by Cynthia Sweeney
Reprinted with permission by the Napa Valley Register
The date, Oct. 22 will mark 10 years that the Sisters of Holy Assumption Monastery have been an active part of the Calistoga community. Now, the sisters are looking for a little help from the community as they plan to replace The St. Nicholas House that “has seen better times.” The house was built on the Washington Street property in the 1970s, and was originally intended to be a handicap-accessible residence for elderly and infirm sisters. After adding an accessible bathroom several years ago, contractors found that the house was not built to high-quality standards, and replacing it is a better use of resources than continuing to renovate, or attempting to expand, said Mother Melania. “We have to think ahead. We’re stewards and caretakers of this property for the next generations, and to provide what the community will need,” said Mother Macrina.
Plans are already underway. Local general contractor Paul Coates, a generous friend of the monastery, and architect Thomas Stimpert, have committed to the project, donating planning input and guidance.
The sisters have begun a fundraising campaign with a goal of $1 million for the new St. Nicholas House. About $20,000 has been raised so far. Neither demolition nor construction can begin until the bulk of the money has been raised. Several factors contribute to the cost of the new building including elevation of the building due to the proximity to the Napa River, and the addition of a sprinkler system. (See details at https://www.holyassumptionmonastery.com/newsnhdetails.)
The new, two-story building will feature ground floor living quarters for elderly and infirm sisters, and guests, plus a second kitchen, and much-needed work space for various projects the sisters undertake on the second floor. The new building will also have a small elevator, for handicap access to the second floor, and transportation of groceries and supplies, and two wheelchair ramps.
The new St. Nicholas House will be connected to the main house and also house a library. Windows and doors will be energy efficient. The exterior is also being designed to match the main house, with a mixture of hardwood and shingles, to harmonize it with the existing buildings. Also taken into consideration are material and labor costs in the Bay Area that have increased dramatically in the past two years because of ongoing rebuilding in the aftermath of local fires. Demolition and construction phases are estimated to take six to 12 months.
The sisters came to Calistoga 10 years ago from the Santa Barbara area in southern California, where the order outgrew their monastery. The Main House on the property dates back to about the 1890s, Mother Melania said. In about 1960 a new chapel was built on the grounds, a replica of the 1812 Fort Ross Chapel, part of the Russian colony near Jenner. In the late 1990s, Father Sergious Gerken began restoring the property including completely renovating the Main House, and adding a Koi pond. Holy Assumption is an Orthodox order, and the oldest women’s monastery in the United States.
The sisters can be seen out and about in town, selling cookies, granola and other baked goods at the Farmers’ Market and at their gift shop and book store at the Monastery. The chocolate chip cookies are especially popular with kids walking home after school. Sisters also volunteer by tutoring at the nearby elementary school. The public is welcome to services on Saturday and Sunday, where about 25-30 parishioners regularly attend. Also, the gate to the grounds — where visitors can check out the Koi pond, talk to the parrots, or relax on the veranda — is always open. “We are engaged with the community and grateful for their support,” said Mother Melania.
The sisters have also started a weekly yard sale on Tuesdays, to help raise funds for the new St. Nicholas House. Look for details forthcoming. There will also be special events at the Monastery to coincide with the 10th anniversary in October. Visit https://www.holyassumptionmonastery.com or call (707) 942-6244 for more.