Nun dies after 86 years of cloistered life

The Papal Conclave Day Two

One can’t help but be awe-struck at some of the facts surrounding the life of Sister Teresita Barajuen, a Spanish nun who died this week.

For one, she was 105 years old and had spent almost all of the past 86 years as a cloistered nun in the Buenafuente del Sistal Monastery northeast of Madrid.

Cloistered nuns live contemplative lives in which they spend much of their time praying.

They usually have little or no contact with the outside world and live in structures that prevent them looking outside their enclosures, and also keep neighbors from seeing into the court-yards or gardens used by the nuns.

Sister Teresa, as she was known, entered the Cistercian monastery when she was 19, many years before the onset of the Spanish Civil War which devastated the nation.

Except for the period of 1936-39 conflict which caused the nuns to flee from the fighting, Sister Teresa lived her entire life as a nun in the Buenafuente del Sistal Monastery, according to the website

She didn’t leave the monastery again until 2011, when visited Pope Benedict XVI.

Amazingly, Sister Teresa entered the monastery on the same day that Benedict was born, April 16, 1927, according to the Associated Press.

Sister Teresa acknowledged in interviews that like many young women of her era, she never intended being a nun but entered the monastery because of family pressure.

The Order of Cistercians is a Roman Catholic religious order of cloistered monks and nuns.

“They are sometimes also called the Bernardines or the White Monks, due to the color of the habit over which a black scapular is worn, according to The Daily Mail.

“The emphasis of Cistercian life is on manual labor and self-sufficiency,” the publication added. “Many abbeys have traditionally supported themselves through activities such as agriculture and brewing ales.”

15 thoughts on “Nun dies after 86 years of cloistered life

  1. What a different place the world would have been from the one she was born into. I wonder if she fell ill, was taken for treatment and the world outside was a bit of a shock for her? I wonder if there was much contact with others than those living in the cloister?

    • It would be interesting to find out whether she knew of changes going on in the world, or was more or less oblivious. Of course, given the dramatic changes that have taken place in Spain between her birth and today, she was likely aware of some of what was going on.

  2. wow, this really takes an amazing level of commitment. i wonder what she would have been like and done, had she not succumbed to the pressure? ps – i would not be a good nun

    • I think we all have callings and that given the contentment she seemed to have with being a nun for so many years, this likely was her calling. Of course, it’s easy for me to say that from afar, but just because she lived a lifestyle that appears anathema to what I would be able to tolerate doesn’t mean it wasn’t right for her.

      For what it’s worth, I’d be a real bad nun – and not that good a priest, either. And don’t get me started on the cloistered part.

  3. Wow! Wonder what kind of family pressure that was? Devotion to parents’s wished, I’m guessing. Fear and pressure alone wouldn’t do it for the long haul, I don’t think unless there was something seriously mentally wrong with her. I’m thinking Asbergers’ or something that makes you see things in overly black and white shades of gray as you get older even. Someone who is overly docile might obey a parent’s wishes and never give it a second thought.

    • I don’t know – life in 1920s Spain, particularly rural Spain, was vastly different than anything we know today. I imagine in many respects it what closer to Cervantes’ Don Quixote than our world today.

      There were likely almost no options besides getting married, which may not have been possible if the family didn’t have the money or goods for a dowry, so they may have felt that her only option was the convent.

      And, of course, once she went into the convent, it’s not like she was learning a vast amount of new skills that she could adapt to a position in the outside world.

      I recently read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, about his time in the country during the Spanish Civil War, and it’s easy to see where people came with the saying that the Third World used to begin at the Pyrenees.

  4. The reasoning behind some of these remarks seems to indicate a lack of knowledge and/or understanding of the concept of a religious vocation. Ascribing mental illness or Asperger’s Syndrome as a reason for the parental decision to induce this 17-year old girl to enter a strict cloistered Order is insensitive, particularly since no referenced article cites that reason.

    It was not considered unusual in that era, and for many years into the 20th Century, for young men and women to be strongly encouraged to enter religious life. Most often it was the mother who did this.

    In Sr. Teresita’s situation, as with all religious sisters, she was free to renounce her vows and leave the Order at any time. Interesting that she wa chosen to be Superior for 20 years!

    A vocation is considered to be a ‘calling.’ The same term is used for most secular professions, even today. It is extremely difficult for lay persons living in a secular society to understand the calling to religious life. A cloistered life is even more difficult to understand. It definitey is not for everyone.

    Cloistered life has been criticized as an attempt to shut oneself away from the world with its temptations, responsibilities, etc. to remain in a ‘safe’ atmosphere where all one had to do was to pray. That is what cloistered religious persons are committed to do. They pray — for us — living in a broken, hurting, Godless world and for guidance in spiritual and temporal matters.

    “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”
    (Alfred Lord Tennyson, Morte D’Arthur)

    • We live in a world that more than ever runs counter to the religious life. When my son was born I initially had hopes that he might consider becoming a priest. My then-wife’s mother, also a Catholic, however, wanted no part of that for her grandson. Perhaps it’s not surprising that today he scoffs at religion.

      Faith is generally not an element held in high regard in popular culture, except when wants to make a show of something.

      I have a great deal of respect for those who choose a religious life. I imagine it must take great willpower, determination and discipline.

  5. Well said, CB
    Statistically, the numbers for priests and religious sisters and brothers entering Catholic religious life have dropped drastically. There are many reasons for this, a few I can mention here.

    Briefly, the Catholic Church’s refusal to ease or change the requirement for mandatory celibacy for priests is one major factor. The recent child molestation scandals is another factor. Celibacy is not a problem for Protestant denominations. Their priests (male and female) may marry. Divorce and re-marriage is also permitted — more than once in many cases.

    Since the changes made in the Vatican II Council, most of the religious sisters who were once the backbone of the Catholic

    Church have left the classrooms and hospitals they once served. They are now “in the population,” serving mostly in social service and social justice capacities.

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