Monastery fire displaces sisters, retreatants

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A portion of the public chapel at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery is seen in this undated photo before a fire broke out Dec. 2. (courtesy photo)

At press time, insurance inspectors were still determining the exact cause, but suspected a late-night monastery fire was electrical.

The blaze broke out in the late hours of Dec. 2 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery. Guests had already departed from the second night of a novena in honor of the monastery’s coming anniversary and feast day and the two Benedictine sisters had just settled in.

“We originally thought it would be a candle,” Sr. Linda Campbell, OSB, prioress, said of the cause.

The sisters were fairly confident those had been safely put out though. A power strip is being investigated as the possible cause.

“We turned off the power strip on one of those buttons. Apparently, when you do that, it doesn’t completely shut off,” Sr. Linda said.

The fire began in the monastery chapel and left extensive smoke damage throughout the main building. Some of the chapel suffered structural damage.

Fire damage to the chapel at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery includes a busted window from the extreme heat plus damage to the ceiling, wall and floor. (courtesy photo)

“The fire was floor to ceiling on the lower part of the chapel,” Sr. Linda said, who put out the fire using a hose.

The sisters are now living in the St. Hildegard retreat house as the monastery is temporarily unlivable.

“We’ll have to cancel all the overnight retreats. The building will be shut down four to six months,” Sr. Linda said.

Normally, a group of young women religious hold a weekend retreat at the monastery every January through the “Giving Voice,” a peer-led group that fosters the hopes, dreams and challenges of religious life.

The Benedictine sisters, who have run Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery for 19 years as of Dec. 12, are hopeful they can quickly have two porches enclosed to resume regular meetings and one-day retreats.

The West Valley Serra Club usually gathers at the monastery for lunch meetings twice a month.

Club members are eager to pitch in and support any rebuilding efforts not covered by insurance.

Community members gathered the morning following the fire for the monastery’s regular Sunday liturgy. It was moved outdoors, which often happens for larger feast days and billed as a Mass of Thanksgiving that the damage was not worse.

“It was a shock. Everyone just couldn’t believe it. It’s been real emotional,” Sr. Linda said a week following the flame.