Church Rises at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery

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Mother Marian Rissetto, Sister Barbara Smickel and Sister Kathy Ullrich stand in the unfinished sanctuary of the new church at their monastery near Millington.
Mother Marian Rissetto, Sister Barbara Smickel and Sister Kathy Ullrich stand in the unfinished sanctuary of the new church at their monastery near Millington.

The Cistercian sisters at Our Lady of the Angels monastery near Crozet are building a new church and it’s now under roof.

“We’re hoping to be finished next June,” said Sister Barbara Smickel. They are almost giddy with anticipation of that day.

The new church replaces a cramped chapel that has seating for about a dozen visitors and not enough stalls for the sisters, who now number 13, with two more postulants due to arrive soon.

The new church will feature 20 stained glass windows based on those in 12th century Cistercian monasteries in Europe. They are being made now by Father Methodius, a monk at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia, who is a noted stained glass artist.

“They’ll be absolutely beautiful,” said Sr. Barbara.

A large rose window will fill the gable end of the visitors’ side of the church. An image of Salve Regina, the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child, will be the centerpiece behind the altar and flanked by two other windows with more abstract designs.

“What we’re trying to do is have echoes of Cistercian architecture,” said Mother Marian Rissetto, the monastery’s leader. “We have monasteries in this tradition all over Europe. It evokes proportion. It looks like it’s always been here. The façade is welcoming. It has harmony and awe, lines that bring heaven to earth.  We tried to keep the whole space open. There’s calm, serenity and freedom. It’s so quiet in that space. The other feature is light. We worked a lot with light as the presence of God.”

The monastery in Crozet began in 1987 with six sisters.  They support themselves by making Gouda cheese and this year will schedule 34 cheesemaking days. The sisters live according to the Liturgy of the Hours, gathering to pray several times every day, including at 3 a.m. So their schedule is strict and does not allow much flexibility for the arduous tasks of cheesemaking.

The new church will be on the same level as the sisters’ living quarters. “We go to church about nine times a day,” explained Mother Marian. “Our topography is challenging.”

On the floor below the sanctuary is a library for their 10,000-volume collection on spiritual subjects.

Making an L off the sisters’ church, which will have 20 stalls and a few pews behind them, is a guest church with seating for 80 visitors with 10 pews on each side of a central aisle. Below the guest wing is a new welcome center for visitors that has bathrooms and a business office for handling cheese sales, a general meeting room, plus an elevator and a staircase to the church. “It will be modest, but it will be nice. It will welcome everyone to the monastic setting.”

Shank and Gray Architects of Charlottesville did the church design, as well as the earlier parts of the monastery. Construction is being done by Abrahamse & Company Builders, also of Charlottesville.

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