(This post appeared in a slightly different form in our newsletter.) We were approached months ago by good friends of the cloistered Dominican nuns who live at The Monastery of the Angels with whispered worries that after being hard hit by the pandemic, the nearly 100-year-old community was about to be shuttered and the surviving, aging nuns shipped off to other states or nursing homes.
These friends knew of our involvement in historic preservation battles—and certainly, the 1947 campus by master architect Wallace Neff is worthy of preservation. But they also hoped we might have ideas about keeping the monastery in Hollywood and the nuns together. Could we help? As trained medievalists who care about community, Hollywood history and vulnerable old people, how could we not at least try?
So we’ve been talking with experts and advocates, learning the governing structure of Catholic religious orders, how Canon Law dictates the fate of the people and the property under its control, that recent U.S. Federal law prohibits landmarking places owned by religious groups, and the difference between the Supression (closure) of a monastery and any subsequent sale of its real property.
Thanks to the friends of the Dominican sisters, a petition is circulating demonstrating support for them remaining in Hollywood. We signed, and hope you will, too.
We’re fascinated by the wide variety of old religious sites dotting Beachwood Canyon, from the Hindu ashram Vedanta to the Theosophical commune Krotona, from Monastery of the Angels to the Protection of the Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Church. Together, they reflect back some of the luminous light of possibility that drew seekers to Hollywood when it was just a sleepy country village on the edge of the city.
These seekers looked forward and backward: at Krotona they developed vegetarian recipes and studied Esperanto dreaming that a single world language could bring world peace; at the Monastery, modern American women chose a medieval lifestyle behind iron grates. Although the Krotonan Theosophists soon moved on to Ojai, they left esoteric apartments behind. The nuns, however, stayed put in Hollywood and held fast to their ancient traditions.
In the Los Angeles Times, spirituality reporter Deborah Netburn has a wonderful story (archive link) that describes the monastery’s possible closure, some of the people who are advocating for it, and what could happen next. We’re grateful that the worried whispers have reached the press, and that we were able to suggest a solution based on what we’ve learned:
After meeting with canonical law experts Thursday, Schave and Cooper said there may not be much the community can do to keep the remaining Dominican nuns from leaving the monastery. However, they do see a path forward. “It is our sincere hope that Archbishop Gómez can be empowered to invite another contemplative community to make a home at the Monastery of the Angels, so that there can continue to be a spiritual Catholic presence in the Hollywood Hills,” Schave said.
Although the Dominican leadership told the Times that the decision had already been made, we understand they have yet to hold a final vote on shutting down the monastery, but that it will happen very soon. This decision will be made now not in darkness and obscurity, but with the awareness that the whole world is watching. A little sunlight can never hurt. And neither can a prayer or two. We’ll let you know what happens, and update the story with press clips and other news below.
Los Angeles Times (12/3/2021): Neighbors fear Hollywood’s hidden convent is about to go up for sale.
Angelus (12/4/2021): As nuns depart, locals hope to keep iconic Hollywood monastery open.
Religion News (12/10/2021): Residents fear sale of Monastery of the Angels, beloved Hollywood home to cloistered nuns (story syndicated in the Washington Post).
ABC / Associated Press (12/11/2021): Pope cites new book on nun abuse in warning to superiors – Pope Francis is drawing attention to a problem that the Vatican has long sought to downplay: the abuses of power by mother superiors against nuns who have little recourse but to obey.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany (12/16/2021): Stadt ohne Engel Aufregung in Hollywood: Das fast 100 Jahre alte Kloster “Monastery of the Angels” soll geschlossen werden. (Translation here.)
Fox 11 (12/21/2021): This is a sweet local news piece about late councilman Tom LaBonge’s family and friends giving away the nuns’ pumpkin bread in his memory, but they failed to mention the threat that Monastery of the Angels may be closing. Is that what Tom would want?