Poor Clares "move on without the horses and the tourists”

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Friday 10, September 2010 | Category:   Consecrated Life

Sister Angela with miniature horses
Situated about 75 miles northwest of Houston between the famed Blue Bell ice cream factory and Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park, where Texas’ declaration of independence from Mexico was signed in 1836, is the 98-acre Monastery of St. Clare. For the last 25 years the monastery’s Franciscan Poor Clare sisters have raised miniature horses. Now, the shrinking and aging of the community along with increasing costs and declining tourism are forcing them to sell the property.

Originally a community of 20 sisters, it has dwindled to three: Sister Angela Chandler, 54, who oversees the convent and runs the place with Bill Chandler, her brother, and his wife Becky, and two sisters Chandler cares for: 95-year-old Sister Holy Spirit Aleman and 89-year-old Sister Joseph Palacios.

“It’s gotten to be a lot just to try to keep up. It’s too much for us,” Chandler told the Associated Press. “We’ve reached a burnout phase, I think, and so much of our energies have gone outward and it’s time to focus them inward before we totally die out. It feels like it’s time for us to move on without the horses and without the tourists.”

The monastery is worth nearly $2 million with the horses, $1.7 million without, and includes a gift shop, commercial kitchen, chapel, 18-bedroom residence, and several smaller buildings. Chandler has received inquiries from potential buyers interested in creating a retreat center or an assisted living facility.

Miniature horses have been bred for over a century after owners selectively mated their smallest horses. Standing at about 34 inches at the shoulder, the animals can weigh as much as 350 pounds and pull carts carrying two adults. They are not strong enough to carry a rider.

The idea to raise horses first came to Chandler’s predecessor, the late Sister Bernadette Muller (coauthor of Sister Bernadette: Cowboy Nun from Texas, a copy of which you reporter, who has also visited the monastery, is a proud owner). Muller oversaw a cat- and bird-raising business but switched to miniature horses once she discovered their earning potential. A trained mare can sell for $3,000, and gelded yearlings start at $500. In 1985 the monastery outgrew it 20-acre site in Corpus Christi and moved to Brenham.

“We were just expecting to—as with the birds—just quietly raise horses and sell them to a few people here and there,” Chandler says. Instead, tourists came from across the country and as far as Tasmania and Russia to see the horses. Chandler estimated the monastery has welcomed 20,000 tourists and earned about $250,000 each year through admissions, donations, and sales from horses and the gift shop.

She says the plans are to bring more sisters into the monastery and focus on the nuns’ spiritual life. The monastery also gets income from selling altar breads, and Chandler plans to expand her desktop publishing and design business.

“It’s been wonderful and we’ve loved meeting these people,” Chandler says. “But at the same time, all good things must come to an end. It’s time for us to change focus.”

3 Site Comments

  1. Katie 9 year ago

    The Sisters of the Lamb of God also accept those with disabilities. It is a community in Owensboro, KY, but it originated in France.

  2. Father Thomas Coughlin, OP Miss. 9 year ago

    Speaking of disabled vocations in the Catholic Church, there is a new religious congregation that accepts deaf men to become a religious missionary priest, religious missionary brother, or deacon. The Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate founded in 2004 accepts both deaf and hearing candidates. Our ministry focuses on deaf and disabled people in the Catholic Church. Hearing men who are interested in deaf apostolate and knows sign language can apply. Contact Father Tom Coughlin, OP Miss. at www.DominicanMissionaries.org.

  3. Vocation Ministry 9 year ago

    Daughters of the Heart of Mary consider women up to age 52.

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