By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — The Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Eldridge knew in 2015 that their declining numbers would eventually require a change in residence. By 2019, they made the decision to find a new home, said Sister JonFe deTorres, OCD, acting prioress.
“There are so few of us and the place is too big,” she said. “We had some hard decisions to make.”
When the sisters decided it was time to start looking, their priority was to remain in the Diocese of Davenport — and Scott County if possible.
Sister deTorres spoke with other religious orders and looked at smaller properties that the sisters could consider purchasing. Ultimately it was decided, “It was in the best interest for us not to be property owners,” she said.
Sister Jan Cebula, president of the Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton, said the two religious communities had known each other over the years through spiritual direction and other religious meetings. The Franciscans also formerly owned The Alverno nursing home in Clinton where two Carmelite sisters previously resided.
“I got to know Mary Jo (Loebig), Lynne (Elwinger) and JonFe (deTorres) at annual superiors meetings,” Sister Cebula said. Sisters Loebig and Elwinger served as prioresses prior to their passing. When the Carmelites decided it was time to start looking, Sister Cebula thought if her community’s motherhouse had room and the Franciscan sisters were OK with the idea, they could reside together.
Sister Cebula said a room count was taken along with an assessment of other space needs. “I consulted with the (Clinton) sisters and everybody said yes.” Both communities continued talking to determine the needs and wants of the Carmelites and what the Clinton Franciscans could offer.
“I suggested the sisters spend several days with us,” Sister Cebula said. “We both could see if this could be a good fit.” Sisters from both communities could get to know each other.
The residential part of the Canticle, the Clinton Franciscans’ motherhouse, is divided into neighborhoods. Both communities agreed no Clinton sisters needed to move and that some Carmelites could be in one neighborhood and others in a different neighborhood.
The Carmelites stayed over twice. Sister Cebula said after both communities decided the arrangement could work, the Carmelites visited to decide which rooms they wanted, what furniture to keep and what furniture to remove to make room for their personal furniture. They donated the chapel furniture from the monastery to Assumption High School in Davenport. “We wanted to make sure sacred objects had a proper home,” Sister deTorres said.
In early September, the Carmelites had their furniture moved to Clinton and then quarantined at their monastery for two weeks in preparation for their move-in date of Sept. 28.
The two communities share some prayer time, eat common meals together and attend Sunday Mass together, Sister deTorres said. They also are integrating new celebrations together, such as the feast days for each order. “It has been so nice of the Franciscans to open their home to us, especially during a pandemic,” Sister deTorres said. “We are still adjusting.”
Moving forward, Sister Cebula said collaboration in religious life is growing. “We are not just living our own charisms, but learning other charisms…. I think it is really interesting that we are living this ‘experiment’ of the future of religious life. We enjoy having the Carmelites and look forward to getting to know them further.”
Meanwhile, the Carmelite Monastery outside Eldridge is currently for sale. Money from the sale will go toward taking care of the community.