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Seeking Silence in a Poor Clare Monastery

poorclareKatie Devitt stood in front of the Monastery of the Poor Clares in Kokomo, Indiana.

She carried her only remaining possessions:

• Clothes
• Two rosaries
• Two Bibles
• A few family photos

Her family waited beside her, fully aware of what this day meant.

Devitt will never touch them or her friends again. She may see her parents just a few times a year, but only through a screen. Mail is limited. Personal phone calls are not permitted. She may only leave the monastery for medical appointments.

When Devitt was ready, she said her goodbyes and then knocked on the door. Behind it, nine cloistered sisters waited.

At a time when few young people enter religious life, Devitt, Arts ’05, chose what some would call one of the most extreme paths: the life of a cloistered contemplative nun.

A native of Buffalo Grove, Illinois, Devitt once dreamed of being a rock critic for the Chicago Tribune. She was raised Ukrainian Greek Catholic, but never gave her faith much thought outside of Sunday Mass.

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Cistercians Monks Return to the Ruins of an Abbey Destroyed by Henry VIII

abbeyIt was Thomas Cromwell, through two parliamentary resolutions, who transferred the ownership of abbeys, churches, monasteries and other possessions of the Catholic Church in England to the hands of the English crown. Among these, countless manuscripts, libraries and works of art, but especially farms and other productive buildings were taken over by the government. In particular, of course, monasteries and abbeys. Those that were not destroyed, expropriated or simply shut down were handed over to the political allies of Henry VIII.

But why was Henry VIII so eager to get his hands on northern English monasteries? According to historian Stephanie Mann, basically for two classic, too-well-known simple reasons: money and power. These expropriations would provide Henry VIII with an extraordinary, unexpected income without resorting to deeply unpopular measures (such as higher taxes), while also eliminating the influence of the Roman papacy over the English crown.

rievaulx-monksNow, about 500 years later, in a series of photographs published in the Daily Mail, we can see Cistercian monks, Father Joseph and Brother Bernard, visiting the ruins of one of these great abbeys: the Abbey of Rievaulx.

Rievaulx had been founded in 1132 by twelve monks from Clairvaux Abbey in France (the foundation of Saint Bernard), and soon was considered one of the greatest British abbeys. At its peak, 650 people actively lived and worked at Rievaulx, including monks, direct and indirect employees and other officials associated with the maintenance of monastic activities. On December 3, 1538, Henry VIII ordered them all to leave the building, expropriating every valuable object in it (particularly the lead used in stained glasses).

Today, a museum is housed in the abbey, led by English Heritage, a company/charity that is responsible for the preservation of more than 400 historic sites across England. The museum exhibits some of the artifacts monks once used at the abbey, and chronicles of the history of the Cistercian Order in England.

Norcia’s Benedictines: Recovery Under Way in Wake of Devastating Quake

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Restoration of Norcia’s Benedictine monastery and basilica will cost millions of dollars, following the recent devastating earthquake, according to the community’s monks.

“Both the church and the monastery are too dangerous to live in,” Benedictine Father Cassian Folsom, prior of the Monastery of St. Benedict and a Massachusetts native, said. “So we’ve put up two tents; one is a dormitory, and the other is a chapel.”

The tents are located about a mile away, outside the city walls, next to a medieval monastery the monks have been restoring but which was also badly damaged by the natural disaster; it will need to be rebuilt.

Pentin-NORCIA-650x495The 6.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the region Aug. 24, and its continued aftershocks, forced the monks to transfer to Rome for three days, leaving two of their brethren to camp out in tents so they could mind the basilica and monitor developments. Almost all of them have since returned and will be living in the makeshift accommodations until buildings are made safe.

The birthplace of St. Benedict, the patron of Europe, Norcia was just eight miles from the quake’s epicenter. But it remarkably escaped with relatively little damage and no loss of life, compared to the nearby towns of Amatrice and Accumoli. Although just 25 miles by car from Norcia, they and a number of surrounding medieval mountaintop villages were closer to the fault line and had many buildings that were not earthquake-proof, and so were practically wiped out by the natural disaster that took 291 lives, many of them children.

The true extent of the damage won’t be known until a full analysis can be carried out once the aftershocks have ended, but Father Cassian predicts it will be a “huge rebuilding project.”

norciaprayerThe Monastery of St. Benedict, which has only been in Norcia since 2000 (Napoleonic laws forced the previous community to flee in 1810), has become well established and much loved by the local people. One of the few religious communities in the world to celebrate both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman rite, the monastery draws thousands of visitors every year. It recently became famous for its brewery, opened in 2012, which produces its popular “Birra Nursia.”

Norcia is part of the beautiful region of Umbria, the so-called “Land of the Saints” because of the many holy men and women born there, and the “Green Heart of Italy,” on account of its verdant, alpine scenery. August is the height of the tourist season there, but the town was practically deserted the weekend after the quake, except for emergency vehicles and some television vans. Many of the citizens who remained in the town camped outside in fields or slept in cars.

The town and some of its surrounding villages have been rebuilt several times over the centuries, most recently after the town was struck by an earthquake in 1979 and reconstructed using earthquake-resistant techniques.Facade

Subprior Father Benedict Nivakoff said the earthquake “sadly served as a healthy reminder” for modern society, where “people can get so used to things being exactly how they expect them to be” that they cannot “control everything.” He said it will take some time for the town to get back to normal, and as it is very hard to obtain earthquake insurance, those hardest hit, including the monastery, will apply for government grants to help rebuild.

But for the monks, too, who take a vow of stability to live the rest of their lives where they took their vows, the event will serve a useful purpose, helping them to “root” themselves even more in the locality. “When you lose something that you’ve come to love, and we’ve been restoring this place for the last 15 years, one has to really dig in more; and so that’s what we’re doing, renewing and expanding our commitment,” said Father Nivakoff.

He said people can help by praying for them, the people in Norcia and the people hard hit in Amatrice and Accumoli. “That’s the most important thing: supporting us with prayers, sacrifices, acts of charity,” he said. He also said people can also help the rebuilding efforts by buying a best-selling CD of Gregorian chant that the monks produced last year, buying their beer and also making donations.

Father Nivakoff said the monks will also be giving around 15%-20% of whatever they raise to the people who most need it.

“The vow of stability means you love the place,” said Father Cassian. “We love the place, and so it needs to be rebuilt.”

Cloistered Nuns Want to Pray for You

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The following reflection was written by Rev. Edward Looney, a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay, who serves as parochial vicar at St. Raphael's Catholic Church in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Many people in our world are in need of prayer. All we have to do is turn on the news these days and see how much prayer our world truly needs with terrorism and senseless violence. We know people, or perhaps ourselves, who need prayers for health, employment, or discernment, to name just a few. Fortunately for us, some people dedicate their entire life to prayer, especially interceding for the world, the Church, and priests. The witness of these men and women in religious life who dedicate hours to prayer should inspire all of us to make time each and everyday for prayer.

In my work as a priest, I have had the privilege to celebrate Mass for a number of cloistered religious communities. Last year I shared “Why I Love Consecrated Religious” and this year I wish to draw attention to a number of these communities. One reason why I love consecrated religious is because they make great sacrifices. This is particularly true for women who join a cloistered community, because once the young postulant knocks on the door, and enters into the cloister, she does not leave except in extreme circumstances. Oftentimes they are separated from those who visit their monastery by a barrier called a grille. They give a radical witness to the world of what it means to love Jesus. It takes a special person whom God has called to join such a community, but their love for Jesus should inspire us. Each day they chant the Divine Office seven times, attend Mass, have times for personal prayer, spiritual reading, and all this is in addition to any other work their community does. They are prayer warriors who seek to be in intimate communion with Jesus their spouse.

Recently in my travels, I visited a monastery of sisters, and had a prayer intention to leave with them. I noticed their basket for prayer requests and wrote mine down. This has been true for every cloistered community I have visited. These nuns want to pray for you. Here are five orders of nuns who will intercede for you if you write and ask.

Discalced Carmelites
There are two types of Carmelites, the O.Carm and O.C.D. (Order of Discalced Carmelites). The Discalced Carmelites are cloistered religious who do not wear shoes–the meaning of the word discalced. Their foundation dates back to the great reformer, St. Teresa of Avila. I have had the privilege to get to know one particular monastery located in my diocese–the Holy Name of Jesus Monastery in Denmark, Wisconsin. There are several other Carmelites in the United States. See if you have a monastery in your diocese or in your state. Write them a letter, and ask them to remember you in prayer. The website for the Discalced Carmelites have a listing of all the sisters in the USA. Visit this link.

Poor Clares and Poor Clare Colettines
Many people are familiar with the Poor Clare Nuns because one of the most notable figures of the Poor Clare’s passed away on Easter Sunday this year, namely Mother Angelica. The Poor Clares are associated with St. Clare of Assisi, who worked closely with St. Francis of Assisi and established a community for women. Like other orders, there have been reforms within the Poor Clares. In addition to the OSC (Order of Saint Clare), there is a branch of Poor Clares called “Colettines” named after St. Colette, who in 1406, felt called to reform the Poor Clares and return to a life of poverty and austerity.

Recently, a young cinematographer, sought to capture the life of the Poor Clare Colettines in Rockford, Illinois, with her documentary Chosen, that has yet to be released. Besides Mother Angelica, another popular Poor Clare was Mother Mary Francis, from the Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Roswell, New Mexico. She was a prolific writer, authoring many texts, including A Right to be Merry, Anima Christi-Soul of Christ, But I Have Called You Friends, and Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience, in addition to two books focusing on the themes of Advent and Lent.

There are Poor Clare Monasteries all throughout the United States, 26 states to be exact. This Poor Clare website lists all the different types (OSC, PCC, PCPA) of Poor Clare Monasteries. See if your state has a monastery.

Cistercians and Trappistines
The Cistercian order began when several monks left the Benedictine Abbey of Molesme because of a lax following of the Rule of St. Benedict. Robert of Molesme, Alberic, and Stephen Harding are the well known founders of the Cistercian order, established the Abbey of Cîteaux. The Trappists, known as Cistercians of the Strict Observance, were a reform of this reform. That’s right, that is a threefold reform of striving to live more faithfully the rule of St. Benedict. To my knowledge, there is one monastery of Cistercian nuns in the United States, located in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. The have two websites, this one (about their life) and another one about their hopes to build a new monastery. In the United States there are five monasteries of Trappist Nuns.

Handmaids of the Precious Blood
During my seminary years I had the opportunity to become acquainted with this community because they had a monastery several miles from the seminary. That monastery in Illinois has relocated to their motherhouse in Knoxville, Tennassee. The Handmaids were introduced to me in this way: they were lover of priests and most especially prayed for priests. They pray for priests beginning from the womb, praying for those who will be called, and pray for more vocations to the priesthood and for the sanctity of those who serve the Church. The spirit of their order is Pro Christo in Sacerdote Suo, For Christ in His Priest. I’m sure the Handmaids of the Precious Blood would love to pray for your personal intentions, but if you write these sisters, I’d recommend sending them the name of some priests to remember in prayer. You can submit a priest’s name for spiritual adoption on their website.

Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters
Founded by St. Arnold Janssen in 1896, today they have xx of monasteries in the United States and have 22 houses in the world (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Germany, India, Indonesia, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Slovakia, Togo, and the United States). They are better known as the Pink Sisters on account of their habit color, but they actual name of their community is Sister-Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration. They are an order that prays perpetually before the Blessed Sacrament, praying especially for priests, the success of evangelization and missionary efforts. I am sure these sisters are holding in prayer our current efforts of the new evangelization. Other communities listed pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, but the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters spend their time before the exposed presence of Jesus in the monstrance. In the United States, they live in Lincoln, Philadelphia, and St. Louis.

Why ask the Nuns to pray for you?
Truth be told, anyone could pray for your special intentions, a priest, an active religious sister, monks, and lay people, but there is something special about asking cloistered nuns to pray for you. I know for a fact that their prayers will not be a one time occurrence but that they will continually time and again remember you in prayer. I met a cloistered sister once at a conference (she had permission to be outside the cloister) and she wrote my name down in her book of prayer. When I went to the monastery to celebrate Mass several years later, she showed me my name in prayer book from years ago and told me she prayed for me daily. Cloistered nuns pray for people everyday, this is what they have dedicated their lives to do, and they want to pray for you.

As you can imagine, living behind a grille is a little old fashioned. Many orders have updated technology, and communicate via phone and email, generally speaking, their preferred communication is through the mail, so as to avoid the distractions of the world. If you need prayers, consider writing a letter, addressing an envelope, placing a stamp in the right hand corner, and dropping it off in a mailbox.

Lastly, I acknowledge this list is not exhaustive, so if you have an order of sisters to recommend, send me a message at my website.

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Vatican Document
Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere on Woman's Contemplative Life
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Special Event
World Day of Cloistered Life - Pro Orantibus Day
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Free Audio Book
A Right to Be Merry By Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.
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Terms
Glossary of Cloistered Life terms
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