NORTH GUILFORD – The Trappists have their jam and jelly. The Trappistines have their buttery caramels.
But (to end your Lenten fast this Easter) the Dominican Nuns at the Monastery of Our Lady of Grace have fudge – a chocolatey, creamy, divine confection (with or without walnuts) that they’ve been making by hand with love and joy since the ’80s.
“It’s a very contemplative practice,” said Sister Sarah David Eddy. “The fudge is made by one of our sisters in the quiet of a special room in the cloister, which is conducive to our way of life.”
She explained that the sister makes about 13 pounds one day a week, working for three hours in the morning to cook the fudge and pour it into molds for cooling. After midday prayer, she returns to seal the fudge and package it in boxes with a label showing a photo of the monastery that the nuns make in their own print shop.
“It’s a secret, even from the other sisters,” laughed Sister Sarah David, who noted that the sisters sold about 450 pounds of the Dominican fudge last year alone.
The coveted fudge is stored in a discrete mini-refrigerator in the gift shop. It sells for $11.50 per pound and $6.50 per half-pound. Its popularity rises near Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, first Communion season and some other feast days.
Even Archbishop Leonard P. Blair purchased boxes of Dominican fudge to hand out at the convocation of priests last fall.
The Dominican fudge is just one of the products sold in the Monastery Book & Gift Shoppe, along with handmade candles and cards made by the nuns; books; Christmas and sacramental items for baptism, confirmation, marriage and holy orders; jewelry; CDs; and devotional articles. A special item is the $10 enrollment in the perpetual prayer society for the living and deceased.
The shop also offers Seignadou Soaps that are made by the Dominican Sisters at Our Lady of the Rosary Monastery in Summit, N.J., and Mystic Monk Coffee made by the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel in northwestern Wyoming.
The monastery’s gift and book shop does not accept credit cards or online orders. Payments must be made in cash or by check.
And there’s no shipping available. “We want people to come and see the shop and pray in the church,” said Sister Sarah David. “They are always welcome to join the sisters in prayer.
“The gift shop is also a form of income for us since we try to provide for ourselves,” said Sister Sarah David, who explained that the sisters rely on their own work and donations from the community to support the monastery.
“It’s also a way of making us known in the community, and it’s a service we provide to the people who visit,” she said, noting the number of religious gift stores that have closed over recent years because of online sales.
“It’s an opportunity for us to welcome visitors,” she said. “People come and feel the peace that is here. It’s a by-product of the monastery.”
While visitors are not permitted in the enclosure, they are invited to pray privately or with the nuns in the public area of the chapel, or to join the nuns in celebrating daily Mass at 7 a.m. and on Sundays and Holy Days at 8 a.m.
The nuns, who pray in perpetual adoration (24 hours a day) before the Blessed Sacrament, also pray the Divine Office: Lauds, or morning prayer, at 5:50 a.m. (6:50 a.m. on Sunday); Terce, or mid-morning prayer, at 6:50 a.m. (7:50 a.m. on weekends); Sext, or midday prayer, at noon; Non, or mid-afternoon prayer at 3 p.m., Vespers, or evening prayer, and the rosary at 4:40 p.m., and readings and Compline, night prayer, at 8 p.m.
A visit to the monastery is particularly noteworthy this year. As the Dominican Order (Order of Preachers) celebrates the 800th anniversary of its founding, a plenary indulgence is offered to anyone visiting the monastery (as well as any Dominican church and chapel) under the usual conditions for gaining an indulgence.
“It’s especially wonderful this year because the jubilee coincides with the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis,” said Sister Sarah David. She noted that the sisters created a prayer card with the jubilee prayer and conditions for gaining a plenary indulgence to mark the occasion.
The coinciding of the two great jubilees is symbolic for another reason, she said. When a sister is clothed in the habit and when she makes her first profession, “The prioress asks, ‘Sister, what do you seek?’ And she answers, ‘God’s mercy and yours.’”
Nestled on 125 acres among small farms along Race Hill Road in North Guilford, the community of Dominican nuns will celebrate its 70th anniversary next year. Founded in 1947 from a Dominican monastery in New Jersey, the community now numbers 28.
After a tragic electrical fire broke out just two days before Christmas in 1955 and killed three sisters, the monastery was rebuilt and opened on the property in 1958. The community flourished in the next decade and a dozen of the nuns branched off to begin another foundation in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1965.
The Gift and Book Shoppe is open from 10 a.m. to noon and from 1-4 p.m. from Monday through Saturday. It will be closed for the Easter Triduum, said Noreen Wolleben, volunteer manager of the shop, who maintains an email distribution list that informs members of activities at the monastery and special sales at its shop.
Information is available at 203-457-0599 or www.dominicannuns.org.