be exposed to and properly understand its sacred status. Such guided tours of the monastery would be strictly controlled in order that no abuse of its sacred status would be permitted, and would focus on explanations of the various liturgical elements of a Catholic monastery, with special mention being made of those found within the Monastery of the Angels. Our goal is that as many Catholics as possible may visit the monastery and be renewed in their faith, drawn back to the faith if they have fallen away, or come to the faith if they are not Catholic from their exposure to it. We would also envision holding regular recitations of the Rosary within the Monastery of the Angels.
COLLECTION OF FUNDS
We are well aware that the central question concerning whether the Monastery of the Angels can continue to exist as a Catholic sacred space is whether the money to care for it will be present. We are prepared to demonstrate that such funds are available. As has been stated, the Monastery of the Angels Foundation of Los Angeles will cover the ongoing expenses associated with the monastery’s care and maintenance, including future capital repair needs. As part of its broader mission, the Monastery of the Angels Foundation of Los Angeles will engage with Catholics both locally and throughout the nation to make them aware of the work we are doing to ensure that the Monastery of the Angels remains a Catholic sacred space, available for Catholics and others in Hollywood who desire a quiet place of prayer and contemplation. A fundraising campaign, employing a number of different strategies to engage potential donors, will be undertaken. The target audience for this effort will be broad; Catholics who have a specific interest in the Monastery of the Angels itself, an interest in Dominican spirituality, a commitment to the retention of historic Catholic churches and sacred spaces or who may have a history of donating to similar efforts will be contacted. After having extensively discussed our plan with those individuals and entities with which we connect, we will ask them for their financial support. We also may come up with additional strategies for collecting funds, such as appeals made in national Catholic and other media publications. We will continue to engage with contributors on an ongoing basis to ensure they remain committed to our mission, and we will constantly seek out additional potential contributors in order to expand and diversify our funding base to the greatest extent possible.
In addition to the collection of funds from interested donors, the Monastery of the Angels Foundation of Los Angeles will explore supplementing its income through the continuation of several ministries undertaken by the Dominican nuns who have resided there for nearly a century. A careful review will be undertaken of the pumpkin bread and other confectionary manufacturing operation to determine whether it makes financial sense to continue the production of these goods. In the event that it is determined that it is found to be possible and advisable to do so, any income derived from the production of these goods will be solely spent on the care and upkeep of the monastery and its grounds. The monastery gift shop will also be retained, both to provide visitors to the site with the opportunity to purchase something to take home with them and also to serve as an added source of revenue for the care of the monastery. The possibility of making the monastery available for retreats will also be considered as yet another way for the space to serve the local Catholic community and also as a means of further generating income for the support of the monastery and its grounds.
PRECEDENTS WE ARE FOLLOWING
Religious communities throughout the Catholic Church are at the present moment experiencing significant challenges to their growth and stability, owing especially to the decrease in vocations to religious life in the west. As a result, the future of numerous monasteries and other structures built in decades and centuries past is in too many cases uncertain. One solution employed by some religious communities and members of the Catholic lay faithful to ensure these sacred spaces are not lost during these difficult times is entrusting these structures to groups of the laity who will ensure they remain Catholic sacred spaces, never subject to conversion for secular purposes. In so doing, they allow these holy structures to be present for the future resurgence of the Catholic faith, and in order that their sacred art and architecture may serve as a means of evangelization.
The practice of lay Catholics taking ownership of and responsibility for a monastery has a long history. One of the earliest examples of the Catholic laity taking ownership and responsibility for the restoration of a former monastery in the United States can be found in Port Tobacco, Maryland. In 1933, a group called the Restorers of Mount Carmel in Maryland purchased the former Discalced Carmelite monastery, in order that it could be restored as a Catholic sacred space. In 1790, the monastery had become the home of the first cloistered community of Discalced Carmelites in the United States; the nuns had relocated to Baltimore in the middle of the nineteenth century and the property had passed into secular hands. The work of the Restorers of Mount Carmel in Maryland led to the preservation of the monastery chapel constructed in 1790 and the other structures which remained on the site at the time of its acquisition by the group. In 1977, a community of Discalced Carmelite nuns again took up residence on the site, bringing contemplative religious life back to the property after more than a century of absence.
A more recent example of the laity stepping in to take responsibility for an unneeded convent is the donation of the Maria Stein convent and property in Marion Township Ohio to a group of lay Catholics. Maria Stein had been built in the mid-19th century by the Sisters of the Precious Blood, and for a time served as the motherhouse of the congregation. During the 20th century, the convent came to house the Shrine of the Holy Relics, the second largest collection of sacred relics in the United States. As the membership of the Sisters of the Precious Blood decreased, the question arose as to what would become of the shrine, convent and property. In December 2017, the Sisters of the Precious Blood donated the Maria Stein convent, property and shrine to a lay Catholic organization which will continue to maintain the shrine, convent and property as Catholic sacred space. In this way, the important place Maria Stein holds to Catholics residing both near to it and much farther away will be preserved. The laity are continuing the tradition of Eucharistic adoration begun by the sisters at Maria Stein. Future generations of Catholics will be able to gain spiritual nourishment from Maria Stein, something which would have been impossible if the Sisters of the Precious Blood had not been willing to take the steps necessary to entrust its continued existence to lay Catholics determined to maintain it as Catholic sacred space.
In 2021, the Convent of Our Lady of the Angels, a foundation begun by the Coletine Poor Clares in Peoria, IL became the latest religious property entrusted to the care of a Catholic lay organization committed to ensuring its retention as a Catholic sacred space. Built in 1993, this convent is not nearly as historic as others, but it sits on five acres of largely unspoiled land on the outskirts of the city of Peoria, making it a site conducive to contemplation. When it became clear that the Poor Clares no longer would be able to occupy the convent, they were unsure of exactly what to do with it and the property it sits on. When it was not possible to find another religious congregation to take over the convent, the Poor Clares donated it to the St. Stephen Protomartyr Project, a nonprofit organization founded in Massachusetts in 2020 with the mission of working with Catholics to maintain unneeded churches and other structures as Catholic sacred spaces, and to take direct custody and ownership of Catholic sacred spaces lacking enough local support to continue to exist.
The St. Stephen Protomartyr Project is the first organization with a national focus committed to ensuring the retention of Catholic churches and other structures as Catholic sacred spaces throughout the United States of America. The Poor Clares were grateful that the St. Stephen Protomartyr Project would upon assuming ownership of the convent make no alterations to the structure, ensuring that it would continue to exist as a Catholic sacred space and concrete example of the life of this religious community while continuing to host Catholics seeking to grow in their faith through various programs. The Poor Clares were also happy to know that the St. Stephen Protomartyr Project committed to never selling or giving up ownership of the structure at any point in the future, ensuring that it would continue to exist as Catholic sacred space in perpetuity.
Entrusting monasteries to the care of the laity follows a more than five decade trend in the United States of the laity assuming care for former parish churches. An increasing number of groups dedicated to the preservation of Catholic churches as Catholic sacred spaces are covering all the expenses associated with their retention after the parishes they were built to serve have been eliminated. Since 1972, the St. Patrick’s Church Preservation Society of Catawissa, MO has been caring for St. Patrick’s Church in that community, located within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. St. Patrick’s parish was merged into a neighboring parish in 1925, but it has continued to host three masses a year, along with weddings and funerals. Each summer, a picnic is held on it grounds to raise money for its continued preservation, drawing people from many surrounding states. St. Patrick’s Church has been completely restored by the preservation society over the past several decades, and the dedication of this group has meant it remains a beacon of the Catholic faith in this part of Missouri, and a tangible testament to the faith of those Catholics who built it.
Similarly, St. Anne’s Church in Columbia, CA, located within the boundaries of the Diocese of Stockton, has been maintained by the St. Anne’s Preservation Society since 1977. The Preservation Society pays all of the expenses associated with maintaining it and mass is still celebrated there a few times a year. The efforts of this group saved it from being stripped and demolished, and allowed a church built by those Catholics who came to California during the Gold Rush to survive into the 21st century.
More recently, The St. Mary of the Rock Preservation Society began caring for St. Mary of the Rock Church in Batesville, IN, located within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, after the parish closed at the end of November 2013. Those who wanted St. Mary’s to remain a church available for occasional masses stepped forward and took on the responsibility of caring for it and its grounds, at their own expense.
In all three of these cases, agreements worked out between diocesan and archdiocesan ordinaries and those committed to keeping Catholic churches preserved and available for at least occasional mass have led to the preservation of churches at no expense to the parishes and Archdioceses in which they are located.
The examples cited above are but three of over eighty Catholic churches being maintained across the United States, Canada and Australia today by Catholic Church preservation groups. These agreements have avoided the permanent loss of churches which people are quite attached to, as they have served as the focal point of their spiritual lives, and they have also averted much of the anger which is often directed toward church officials for the permanent closure of a church. These preserved churches are not intended to be museums. Each of them remains a consecrated church, which is visited by the faithful on a regular basis for prayer, outside of times when mass is celebrated within them.
At this time in history when Catholicism has so greatly weakened both in Los Angeles and in the world more broadly, the loss of Catholic sacred spaces must be avoided in order that they will remain available to serve as tools of evangelization. It is the belief of the Monastery of the Angels Foundation of Los Angeles that the Monastery of the Angels can serve as a means of evangelization merely through its presence, that its sacred art and architecture can in and of themselves strengthen the faith of those who enter it.
Nearly three quarters of a century after its construction, the monastery, having stood as a beacon of the faith through all which has transpired in Hollywood and Los Angeles more broadly, stands at the edge of a proverbial cliff.
Will it be the case that the monastery is lost, sold for secular development and confined to the history books and the memories of those who were fortunate enough to visit prior to its disappearance? Or will those Catholics and others supporting them who wish to ensure it is retained as a Catholic sacred space be given the chance to ensure that this sacred oasis in the middle of one of the most secular communities in America remains in perpetuity?
Allowing the Monastery of the Angels Foundation of Los Angeles to move forward with the safeguarding of the Monastery of the Angels’ status as a Catholic sacred space and place of worship, preserving its sacred character as defined by canon law, will ensure that Hollywood will not lose a sacred space and source of grace for all in the community.
We all in various ways have the power to shape the future. Each of us through the choices we make personally and professionally shapes the world in ways large and small throughout the entirety of our time on it. By giving the Monastery of the Angels Foundation of Los Angeles the opportunity to retain the Monastery of the Angels at our own expense, the Dominican Sisters will be ensuring that a site important not only to them but to Catholics residing both near to it and much farther away, and a property of unquestioned historic significance remains a Catholic sacred space, and avoid any future questions surrounding its long-term status.
We see adoption of this plan as a win for everyone and most importantly a win for God. We pray that the leadership of the Dominican Sisters will allow us to proceed with this plan.