Dominican nuns and friars seek creative solution for Hollywood Angel Monastery

For 90 years, the Monastery of the Angels was home to a cloistered community of Dominican nuns who lived, prayed, and baked their famous pumpkin bread on the four-acre property nestled into the hillside in the heart of Hollywood.

But in recent years, the number of nuns living on the property has fallen from a high of 45 to less than six, part of a trend manifesting itself in religious institutions across the country as orders and religious congregations are shrinking. When the last sisters were relocated in the fall of 2022, neighbors and monastery supporters worried about the future of the property, which many saw as a spiritual oasis.

Now, in what some say is a modern miracle, it looks like the Monastery of Angels may be preserved after all. The Dominican Friars of the Western Province announced that they had joined forces with the Dominican nuns to seek proposals to restore the monastery and leave the chapel and the pumpkin bread business intact.

“Our sisters have loved the Hollywood Hills community, and we look forward to working with the brothers, stakeholders and the neighborhood to ensure that our beloved monastery can continue to be a blessing to all,” said Sister Maria. Christine Behlow, the former prioress of the monastery, said in a statement.

The Request for Proposals will be issued in early April.

“We want to be open to all creative and interesting ideas and do our due diligence to evaluate all possible angles to save the monastery,” said Chris Hanzeli, head of strategic initiatives for the Dominican Friars of the Western Province. . “We are united with the community to protect the treasure of the monastery for generations to come.”

The brothers and nuns cannot predict what proposals will arise, Hanzeli said, but they are committed to preserving the chapel as a sacred space for the community, to preserving the bread and candy-making business at the pumpkin and to protect the larger property for the neighborhood. so “it can continue to be a blessing to everyone”.

To oversee this process, the Dominicans are working with Dominic Dutra, a Fremont-based real estate agent who has dedicated the past 15 years to helping religious communities in California use their properties creatively.

“Faith-based organizations have shrunk in numbers and now have a lot of surplus or underutilized land,” Dutra said. Instead of selling their properties to the highest bidder, many of these organizations want to ensure that their land continues to serve the whole community.

“For believers, we are watching this because we want to give God the opportunity to step in and show us that miracles can still happen,” said Dutra, who is a Christian. “That’s really the priority here – instilling some hope and a positive outlook into the world.”

A statue of Jesus, erected in 1955, is illuminated on the grounds of the Monastery of the Angels in Hollywood.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

The Monastery of the Angels was founded in 1924 and was supported in its early days by some of the wealthiest families in Los Angeles, including the Dohenys, Dockweilers, Van de Kamps and Hancocks.

In 1934, the order was transferred to a sprawling Hollywood estate that had belonged to copper mine owner Joseph Giroux, which she bought for just $10. Fourteen years later, Catholic women in Los Angeles raised funds to build for the sisters a new cloister, chapel and office complex on the same site, designed by famed architect Wallace Neff.

Since then, the monastery has served as a spiritual refuge for people of all faiths.

“Every time we take people to this property, we see how they slow down and have peace and feel welcome,” said Kim Cooper, a cultural historian who has led tour groups at the monastery. “LA is one giant pool and the water is cold and deep. There are a few reefs to land on, and the Monastery of the Angels is one of them.

Along with her husband, Richard Schave, Cooper is one of the founders of Monastery of the Angels Foundation. The group, which has no affiliation with the monastery or the Dominicans, was formed in January 2022 to ensure the monastery remains a sacred space in Los Angeles, including raising enough funds to purchase it if needed. Now its members hope to submit a proposal for the property themselves.

“Hollywood was founded as a city of gardens and churches,” Schave said. “Now we have the opportunity to return to the roots of Hollywood.”

Dutra said there will likely be a delay of 90 to 120 days after the RFP is released for individuals and organizations to submit their qualifications and ideas. Ideally, siblings will be able to figure out which direction they want to go in the next six months. However, if they need more time, they will take it.

“We want to make sure we get it right,” he said.

The property is owned by the Monastery of the Angels, but Dutra said he will also consult with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Vatican, neighborhood members and others as part of the decision-making process.

But he had a warning: not everyone will get what they want.

“Of course there will be pushes and pulls – we have to accommodate the long-term interests of the sisters because they are aging and will have eldercare needs,” he said, “but we want to be as transparent and respectful of each other’s interests as possible.

Establishing a new long-term plan for the monastery will likely be a multi-year process. A similar project Dutra worked on with the Holy Family Sisters in the Bay Area took seven years from start to finish, but the results were worth it. The sisters’ 15-acre property was converted into a 5.5-acre open space park that is now part of the national reserve, while also creating 47 new housing units for the sisters.

“The church is at a tipping point with this shrinking in size, and it’s easy for some people to get caught up and think, ‘Oh, this is the end,'” Dutra said. if you think about the resurrection story, that wasn’t the end.”

Dutra believes that as the real estate needs of religious institutions change, there is an opportunity for them to reconnect with the outside world and demonstrate that they are sensitive to those needs as well.

“We hope that amidst the cynicism and division, we can show that there really is more to life than winning, losing and making money,” he said.

Los Angeles Times

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