Called 'Mater Ecclesiae', Latin for Mother of the Church, a monastery built in 1994 by Pope John Paul II will soon be the home of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. Currently undergoing renovations, the monastery was used by nuns who were dedicated specifically to praying for the intentions of the popes and cardinals. Currently, Pope Benedict, who retains the title of Cardinal, is housed at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat until his new quarters are ready. On February 28, he was flown by helicopter from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo, making an aerial tour of the Vatican City after saying farewell to cardinals, bishops, religious and laity who serve at the Vatican.
The sisters at the monastery lead a simple life with no staff, spending their time in prayer and labor. For the 400th anniversary of the Visitation order, they produced liturgical vestments for the Pope to donate to priests in poor dioceses. One nun, who remains anonymous, said that Benedict's decision surprised her but filled her with more love for the former pontiff. “His decision has made us cry, but he has been very brave,” she added.
The Mater Ecclesiae,monastery is 4,300 square feet and lies just west of St. Peter’s Basilica. It is provided with a chapel, a choir room, a library, a semi-basement, a terrace and a visiting room that was added in 1993.
When renovations at the monastery commenced in November 2012, rumors began to circulate as to when Pope Benedict had decided to retire. It was earlier in 2012 that POpe Benedict XVI visited the relics of a predecessor, Pope Gregory, who was the last pope to resign, some 600 years ago. The monastery had not been refurbished in 18 years and needed minor repairs. The small building requires attention to its basement and roof, while windows are to be replaced.
The nuns of the Visitation order living at the monastery pray for the Pope, for his trips, and accompany him in prayer on a daily basis. As pope, Benedict regularly looked in on them out of concern for their general well-being. While he originally wanted French nuns to live in the monastery, but decided to choose them from Spain instead due to the lack of religious vocations in France. The monastery was established in 1994 by Blessed John Paul II as a place dedicated solely to prayer for the Pope, his ministry and the cardinals.
The order of the Visitation of St. Mary was chosen from many others to live at the monastery, staying there from Oct. 7, 2009 until Oct. 7, 2012. Their stay was extended for 15 days. They then left the monastery on Oct. 22, just after Blessed John Paul’s feast day.