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December 29, 2015

Behind stone walls in Fairmount, Pink Sisters surpass 100 years of nonstop prayer

Hiding in plain sight on a tony, tree-lined street in Fairmount, a group of women live separated from the rest of the world by the gray stone walls of a building that spans half a block.

They are the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, a small group of nuns who reside in the convent attached to the Chapel of Divine Love, where, for more than 100 years, without interruption, they have continuously prayed to the Eucharistic throne.

The nuns – known as the Pink Sisters because of the color of the habits they wear – officially passed the century mark Dec. 8, according to their website.

They are cloistered nuns, meaning they have chosen to live secluded lives, rarely leaving the grounds of their convent or chapel located in the 2200 block of Green Street, except for special circumstances like medical treatment or Pope Francis visiting Philadelphia, as the Wall Street Journal reported in September.

Last summer, Sister Mary Caritas, of Holy Spirit Adoration, described to her family's reaction when she told them her plans to live a cloistered life:

Her father raised the question, “Does that mean you won’t be home for my funeral?” That startled her and she replied, “No Dad, I won’t be home but I’ll be praying for you.” He never questioned her vocation, and she forgot all about the question until his death 32 years later. “When people offered me condolences I said now help me keep my promise as I remember my dad in prayer.”
The public is invited into their chapel for daily Mass and prayer, where they will always see at least one sister in prayer before the altar with the exposed Blessed Sacrament. Visitors are separated from the sisters by a gate, or grille, which is more symbolic than it is about security.
The grille is a sign and symbol of the secluded life the Sisters have chosen to live in order to find God more completely. The conscious renunciation of certain social advantages, known and esteemed at their true value, frees the Sisters to devote themselves more thoroughly to the quest for God, to attend to him more perfectly, and share to a more universal degree the suffering and hopes of all mankind.

In addition to the Pink Sisters' prayer milestone, The Associated Press reported this week on the order's declining numbers and their recent effort to become more visible in the community and potentially attract new women to their style of religious life.

“We rarely reached out for vocation promotion before the centennial. But now we want young ladies to see how beautiful the life is and how truer the joy when it is without the trappings of material things,” said Sister Maria Clarissa, 55. “We do our part in addressing these challenges, but at the same time, we leave it to the Lord. He’s the one who calls.”

There once had been as many as 40 nuns living at the Fairmount convent (located next door to the mansion of former State Sen. Vince Fumo). Now, there are just 20. The youngest nun is 52, and the oldest is 90.

According to, even among the church's consecrated religious, cloistered nuns have a "unique charism," or power given by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church.

They leave their birth family and friends and all the distractions of the world for a sequestered life of prayer among a small band of like-minded companions, and in so doing become part of what is in reality a new family.

There are four cloistered convents in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that practice "strict enclosure," which means the sisters spend most of their daily lives in prayer and rarely leave the property's boundaries except for medical reasons.

Besides the Pink Sisters' Convent of Divine Love, there are the Monastery of the Visitation in Overbrook, the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in West Oak Lane and the Monastery of St. Clare in Langhorne, Bucks County.

Despite being so removed from the world around them, each of these cloistered convents has a website. The Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters' site is slickly designed and contains information about the convent's history and the nuns' daily lives, answers to frequently asked questions and an online form to submit prayer requests.

In contrast, the Overbrook Visitation Sisters' site is more simple, and it includes just basic information, like its nuns' daily routine:

Daily Schedule:
5:30 - Rise, followed by an hour’s mental prayer
7:00 - Morning Prayer Office, followed by Holy Mass, Thanksgiving and Breakfast
9:00 - Office of Readings, followed by work
12:00 - Dinner and recreation
2:00 - Daytime Prayer Office, followed by work or rest
3:00 - Spiritual reading
5:00 - Evening Prayer Office, followed by half an hour’s mental prayer
6:00 - Supper and recreation
8:15 - Night Prayer Office, after which optional reading, writing, etc.
10:00 - Retiring or earlier if desired

Read more of The Associated Press' report about the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters here, and read the complete Wall Street Journal article about the nuns' trip to see Pope Francis' Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway here.