A victim of Santa Clara's not-so compassionate nuns

11th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

After 50 years service, porter is told to leave tied lodgings

11 February 2008

HUESCA - One morning last June, 75-year-old Dolores Labián rose at seven to begin her day's work looking after the nuns of the closed order of Santa Clara in Huesca. After she had opened the chancel and finished sweeping the yard, as she had done every morning since 1956, and returned to her porter's lodge, seven sisters who had recently arrived at the convent came to tell her that she could finally retire.

But they also told Dolores that she would have to abandon the lodgings within the convent that she and her husband have lived in for the last 50 years.

But in reality, Dolores was much more than the porter and cleaner at the convent in the Pyrenean city. Local people say that for five decades she has been the nuns' only contact with the outside world: she did their shopping, collected and posted their mail, and raised money by selling produce from their vegetable garden. In return, she started out being paid 15 pesetas, which over the years became EUR 100 a month. But the nuns never paid any social security contribution for Dolores' retirement. She says that she did the job out of devotion, and because of a verbal agreement reached many years allowing her to live in the convent on a permanent basis.

Of the 24 nuns in the convent when Dolores arrived there in 1956, only three are still alive. In May 2007, several nuns arrived at Santa Clara from Barcelona, thus preventing its closure. But the new arrivals said that the rules on contact with the outside world had been relaxed, allowing them to do their own shopping. Furthermore, they planned to turn part of the convent into a small hotel, converting her lodge into guest accommodation in the process. They offered Dolores and her husband, who suffers from Alzheimer's, a third-floor flat in a decrepit house that is scheduled for demolition. So, Dolores went to see the bishop.

But the bishop backed the nuns, and soon after, Dolores received a notice to quit. She was told that she and her husband had occupied the porter's lodge "provisionally" and had been employed with no contract, working "on the basis of friendship or benevolence."

"They treat me as though I were some kind of squatter," says Dolores, adding that she has more than 50 years of electricity and water bills to prove the length of her residence. But her lawyer, Manuel Freire, admits that without a written contract, she has little chance of holding on to her home. "This situation is a vestige of feudal times," he says, adding that if no agreement is reached, he will take the matter up with the government.

Neither the nuns, their lawyer, nor the Huesca Church authorities wished to comment on the case.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / JERÓNIMO ANDREU 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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