A City on a Hill: The Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, Summit, NJ


The Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, NJ was founded by a group of fourteen sisters from Union City, NJ on October 2, 1919. The following spring, a group of pilgrims from a nearby place spontaneously asked to make a pilgrimage to the new monastery in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, and over the following years, the monastery became a well-known pilgrimage destination, receiving the name “Rosary Shrine”. Established with the mission of praying without ceasing, especially through the Rosary, in 1926 the monastery also established the practice of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. After the nuns initially occupied an existing mansion creatively adapted to serve as a house of the Lord’s praise, the present monastery was completed in 1939. Situated on the top of a hill in Summit, a town so named on account of its elevation with respect to the surrounding suburbia, the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary is a center of prayer and peace within New Jersey.

Soon after the establishment of the new monastery, the nuns hired the architect Almanzor J. Samson of Providence, RI to design a monastery on the traditional four-winged cloister model. (Sharing a name with one of the tallest mountains in Spain, Almanzor was perhaps peculiarly well situated to build in Summit.) On March 25, 1925, the construction of the new monastery building began. Unfortunately, financial troubles impeded the completion of the monastery for fifteen years. In the interim, the sisters hired the Grantwood, NJ based architect Luigi Vivoli, who had recently completed the Church of St. Rocco in Union City, to take over the project. As the construction resumed in 1937, the local bishop instructed the sisters to limit the scope of the project to the foundation already established for the crypt church, thus reducing the plan of the monastery from a four-winged cloister to a church with cells and community spaces radiating around the chapel. In September 1939, the chapel was dedicated, with the bishop giving an address inviting all of the clergy and laity to regularly attend the public liturgical offices held at the monastery.

Throughout its history, the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary has maintained close ties with other branches and other monasteries of the Order of Preachers. Dominican friars from the Province of St. Joseph frequently gave classes to the nuns on theology and scripture, and in 1932 a chapter of the lay Dominican Third Order was established at the monastery. In 1947, when the community numbered 51 sisters, a group of fifteen embarked to establish the Monastery of Our Lady of Grace at North Guilford, CT. (As a chronicle of Summit delightfully remarks, there was one sister for each of the mysteries of the Rosary!) In 1977, five nuns went to the Philippines to found the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Cainta, a suburb of Manila. Like its motherhouse, the new monastery was situated on a hill overlooking a town outside of a major city.

Following the establishment of North Guilford, new efforts were made to promote vocations to Summit, including participation in the 1952 Fordham Vocational Exhibit by means of a recording of the nuns singing Dominican chant, which was put on display at the vocations fair. In 1955, the juridical status of the Monastery was shifted as it was definitively affiliated with the Order of Preachers as a Pontifical Monastery in which the sisters could take solemn vows (rather than the perpetual vows which were previously pronounced). Around this time, the monastery adopted the motto Orate Semper [pray always], an exhortation which it continues to fulfill through the celebration of the liturgy and the recitation of the Rosary.

In the 1960s, the nuns began to develop modes of financially supporting the monastery through work suitable to cloistered life. Initially they undertook projects in calligraphy and illumination, and in 1963 they established a printing press that produced wedding invitations, memorial cards, and ordination cards, as well as pamphlets related to the monastery and to the Order of Preachers. Other publishing projects included two music recordings released in the early 1970s and the Summit Choir Book in 1983. In 2007, the sisters began producing soap which is now sold through their website and through the monastery gift shop. In recent years, the sisters have continued to publish various books on Dominican themes which are also sold through their website.

Today, the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary includes seventeen sisters, ranging in age from twenty-four to eighty-six. The last few years have seen a renewal of vocations to the monastery, with six sisters now in formation. Let us pray that the Lord may send more laborers into the vineyard of monastic life to adore the Lord and to pray for the renewal of the Church.

Image: Our Lady of the Rosary Monastery Chapel
To learn more about the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, visit their website.

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Br. Innocent Smith was born in California and raised in South Bend, Indiana. He studied music and philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He entered the Order of Preachers in 2008, made solemn profession in 2013, and was ordained to the diaconate in 2014. On DominicanFriars.org