It’s amazing what a bit of greenery can hide.
Most people, if asked where the most expensive office space in the country was, would have a hard time believing it was outside of New York City. They’d have an even harder time believing it when they were actually in Menlo Park, CA, looking at the nondescript two story suburban office complexes set back from Sand Hill Road by a beautiful, but not particularly notable, array of unmanicured trees and shrubs. Someone could soak in the flora every day on the way to work completely oblivious to the fact that they were passing by the most powerful collection of venture capital firms in the world. I know. I did.
On the other side of Menlo Park is another sleepy little street, one that most people simply use as an outlet to escape gridlock on the way to and from work. The most memorable breaks in the residential flow of Oak Grove Avenue come from the beautiful little Church of the Nativity and its school set on opposite sides of a plain white wall enclosing a Catholic retreat center. Someone could pass by every day and be oblivious to the presence of the oldest monastery of Dominican Nuns on the West Coast behind a thin row of trees on the other side of the road. I know. I did.
In the heart of Silicon Valley, the land of rapid innovation and sleepless nights perfecting the next big idea, the nuns of Corpus Christi Monastery keep a vigil of prayer and adoration rooted in 800 years of tradition. This particular instantiation began in 1928 when eight Dominican nuns took up residence in their newly constructed Gothic monastery, based on the design of their previous home in the Bronx. Of course, the roots of their community stretch back much further than New York.
Almost fifty years previous, four nuns had arrived in New Jersey from Oullins, France, to establish the first American Dominican monastery. From Oullins they brought not only the tradition of cloistered Dominican life dating back to the efforts of St. Dominic himself in Prouille, but also the more recently granted special privilege of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. This privilege was extended not simply to their first American home, but to all its foundations as well, and this life of prayer and devotion to the Eucharist was a primary inspiration for the Dominican Friars of the Province of the Holy Name and the Archbishop of San Francisco to try to bring a group of cloistered nuns to the city.
It took decades of work, including living their first seven years on the West Coast in the home of a San Francisco benefactor, and in the end housing ordinances led them to settle 30 miles south of the city amongst the majestic century-old oak trees of Menlo Park. They brought with them expertise in the embroidery of vestments, the illumination of parchments, and the baking of altar breads, but the heart of their life was and is community and prayer, most especially a love and devotion for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
Over the years, this hidden life of prayer and adoration has drawn to it a diverse community of sisters of many nationalities, reflecting the diverse cultural heritage of the San Francisco Bay area and beyond. They continue to live out their particular part of the mission of the Order of Preachers by their lives of prayer, contemplation, community, and study. Further they foster a greater love of Our Lord by their example and prayer, inviting whoever might venture behind the thin row of trees through the open doors of their chapel to join them for a moment of adoration before the monstrance.
While countless aspiring entrepreneurs hope to make their fortune by getting a few precious minutes to make their pitch in the unassuming-looking office buildings on Sand Hill Road, across town on Oak Grove Avenue anyone can join the the Dominican nuns of Corpus Christi Monastery for a chance to speak their piece to, or simply be in the presence of, the one true source of our salvation. I know. I did.
Image: Century Oaks, Corpus Christi Monastery, Menlo Park, CA