The monastery, named after a Catholic title for Mary as "Mother of the Church" (Latin: Mater Ecclesiae), is located on the Vatican Hill inside the Vatican Gardens and near the Aquilone fountain. It was founded by Pope John Paul II in order to have a community of nuns of an enclosed religious order inside Vatican City, who were to pray for the pope in his service to the Catholic Church. This task was, at the beginning, entrusted to the nuns of the Order of St. Clare, better known as the Poor Clares. This assignment, however, was shifted every five years to another female monastic order, who would then occupy the monastery.
The building was erected between 1992 and 1994 in place of an administrative building of the Vatican police. Its structure is incorporated into the Leonine walls. The building is divided in two parts: The western chapel (two floors and rectangular in shape) and the eastern community rooms and monastic cells (rectangular in shape and, on the Aquilone fountain's side, with four floors, with 12 monastic cells on the second and third floors, and a refectory, store, kitchen, infirmary, archives and an office-studio on the ground and lower ground floors). Adjacent to the monastery is a fruit and vegetable garden. Pope Benedict XVI visited the monastery several times, where he would preside at Mass for the nuns.
With the start of renovation works in November 2012, the last nuns moved out.
After his historic retirement in February of the following year, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI moved into the monastery on 2 May 2013. He lives there accompanied by a few assistants, with their domestic needs cared for by a small community of women belonging to a secular institute called
Memores Domini, part of the Communion and Liberation movement.
The gardens next to the monastery