Nazarena of Jesus, Modern Anchoress
“Nazarena of Jesus, O.S.B. Cam. (October 15, 1907 – February 7, 1990), was an American Roman Catholic Camaldolese nun, who spent most of her adult life in a monastery as an anchoress, or recluse.
She was born Julia Crotta on October 15, 1907, in Glastonbury, Connecticut, the United States, to Italian immigrant parents. She studied at the Hartford Conservatory, then piano, violin (with Hugo Kortschak) and composition (with David Stanley Smith and Richard Donovan) at the Yale School of Music. She matriculated from Albertus Magnus College.
To discern a possible monastic vocation, Crotta joined the Carmel of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, in Newport, Rhode Island, living there for about three months before she left, seeking a more solitary way of life. Traveling to Rome, she joined the Camaldolese nuns of the Monastery of Sant’Antonio Abate, where she remained for only a short time. Still in Rome, she then entered the Carmel of the Reparation in the fall of 1938, where she pronounced simple vows as a Discalced Carmelite nun. In 1944, just before her solemn vows, however, she left Carmel.
Following a private audience with Venerable Pope Pius XII, Crotta again entered the Camaldolese monastery in Rome on November 21, 1945, being allowed to live immediately as a recluse. This is a practice long unique to that Order, but normally only after a number of years of living in the community. She then took the name, Nazarena of Jesus.
Nazarena was to remain in a secluded cell in that monastery, leading a strict ascetic regime, for the rest of her life, hearing Mass through a grille, and receiving her food and messages from the Mother Superior and the other nuns through a slot in the door to her cell. She spoke to no one directly, except once a year, when she spoke to the priest who served as her spiritual director. Those meetings could last an entire day, during which she would talk for hours.
As a Camaldolese nun, Nazarena pronounced her simple vows on December 15, 1947, and professed her solemn vows on May 31, 1953. Venerable Pope Paul VI visited the monastery on Ash Wednesday of 1966 (February 23 that year), and blessed Nazarena through her grille, while she wore a black veil covering her face.
She died there February 7, 1990, aged 82.”
“In a coarse sackcloth robe worn over a hairshirt, she sits alone in her stone-floored cell. Her food is bread, water, an occasional cooked vegetable. Through a small grilled window she may look into a chapel, and down a narrow passageway there is another barred window where she takes her daily communion. In the cell is a straight chair, a table, a board that serves as her bed and a small washroom with a cold shower. Not since she closed the door behind her 16 years ago has she ever left this confined area.
This austere regime belongs to a 54-year-old American woman, one of the nuns in the Camaldolese Convent in the fashionable Aventine Hill section of Rome. Her name is Julia Crotta; to her sister nuns, who may now and then hear her cough or murmur but never see her, she is known as Sister Nazarena.
All the Camaldolese sisters rise at 4 for prayer, observe silence for most of the day, abstain entirely from meat during Lent and Advent. But Sister Nazarena practices a degree of asceticism that is extraordinary even for her order. She is one of the few nuns in the world with ecclesiastical permission to attempt the hermitlike life known as reclusion. Her only contacts with the outside world are with the priest who daily gives her communion and with the convent abbess who visits her from time to time. This week Sister Nazarena and her sister nuns are busy cutting palm leaves for the Vatican’s Palm Sunday. It is a time of “extra strict silence.”
Not even her family quite understands why Julia Crotta undertook so arduous a vocation. She was born and raised in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Julia, her family remembers, was a cheerful, fun-loving girl with an aptitude for music. She studied violin and theory at the Yale School of Music, but left to take a four-year liberal arts course at New Haven’s Albertus Magnus College for women. “She loved life, dancing, good movies and good clothes,” says a brother-in-law.
After college, Julia taught violin and piano, worked in Manhattan. She was briefly engaged to marry, but broke it off and joined a convent of Carmelite nuns in Newport, R.I. The Carmelites were not strict enough for her; she left the convent and went to Rome, where a priest advised her to try the Camaldolese. In 1945 her abbess gave Sister Nazarena permission to attempt reclusion.
Rome’s Camaldolese sisters make ends meet by cooking and scrubbing for a local pensioner, and laundering altar linens for a nearby Benedictine seminary. Sister Nazarena shares in the convent work by sewing and cutting the palms; her materials are delivered to her cell by a nun who taps at her door, whispers “Deo gratias,” waits long enough for Sister Nazarena to hide in a recess of her cell, then sets the cloth or fronds inside the door.
At night, long after the other nuns have retired, she stays awake to pray; in her cell she has a “discipline” with the tiny whip that certain religious use to scourge themselves in mortification. In her solitary life, Sister Nazarena prays, explains one nun, “for you, for me, for all of us.” Solitude with her God seems to agree with her. “She is the most serene person I have ever known,” says her abbess Mother Hildegarde. “She is a saint.””
“Time”, April 13, 1962 Read more: Religion: A Nun’s Story – TIME http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,827274,00.html#ixzz2krTiPsZN
“Nazarena, an American Anchoress” By Thomas Matus, Paulist Press (July 1, 1998)
“In this fascinating book, Thomas Matus tells the true story of one woman’s struggle to live her extraordinary vocation to a life of total silence, solitude and hiddenness. A gifted musician and ordinary Sunday Catholic, Nazarena, nee Julia Crotta, had a vision of Jesus calling her to the desert while in college in Connecticut. After much searching and numerous attempts to have her unique vocation recognized by the church, she eventually found her “desert” in a small room at the monastery of the Camaldolese Benedictine nuns in Rome. She lived there as an anchoress for forty-five years until her death in 1990.
Radical yet traditional, exceptional yet simple, Sister Nazarena had a long and spiritually fruitful ascetic life. Nazarena, an American Anchoress uses excerpts from her own letters of spiritual counseling and material taken from interviews with those who knew her to tell the remarkable story of her life of silence and prayer.”
See also http://www.camaldolesiromani.it/sito/html/antonio/antonio%20italia/nazarena.html which includes photographs.