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Prayer cards keep Jamaica Estates monastery going

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The Passionist priests of the Immaculate Conception monastery in Jamaica Estates have a novel idea to finance the work they do around the world, one that sounds like it barely has a prayer of being profitable enough.

The Passionists, a 2,000-plus-strong holy order with monasteries in 55 countries, including one in Jamaica Estates, have as their mission to help people remember the passion of Jesus Christ. They hold masses, hear confessions and build churches and hospitals in places like Kenya, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and the island of Jamaica, traveling to minister to their far-flung congregations.

The Passionist priests have taken a vow of poverty, so the jet-setting lifestyle is mostly covered by the small donations the order receives from mass cards, which ask that prayers be said at mass in the name or memory of someone who has died.

The Rev. Peter Grace, rector of the Jamaica Estates monastery, said two of the priests from his monastery teach in Nairobi, Kenya, and another has served in the Bahamas, and their work is supported by donations from mass cards.

"Half of the priests here believe this place runs on angels, and half the time I think they're right," Grace said.

Mass cards have been around for decades. The idea of praying for the dead goes back thousands of years, Grace said. But he and monastery director Monty Warner have a new twist on the idea: prayers for the living, which occurred to them when a parishioner said she wished there were a way to have prayers said for her children at birth.

The Jamaica Estates monastery has an annual budget of $1.5 million, coming "mostly from prayer cards," said Grace. "About $1 million of it comes in from prayer cards."

The cards have no set price because they are not for sale per se, but Grace said people typically donate between $3 and $10, sometimes more, depending on the card and the prayers requested.

When Grace went to Kingston, Jamaica, to cover the duties of a fellow Passionist who had cancer and was undergoing treatment in New York City, prayer card funds were what got him there and helped him minister to his flock.

"A lot of money went to funerals" in Kingston, where violence is common, he said. "I knew I'd been there too long when I was sitting talking with some people and we heard gunshots, and people kept talking."

The Jamaica Estates monastery, linked with the Immaculate Conception School, has as its patron St. Ann, the Virgin Mary's mother.

"People feel comfortable praying to her. She's a grandmotherly figure," Grace said. "A lot of people pray to her to find somebody to marry, or to conceive, or they pray for an adoption."

Those prayers and hopes sometimes get a little boost from prayer cards. Then that money helps send Passionist priests from the monastery who serve elsewhere.

"Financially, we get nothing from the diocese. Typically, the parish supports itself, the church and administration," Grace said. "For religious orders, they're expected to support themselves."

For more information, contact the mass card office at 718-739-9337.

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