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Maryknoll Sisters’ Presence in Monrovia: God writes straight with crooked lines

Sister Arlene Trant

Maryknoll Sisters are a Catholic missionary congregation dedicated to cross-cultural

mission. In the 1920’s Maryknoll Sisters began working with the Japanese community

in Los Angeles. When there was an outbreak of tuberculosis, many Japanese patients

were not admitted into the general hospitals. Responding to that need we purchased a

tuberculosis sanatorium in Monrovia. Originally the sanatorium consisted of a number

of small cottages with screening all around in order to provide lots of fresh air. With the

discovery of penicillin, there was no longer a need for a sanatorium for tuberculosis

patients, so in the 1950’s these cottages were replaced with a small hospital.  As

medical care in the area expanded, the small hospital wasn’t needed, and so in the

1970’s it was converted into a retirement residence for Maryknoll Sisters returning from

their overseas missionary work.

Most of my adult life was spent in Hong Kong and Macau where my main ministry was

working with the Deaf. Hong Kong and Macau are big bustling densely populated

cities with tall skyscrapers where hardly a blade of grass can be seen. Each time I

returned to the States on furlough I’d stop in Monrovia, and each time I was

overwhelmed by beautiful grounds filled with large sturdy oak trees and fruit trees,

flowers and lots of luscious green grass. Fast forward to 2021, I was assigned to be

the coordinator of our retirement home here. As Coordinator of our Monrovia

Community, I remember Pope Francis’ call to all Catholics to "plant dreams, weave

together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another…” And so

together we Sisters here in Monrovia have begun to dream new dreams.

For a long time, the retired Sisters who have lived here continued their missionary work

by becoming involved in the community in a variety of ways. Before Covid they were

active in the parish, in soup kitchens, in schools, etc. Since COVID much of that

outreach has diminished, but Sisters are still active in St. Vincent de Paul, in CERT,

with our LA Maryknoll Affiliates and a local Inter-faith group. Our chapel is open to the

public for Sunday Masses, and occasionally we have special Masses. The former

hospital kitchen and dining room have been converted into a space for groups who

come for workshops and retreats. We certainly want to continue in these ministries, but

we are now discovering a new and exciting mission endeavor.

Last year Grow Monrovia approached me for permission to use a part of our property

to establish a community tree nursery. That sounded like a good idea, and so their team

of volunteers set to work and soon they started not only a tree nursery but also a small

community garden. They organize talks and workshops on many different aspects of

environment protection. And through these workshops I truly had a conversion

experience. I now see more clearly that our property itself is a very real way that we can continue our by missionary vocation by caring for our beautiful 6+ acres of land—not only the plants and trees, but also nurturing the abundant wildlife—birds, squirrels, deer, coyotes and an occasional bear who frequent our property! I learned that the beautiful grass which I loved so much is actually bad for the environment. On March 19th , we had a workshop on “Water Optimization”. The speaker Leigh Adams doesn’t talk about water conservation but optimizing our use of water. After the talk the nearly 30 members of the community present joined us in a sheet mulching project to transform a large area of our grass into a garden of wildflowers that will bring birds and bees to pollinate and continue the natural beauty while eliminating the massive watering that lawns require.

Maryknoll Sisters have long been dedicated to protecting the environment, both the

human environment and the natural environment, but for me who lived so long in a

bustling urban environment caring for the earth simply wasn’t part of my experience.

Our Maryknoll Sisters Vision Statement says: “We Maryknoll Sisters envision One

Earth Community where the co-creative energy of Divine Love flows freely, nurturing

wholeness of being in an expanding and evolving Universe.” I’m only now awakening

to this call. I’m beginning to see with new eyes that the birds, butterflies, and bees are

not just lovely in themselves, they are essential workers in re-creating our world. The

worms, insects, fungi and other organisms are unseen workers who help to nourish the

soil for future generations. Wow!

Our Maryknoll Sisters’ presence in Monrovia has made many changes over the years

from caring for TB patients, to volunteering in many different needs in the community to serving through the very land we’ve been blessed to live on for over 90 years. Now I’m

committed to not only learn about and take part in caring for this beautiful land that we

have here in Monrovia, but even more important to invite the entire community to join

us in this exciting and creative adventure of being co-creators in caring for Mother

Earth, our beautiful home. Contact to get involved in this project.

Sister Arlene Trant

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