- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

CROZET, Va. (AP) - The nuns at Our Lady of the Angels in Crozet are close to completing the fourth phase of a multimillion-dollar master plan for their monastery.

“It’s kind of an expansion, but it’s really a finishing,” Mother Marion Rissetto said.

The Trappist monastery started in 1987, after six nuns came from Wrentham, Massachusetts, and began in a log cabin.

“When the first six sisters came, the tiny chapel was quite adequate and the few guests we had at first fit in there very well,” said Sister Barbara Smickel. “But we’re more than double in size now and we have many more guests that come, especially on Sundays and larger feasts.”

The first three phases of the building added more living space for the community and a small chapel.

Now they have 15 nuns and about 40 guests on Sundays, more on religious holidays and when the sisters take their vows.

“We set up the guest chapel where you would have enough pews for 80 people if they sat really close, but most people don’t like to sit like that,” Mother Marion said with a laugh. “It will comfortably accommodate about 60 people.”

Construction on the fourth phase began in December 2014. The 9,500 square foot addition will have a new library, a meeting room, a kitchenette, restrooms, a small cheese shop on the first floor and the sisters’ chapel and a guest chapel on the second floor.

Most visitors come to purchase their famous Gouda cheese, which, with the exception of Feast! in Charlottesville, only can be purchased at the monastery or by mail order.

“Many people come for (the cheese) but then they will ask a few questions. They want to know more about what we’re all about,” Sister Barbara said. “So it’s an outreach in that sense also, but it will be nice to have a little better space. Right now, people say, ‘Do you have a store?’ I say, ‘We have a refrigerator.’”

Funding for the project has come from a combination of revenue from their cheese sales and donations from other monasteries, neighbors, friends and customers. They don’t advertise their cheese but they have been featured in newspaper and TV stories, which has helped make them become known throughout the country. After their most recent appearance on “The 700 Club” in September, they received more than 1,000 orders.

“That’s why we sold out early, I think, this year,” Sister Barbara said.

The nuns started making cheese in 1990 because the former farm owner already had the equipment on site. Each year, they begin the cheese-making in January and work every week for the first few months of the year to build up an inventory. They typically make 34 batches and each batch is between 600 and 800 pounds, depending on the quality of the milk.

“We have a lot of silence and prayer, and the work helps makes for a good balance,” Sister Barbara said. “It has turned out to be a very good means of self-support and it contributes to community life.”

The nuns wake up at 3 a.m. every day for their first prayer. Throughout the day they have time for individual prayer and reading and meet for Mass, meals and to work.

“There’s that element of solitude to it, but there’s also that element of community,” Sister Kathy Ullrich said of monastery life. “Our lives are really dedicated to prayer and building that community. It intentionally doesn’t have a lot of variety to it, because if you have a lot of variety, then you also have a lot of distractions. We try to minimize the amount of distractions throughout the day so we really can focus on our prayer, on our work, on simplicity.”

The simplicity also will be displayed inside the new building. There will be very few adornments in the chapels, but Sister Barbara said she is most excited about the stained-glass windows.

“They’re based on designs from early patterns used in our monastic order back almost 900 years ago,” she said. “One of our monks who is at the Monastery of Holy Spirit Abbey in Georgia, he is a master craftsman of stained glass. He has taken that design and decided, with our input, what the colors should be and how they should be arranged.”

They used the same contractor and architect throughout all of the building phases in an effort to make the additions look as if they had always been there. The project is set to be completed in April.

“We learned a lot in the various building projects and we saw what we would really want in a permanent church,” Sister Barbara said.

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Information from: The Daily Progress, https://www.dailyprogress.com

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