ST. LOUIS -- During the day, the blocks surrounding St. Louis's Mount Grace Convent seem to reflect the tranquility inside the cloister walls. With the exception of the hum of traffic on nearby Interstate 70 and the church bells that ring hourly, it's a quiet neighborhood.
But as night falls, that all changes.
Gunfire fills the air. Police cruisers roam the College Hill neighborhood, officers frequently stopping to talk to those on the streets. City leaders often refer to this northeast neighborhood as one of the city's most dangerous.
Inside the convent, 24 cloistered nuns pray.
The order, better known as the Pink Sisters because of the color of their habits, prays around the clock. Since the convent and chapel opened in 1928, there has always been at least one sister kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament.
"This place is much different," said Sister Mary Catherine Smith, who came here 50 years ago. The superior of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, Smith said the neighborhood changes began in the early 1980s when a guard had to be posted outside the chapel.
"Things started to get bad. People were getting accosted."
Visitors returning from prayer in the chapel would find their cars broken into, she said. The chapel, once open 24 hours, now closes when the sun goes down. Copper thieves have stolen guttering at Mount Grace, but the sisters themselves have not had any problems.
"The Lord has really been protecting us," Smith said.
The changes made by the sisters reflect the decades-long decline of the neighborhood. A recent spate of violence has made College Hill a priority for police.