Located in the middle of the hustle and bustle is a spectacularly beautiful, formerly consecrated rental facility that few people in the entire city know about. For more than a century there was a monastery for Catholic nuns located at N. 29th and Hamilton Streets. This is a history of one of North Omaha’s hidden holy grounds built as St. Clare’s Monastery.
Just like every growing metropolis in Middle America, the growing city of Omaha had to have religion. Catholics were among the most dedicated of the early churches to commit themselves to Omaha’s physical, social and spiritual well-being.
Among the Catholic Franciscans is a group of nuns committed to doing good things through prayer called the Order of St. Clare, or, as they are known, the Poor Clares.
By the way, they called their facility a monastery, not a convent, so I’ve used that term throughout this article.
History of Poor Clares in Omaha
North Omaha was home to the first Poor Clares monastery in the United States.
After working in Europe since the 13th century, Pope Pius IX authorized the Poor Clares to the come the U.S. in 1875, and two years later a small group came from Düsseldorf, Germany, to start the first monastery for the Poor Clares in the western hemisphere. A lot of bishops didn’t want them in town because the Poor Clares relied on donations for their existence, a key part of their system of worship.
Bishop James O’Connor of Omaha wasn’t shy about bringing the Poor Clares to town. In 1877, he asked John A. Creighton to donate to their existence in Omaha, and he ponied up. Creighton, a pioneer Omaha businessman and philanthropist with his brother Edward, donated heavily to Catholic activities in the city, including the Catholic university established in his family’s name, and St. John’s Catholic Church.
In 1878, Mother Mary Magdalen Bentivoglio and two novices arrived to Omaha. Within six months, they moved from a simple house downtown to a bigger wood frame building on Burt Street. In the next decade, two powerful tornadoes struck their monastery and left it in bad shape. In 1888, their first brick monastery was dedicated at N. 29th and Hamilton Streets. When it was selected, the site was located on what was called “West Hamilton Street.”
When N. 29th Street was extended in the early 1900s, the original monastery was abandoned and demolished. In 1904, a new building was finished at 1310 North 29th Street, and in 1908, a new wing and burial vaults were built. A chapel for Mass and a below-ground mausoleum, also called a crypt, was finished in 1960. The mausoleum was made for the sisters at the monastery, and when they moved, they moved these burials with them. The crypts are all empty.
The Omaha order of the Good Shepherd Sisters bought the Poor Clares monastery at N. 29th and Hamilton in 1971, and the Poor Clares brought and moved into the Saint Bernard Parish Convent at 3626 North 65th Avenue later that year.
What the Poor Clares Do
The Poor Clares believe in living closely in community, sharing household duties, caring for the sick and infirm, and in sharing Altar Breads with the parishes. They live a life of prayer fostered by daily celebration of the Eucharist, meditate, daily recitation of the Rosary, and spiritual reading, as well as days of recollection, holy hours, and times of recreation.
According to Sister Joan Mueller, a Creighton University faculty, while prayer is essential to the lives of all Catholic sisters, it is the sole lifework of the Poor Clares and is how they serve God’s people.
The major orders of Catholic nuns in Omaha include the Sisters of Mercy, Servants of Mary and Notre Dame Sisters.
Covenant Life Fellowship
The Good Shepherd Sisters attempted to open a school in the facility. However, when they failed to raise enough funds to support it, they had to sell it. A church called the Covenant Life Fellowship operated the grounds as a church for almost two decades. Opened in the 1980s, it closed in 2012.
In the 2000s, the monastery became a rental facility called the Starlight Chateau. Today, the Starlight Chateau hosts a variety of events, including weddings, meetings, parties, small conventions or casual get-togethers. Featuring many of its beautiful spaces, the space has been repurposed in many ways. The chapel is used for beautiful weddings. A fellowship hall is now a conference breakout room or reception room. There are a number of small rooms that used to be the nuns’ sleeping rooms that are now available to rent as offices.
Grounds at the Chateau are kept in immaculate shape, too. There is a large lawn, good parking and the original, beautiful grotto in a courtyard. It is a simply spectacular and gorgeous space.
Timeline of the Monastery
- 1878—In April, the Poor Clares arrive in Omaha and live in a wood house downtown
- 1878—In November, John A. Creighton has the first wooden monastery built for the Poor Clares
- 1888—John A. Creighton builds the first brick monastery
- 1903—Second brick monastery is demolished for street construction
- 1903-04—Second brick monastery is built
- 1908—First addition is built
- 1960—Second addition (chapel and crypt)
- 1971—Poor Clares move out, Good Shepherd Sisters move in
- 2000—Good Shepherd Sisters move out, Covenant Life Church moves in
- 2013—Covenant Life Church moves out, the facility becomes the Starlight Chateau