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Nuns with chainsaws (it’s not what it sounds like)

Carmelite nuns clearing trees on a farm in Drasty

Vatican News

Bérengère Dommaigné - published on 05/24/23

It’s not a horror movie; the nuns are fixing up a dilapidated and overgrown farm to be their new home.

Although the Discalced Carmelites have been present in Prague, today’s capital of Czechia, since the 17th century, the vicissitudes of history and communism drove them out for decades in the 20th century. Their monastery was finally returned to them in 1991, in the first wave of restitution of ecclesiastical property.

However, the surroundings had changed, and the sisters found themselves cramped, without an adequate garden, and disturbed by the noise of the crowds and tourists. So in 2005, they decided to leave and retire to the countryside. And after a very long period of searching for a new property, they decided at the beginning of 2018 to buy an old farm in the town of Drasty, east of Prague. 

The farm had been returned in 2015 to the Chapter of Canons of Vysehrad during the second wave of restitution of Church property, but was in a deplorable state. Nonetheless, the nine sisters — who are relatively young, between 25 and 50 years old — moved there in 2020, leaving the Prague monastery to the male branch of the order. At that time, no one believed that they would be able to complete the work, given the magnitude of the task, as Sister Marie told Vatican News.

St. Joseph, head of the building site

However, they rolled up their sleeves! “At first, we worked alone, but later, St. Joseph, to whom we have always entrusted ourselves daily, began to send us many generous helpers,” Sister Marie says. First, they had to eliminate the garbage, weeds, and unwanted trees. Chainsaws became the essential equipment of these Carmelites, as the photos of the time show! Some even learned to drive an old tractor, a 1959 Zetor 25K, older than the sisters themselves.

redovnice karmelicanke v Hradcanih

Despite the work, the sisters try to keep as much of their monastic life of silence and prayer as possible, but they admit that they’ve had to change their schedule slightly in order to have more time for clearing and rebuilding the property. And while the nuns try to do as much as possible on their own, to save money in these times of high inflation, they’re forced to use specialized companies for major work. Rising prices have indeed had an impact on the cost of this huge construction site, which will exceed what the sale of the Hradčany monastery and the first donations had raised. The sisters are therefore again appealing to generous donors to support the effort.

Regularly posted videos give a sense of the construction site. In addition to the cells for the sisters, the new monastic complex will include a guest house for retreatants and a large park accessible to all. The area will also offer a playground for children, workshops, and a store. As for the old stables, they will be transformed into apartments for tenants.

For this large-scale construction of the new monastery, in addition to St. Joseph, the sisters are turning in prayer to the founder of the Prague monastery in the 17th century, the Servant of God Mother Mary Electra of Jesus. Her mortal remains were transferred to Drasty. They can certainly count on her intercession, since she assisted in the foundation of three monasteries during her lifetime, in Graz, Vienna and Prague.

Presence of God the Creator

As Sister Marie explains, the sisters experience a special closeness to God the Creator in their new home. “God’s help and protection are almost tangible,” she says. “Have you ever thanked God for the dirt on your hands and the mud on your clothes? For the cat on the tractor and the bug in the bathroom? I never did. Until … until I became part of a community of nine women who gave God the opportunity to show his omnipotence.”

The first visitors also rejoice in the new monastery. “They often tell us about the peace and joy they feel here. We hope that Drasty will become a place of revitalization for the whole region,” conclude the Carmelite builders.

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