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Nuns Barricade Themselves In Monastery

October 7, 1988

MORRIS TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) _ Five nuns remained barricaded today in their monastery, fighting a church relocation order prompted by their objection to the introduction of such modern amenities as television and music systems.

Fearing they would be evicted from the monastery because their conservative views clashed with the new wave of liberalization, four nuns locked themselves in the infirmary of the Monastery of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel on Tuesday. A fifth nun joined them Wednesday.

The nuns are members of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. They say the first intrusion began just over a year ago when a new prioress brought in a television set.

Other trappings of the outside world slowly found their way behind the white walls of the monastery: music systems, sweets and a modern lighting system in the chapel.

″It just became a gradual breakdown (of traditions),″ said Sister John of the Cross.

″These sisters are keeping a vigil, they are not protesting,″ Doreen Ercolano, the sibling of one of the nuns, Sister Maria, said Thursday.

″They are fearful that if they leave the infirmary they’ll be physically forced from the monastery.″

Sister Eliane, who has been at the monastery the longest time among the 13 nuns, said the dispute is a ″conservative-liberal issue.″

″They do not agree with some changes made here,″ she said. ″They are scared to death.″

Tim Manning, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, said there are no plans to physically evict the nuns, but the church will try to talk them into ending the protest.

The conservative nuns say the diocese threatened to evict them from the monastery because of their adherence to their religious order.

″We were told we are too strict,″ Sister John said Thursday in a telephone interview from the monastery’s locked infirmary. ″We were always encouraged to be conservative. But in the last year every aspect of our lives has changed.″

The Carmelite order was founded in 1562 by St. Teresa Avila of Spain. Its followers try to remove all intrusions of modern life and dedicate themselves to contemplation and prayer. Although there is no vow of silence, the order is expected to keep speech to a minimum.

The Monastery of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel was built in 1926 when this community 30 miles west of New York City was remote and rural. Today, the Spanish architecture stands in contrast to a suburban backdrop of gleaming office buildings and service stations.

The dispute began with the arrival of a new prioress, Mother Teresa Hewitt, who brought television, music and other modern conveniences to the monastery, angering the more conservative nuns who complained to the Vatican.

Mother Hewitt refused comment Thursday. Vatican officials in Washington did not return telephone calls.

The church had tried to settle the matter by offering to move the more conservative Carmelite nuns to another monastery. But the conservative nuns refused to move.

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