BARRINGTON — It was as a young student that Father James Ruggieri first became acquainted with the Carmelite Sisters in Barrington.
“As a seventh-grader I started going to the Carmelite Monastery. I’d serve Mass there when I was in my middle school and high school days and even back in college,” he told Rhode Island Catholic.
Like many, Father Ruggieri was sad to see the population of the beloved community dwindle through the years to only six religious sisters last year. It was then that the sisters made the difficult decision to leave the monastery, a sprawling diocesan property which the late Bishop Russell J. McVinney offered them the use of in 1957.
But he is also pleased to see that while the sisters have been able to relocate to other communities many of the items that were important and useful to them in their ministry are finding new homes also.
The altar at which Father Ruggieri served Mass in his youth will now grace the lower church at St. Michael Church in Providence, and the eight-foot cast aluminum image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel that hung outside the monastery’s front entrance now adorns the outer wall of St. Patrick Church and school. Both are Providence parishes that Father Ruggieri now leads as pastor.
“The Sisters were very supportive of my vocation, so just for me to have that altar at St. Michael’s is extra special for me,” he said.
Father Ruggieri also plans to incorporate some of the chapel’s pews and the Paschal candle stand into the lower church at St. Michael Church.
“We’re very thrilled,” he said. “The altar at the Carmelites is consecrated and has two altar stones to face both directions. For me there’s special significance. Both churches will have a little piece of the monastery.”
For Sister Jessica Bernal, a novice at the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Word Formation House in West Greenwich, it is an honor for her order to receive a special set of chinaware — embossed with a theme of Thérèse of Lisieux — that the Carmelites had stored in a box frame, along with silverware.
“We use it for special occasions,” Sister Jessica said. “It’s a way for our community to be able to remember and honor that great saint.”
She said it is a great joy for her community to have received this special gift, one which allows them to adopt some of St. Thérèse’s spirituality throughout the special occasions and days of solemnity when they use the dinnerware.
“It is something very beautiful to know that our Sisters in Christ are able to continue to share a little bit of their lives of consecration to Christ,” she said.
Other kitchen appliances and dinnerware were donated to the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia Congregation at St. Pius School in Providence, as well as the Sisters of St. Benedict in Still River, Massachusetts.
Hundreds of books from the Sisters’ extensive library, which resembled an academic library complete with a meticulous card catalogue, were donated to the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia Congregation at St. Pius School in Providence; the Sisters of St. Benedict in Still River, Massachusetts; the Brown-RISD Catholic Community along with a discount Boston bookseller so that they can be shared with new readers.
Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Msgr. Albert A. Kenney said that for nearly a century the Diocese of Providence has been “richly blessed” by the presence of the Carmelite Monastery and is grateful for the legacy they are leaving.
“I personally am grateful for the prayerful presence the sisters brought to our area,” Msgr. Kenney told Rhode Island Catholic.
“The contemplative witness of the sisters will continue to inspire Catholics throughout our state. It was a special blessing for me to work with two prioresses of the community, Sister Mary and Sister Sue. We are happy that the patrimony of the monastery will be put to good use in the parishes, convents and ministries of our local church.”
Like Father Ruggieri, Father Joseph Santos has had a long connection to the Carmelites, beginning with the Sisters of a community in Braga, Portugal, who made for him the vestments he wore at his ordination and subsequent first Mass as a priest.
“I had heard of the Carmelites all my life because my father worked for County Road Pharmacy in Barrington since before I was born,” Father Santos said, recalling how the pharmacy supplied all the milk used at the monastery.
“I used to celebrate Mass there quite a bit when I was overseas because the pharmacy my father worked for in Barrington used to supply all the milk to the monastery. In my first year of being ordained, when I was home for vacation, they requested that I go there and celebrate Mass for them.”
Since learning that the diocese has been in the midst of selling the monastery property to the Town of Barrington, Father Santos, the pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Providence, said it has made him feel good to be actively working with Msgr. Kenney to preserve many of the items used in the monastery’s chapel through the years — vestments, chalices and ciboriums — to ensure they will continue to be used in liturgical celebrations.
“Some of the items will be distributed to other parishes in the diocese,” he said, noting how some vestments are being given to Holy Rosary Parish in Providence while others are being given to mission parishes he has connections with in Liberia, Nigeria and Cape Verde.
Diocesan outreach ministries are also putting to good use many of the household items left behind by the sisters, including bed frames, mattresses, dressers, tables and chairs.
“The items that Catholic Social Services received from the Carmelite Monastery are most useful and we are grateful for their donations,” said James Jahnz, director of Catholic Charities and Social Ministry for the Diocese of Providence.
The furniture and household items are being used to assist guests at the Emmanuel House diocesan shelter in South Providence as they transition into a new apartment.
“Oftentimes, guests are moving into unfurnished homes and the items that we are able to provide through this donation makes the transition to a permanent home much more comfortable and ‘homey’” Jahnz said. “In addition, we are also able to use these same types of items from the monastery to help refugee families when we are helping to make living arrangements more bearable as they settle into their new homes as well.”
“The little things that we take for granted are the things that they don’t have.”
Linda Loflin, an accountant who has volunteered her bookkeeping services to the sisters for the past 10 years and who often attended Mass at the monastery chapel with her husband, was also sad to see the sisters leave the monastery and still travels regularly now to help the sisters in their new homes.
“I still volunteer with them at Marlboro once a week to help them pay bills and assist them in anything they need help with,” she said.
At the urging of the sisters, she said, she has made good use of some of the household items that they left behind to assist young women at risk.
Loflin volunteers at Adult and Teen Challenge, a Providence-based, 12-15-month program which provides a place for women to go who have problems with addiction and sex trafficking.
“Their whole world has fallen apart but in the program, they build a strong biblical foundation for these women. They teach them about Jesus, and teach them how to have a full and productive life — not just beating addiction, but learning to live the life God wants them to live,” Loflin said.
Loflin took 20 carloads of leftover clothing and kitchen supplies to the program, which makes use of what it can and sells the rest in yard sales, applying the proceeds to cover food, rent and other costs of the program, which is funded solely through private donations, she said.
“If someone can make use of pots and pans, dishes and clothes, I just couldn’t see it go to waste,” Loflin said.