Our Sister Natalie Hayes October 6, 1917- April 22,2020 May She rest in Peace
Sister Natalie Hayes
May She rest in peace
October 6, 1917 - April 22, 2020
At 98, Sister Natalie Hayes is still having fun
Tuesday, October 20, 2015 8:00 PM
Song of the Heart-- Sister Natalie Hayes enjoys playing the organ for Masses celebrated in the Poor Clare Monastery.Mary Stadnyk photo
By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
Surrounded by the sisters with whom she lives and shares ministry, Sister Natalie Hayes very much enjoyed her 98th birthday celebration Oct. 6, which included watching a DVD featuring Dutch violinist and orchestra conductor Andre Rieu.
However, when asked for some thoughts on reaching a milestone age, Sister Natalie smiled then very cleverly turned the conversation into something she was much happier talking about – her love of God and the very joy-filled life he has given her through her vocation as a member of the Poor Clare sisters.
“I may move little slower,” Sister Natalie said, but using a scooter and walker, she certainly gets around the Monastery of St. Clare in Chesterfield where she and 12 other Poor Clare sisters reside and carry out their contemplative life spending the majority of days in prayer and doing various work.
Given that the word “retirement” is not part of her vocabulary, Sister Natalie, a musician at heart, may be found lending her musical talents by playing the organ for Sunday Masses and holding choir rehearsals for the sisters who comprise the schola, and helping with other tasks including answering the phone and mail correspondence, cooking, and packaging altar breads which are sent to parishes around the Diocese.
Sister Natalie smiled as she talked about highlights of her background, prior to entering religious life. She grew up in Utica, N.Y., attended Potsdam State Teachers College (now known as State University of New York at Potsdam) and for seven years taught music in a public school, which was a job she enjoyed very much – especially working with students. It was while taking piano lessons when she met an Allegany Franciscan sister, who was also taking lessons from the same teacher. The new teacher was so impressed by the sister’s demeanor and faith that she began having thoughts of her own vocation in religious life. In September 1945, she entered the Allegany Franciscans, whose motherhouse was located in western New York.
Sister Natalie’s 16 years as an Allegany Franciscan was spent mostly in South Jersey, teaching music in an all girls’ high school. However, her “hinkering” for contemplative life was ignited through her reading of Thomas Merton’s “My Beloved Carmelites” and learning that a fellow Allegany Franciscan sister with whom she lived, was “transferring orders” and entering the Poor Clare Monastery in Bordentown. Out of curiosity, Sister Natalie accompanied the sister to Bordentown to see for herself what the Poor Clares were all about. With spiritual direction, and coming to appreciate more about the sisters’ charism and way of life, Sister Natalie decided to transfer, which she did in 1961. Living a contemplative lifestyle took a bit of getting used to, Sister Natalie admitted, especially becoming accustomed to the regiment of praying the Divine Office five times a day, plus having longer periods to engage in daily personal prayer and maintaining silence, the most challenging of all.
Having entered the Poor Clares in 1961, Sister Natalie’s witnessed the changes that came her order’s way in light of the Second Vatican Council. However, she relished the order’s rich history, especially with their founding in the Trenton Diocese. Looking Back
The Poor Clares trace their history in the Diocese to 1909. At the time, the Sisters of Mercy who were residing there, left the motherhouse and moved to larger quarters for their growing community in Mount St. Mary Academy, Watchung.
Bishop James A. McFaul, who was the second bishop of Trenton, saw an opportunity to put the vacant Bordentown convent to use by fulfilling his great desire to bring a cloistered, contemplative community of nuns to the Diocese. Having heard of the Poor Clares in Boston, he contacted Mother Charitas, the abbess, and asked her to send sisters to Bordentown. Mother Charitas, who became the Bordentown community’s first abbess, was delighted, especially since it she had wished to spread the Franciscan Order of St. Clare to other areas in the country.
On Aug. 12, 1909, the first five Sisters of St. Clare arrived in Bordentown. However, several months of renovations were needed to set up the old building according to the needs of the cloistered nuns. The biggest renovation was setting up “the turn,” which was a partition, grille-like structure, that kept the sisters separated and from being seen by their visitors.
On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, 1909, Bishop McFaul established the enclosure and formally welcomed the Poor Clare nuns to the Diocese of Trenton.
The joys and challenges the sisters shared over the years included witnessing the growth of their monastery, which by 1931, made it necessary for them to expand their facilities by adding a public chapel; an interior chapel, where the nuns chanted the Divine Office daily; several cells for the cloistered nuns, and a chapter room. At one time, there were as many as 44 sisters living in the Bordentown convent. Changes And More Changes
Following the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the rules of the order relaxed and sisters were now permitted to leave the premises to visit a dying family member or attend the funeral. Prior to that, they were not allowed to leave their monastery – for any reason.
Their regimen of getting up at midnight so they could spend the first hour of the day in worship came to an end. The sisters now start their day with Morning Prayer at 6:15 a.m., and throughout the day, their routine revolves around scheduled prayer. A number of priests celebrate Mass each day for the sisters daily. The sisters have traditionally supported themselves primarily by making and distributing altar breads to parishes on the East Coast, but today, they just distribute the breads.
In recent decades, the order, like many others, began experiencing a steady decline in membership. By the late 1980s, the Bordentown community no longer had the bustling numbers of sisters and their convent facilities became too big for their needs. Though it was a difficult decision, the sisters began looking for new, smaller and more manageable quarters. Finding a realtor, building contractor, the perfect piece of property, a design for the monastery and financing, was all unchartered territory for them, but working together in a collaborative spirit and with Divine Providence, they eventually found a home in Chesterfield.
It took more than 10 years for the sisters to sell the monastery in Bordentown, which was imposing in size, with more than 100 rooms, and located less than a block from bustling Route 130. While the new monastery was under construction, they resided in Sacred Heart Convent, Trenton, for two years.
The sisters moved to Chesterfield Nov. 12, 2001, and were delighted with their new quarters located on eight acres of land on White Pine Road, a modern, two-story angular building with 17 bedrooms and modern décor. The sisters have their separate living quarters, but there are no grilled barriers to be found. They graciously welcome all visitors and enjoy having conversations – face to face. The new monastery was dedicated by Bishop John M. Smith Oct. 12, 2002, the 127th anniversary of the Poor Clare Sisters arrival to America.
Sister Natalie recalled the big changes that came after Vatican II, when they changed their habit and no longer had a double grate in the visiting parlor and no contact with visitors. What hasn’t changed is the way the sisters live their lives in prayer.
“Religious life has been my whole life; God invited me and I accepted. I’ve had a very happy life,” she said, then added that as for turning 98, “I never imagined I would be 98. But as they say, time flies when you’re having fun.”
“And I’m having fun,” she said.