Heavenly pumpkin bread from the Monastery of the Angels

| November 30, 2023 | 0 Comments

baked and ready to be wrapped!

Tucked into the Hollywood Hills, the Monastery of the Angels, established in 1924, might seem an unlikely place to find sweet treats, but the large sign promoting “MonasteryGoodies.com” at the corner of the property proclaims otherwise. Although the nuns and their staff make various chocolate candies and peanut brittle, the sisters are primarily known for pumpkin bread, some with nuts, some with nuts and cranberries. The monastery estimates it has baked well more than half a million loaves. In the 1980s, “pumpkin money” brought in 25% of the monastery’s income.

Baking was not one of the original duties of the Dominican nuns; it started in 1972 when Sister Mary Agnes baked her grandmother’s pumpkin bread for dinner. It was such a hit with the sisters that they went into the baking business. Chocolates and brittle came later when a Pasadena candy-making family’s children weren’t interested in inheriting the business, so they donated their equipment to the sisters.

Multiple generations of families order the bread and peanut brittle and boxes of chocolates every year. Actor Bill Pullman dropped into the gift shop recently to buy some treats and stayed to sign bags wrapping their pumpkin bread. The late Tom LaBonge famously was known to carry loaves of the pumpkin bread in the trunk of his car to distribute around town.

In its heyday, 65 Dominican sisters lived in the monastery. A few years ago, the number had dwindled to six. And then, the last remaining nun, Sister Mary John, an expert candy-maker, left in November 2022.

The work continues
Although now devoid of nuns, the monastery’s work continues. The Dominican friars are working with real estate agent Dominic Dutra, who specializes in helping religious communities repurpose their properties. While the friars seek a way to maintain the Monastery of the Angels as a sacred Dominican space, perhaps by converting it into a school, senior care facility or a home for retired priests, the monastery has its own civilian angel making sure the work continues: Carlos Sanchez.

MONATSTERY GENERAL MANAGER Carlos Sanchez in the gift shop.

When Sanchez was hired in 1996, the sisters warned him not to get too comfortable because they wouldn’t need his help for too long. He’s still there. He began by sweeping up and letting in workers who needed to fix things around the complex. Then he began to take the nuns shopping and to their doctors’ appointments, many of them in the Larchmont Medical Building. As the nuns aged, he shopped for them. Before they had a website for ordering, he would take orders over the phone, pack up the goodies and take them to the post office to mail. When the sisters got overwhelmed with the baking, he oversaw the hired bakers. “I’m quality control,” he says. “It’s my duty to make sure the original recipe gets followed.”

The work for him is more than a job. “I’m keeping traditions alive. I continue to do it for the sisters,” Sanchez explains. “If this bread ever stops, the sisters will be forgotten little by little. It keeps them alive in a way.”

In addition, Sanchez, who lives in a small guesthouse on the property, believes people need the bread. “I get so many calls from grandmas, great grandmas. I’m helping them keep their family tradition alive. People get teary-eyed when they talk about it.”

When Tom LaBonge passed away, nearly every obituary written about him mentioned the pumpkin bread he handed out all over the city. He was so associated with the Dominican nuns and their bread that when his wife, Brigid LaBonge, came into the shop to buy more loaves, Sanchez recounts, “She told me that she buried Tom with a pumpkin bread.” Sanchez continues, “He’s the first man buried with it. I’m going to be number two.”

The Monastery of the Angels & Gift Shop is at 1977 Carmen Ave., 323-470-5884. monasterygoodies.com.

Pumpkin bread is $7.50 & $14.50; peanut brittle is $10.50 & $20; and various chocolate candies are $10.50 & $24.50.

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Category: Entertainment

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