For years now I’ve been going to salsa classes at the Hacienda Guadalupe, between Starbucks and Hanks. Until not that long ago it served as a convent for the nuns that taught at the adjoining school.
The wine cooler and storage rooms were the nuns’ cells. The dance floor was the courtyard garden and reception desk was the chapel. The pool area served as a corridor to enter the school without having to go outside. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture Brides of Christ scampering about in their lives devoted to work, prayer and being the bane of many a child’s classroom existence.
Mexico overflows with monasteries, convents and alike that, like Hacienda Guadalupe, are no longer used for their original purpose. If used at all. I’ve often pondered what it was like to be the last of Mohicans?
Faith, like culture, doesn’t change overnight and normally dies a slow death. (We may no longer worship Zeus or Aphrodite, but most folks know who they were to ancient man.) The slowness allows those final friars, nuns and monks to know the end is coming. Like with Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, you see, one by one, fellow Indians die off as the building decays down around them. It’s the dinosaur equivalent of being the last T-Rex and knowing there is no one left for you to wave your oddly tiny arms around at.
Religious orders still die off today. Last week an Oratorio priest died bringing the count down to six priests in an area that, in my lifetime, gainfully employed seventeen. There are no lines of young men anxious to join the order so I can’t help put ponder how awkward the dinner table has become. Eating and pondering who is next and at what point are there simply not enough priests to keep the churches open?
Cloistered life has had an uptick in popularity among Millennials but even there in the last year I’ve seen our monastery dip from 24 monks to 8. Why? As Brother Jonas explained to me “They leave when they realize it is work to be cloistered.” Personally, I would have thought the getting up at 4:30 to start work or prayer would have clued one it.
When at the tail end of an orders’ lifecycle, clergy are often tossed back to family for care. That must really suck when one doesn’t have a relationship with nieces and nephews you are now expected to live with and have them care for you.
The Faith itself doesn’t appear to be dying out like the clergy is, so what is the solution? The Pope himself recently sent up trial balloons in the media on the concept of married priests and more female deacons. Too little, too late? Only time will tell and fingers crossed there won’t be salsa lesson taking place in the Oratorio any time soon!
by Joseph Toone