A Life of Holiness: Carmelite Monks of Wyoming

(July 15th, 2010)

This video is an explanation of the contemplative life of monks made by the Carmelite Monks located in Wyoming. The monks live a life of prayer, solitude, penance, and strict separation from the world. Their lives are completely dedicated to interceding for the Church and the world. St. Thérèse proclaimed the Carmelite vocation as being “love in the heart of the Church.” As the heart circulates blood throughout the whole body, so the Carmelite is called to circulate grace throughout the Church. View video.


Seeking Silence in a Poor Clare Monastery

(September 15th, 2016)

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.

That changed when she came to Marquette University and discovered Catholic Outreach, a group that meets weekly to reflect on the Scriptures. When the group started singing the hymn “As the Deer,” Devitt felt something move inside her.

“And bam, it just happened,” she says. “I felt Jesus’ presence for the first time. I knew without a doubt that He was real and that He loved me.”

She fell to her knees and sobbed. She realized how little she knew about her faith, how desperately she wanted to know more.

Devitt started attending daily Mass and switched her major from journalism to theology. Still, she never thought about a religious vocation.

“I thought I’d get married and have kids like everyone else,” she says.

Sophomore year brought another pivotal moment—the 9 p.m. Sunday Mass at Straz Hall. Rev. William Prospero, S.J., shared the Gospel story of the rich young man who asks Christ how he can inherit eternal life. Jesus responds, “Sell your possessions, give to the poor, then come, follow me.”

During the homily, Father Prospero urged students to contemplate what Jesus wants them to do with their lives.

Devitt received Holy Communion. She prayed.

Endless thoughts of the sisterhood started bombarding her mind.

“I didn’t know what a sister looked like, but I could see myself being one. I didn’t know what a sister did, but I could see myself doing it,” she said. “I started crying because I felt such an intense peace and happiness.”

She wiped the tears from her eyes and sprinted upstairs to her three roommates.

“Guys,” she said. “I think I’m supposed to be a nun.”

By the following morning, Devitt wondered if she’d lost her mind. Her next five years of discernment involved a lot of research and internal struggle, wondering whether God was really calling her to this life.

She went on her first “Nun Run,” a whirlwind road trip of different Catholic orders. The first stop was at the Poor Clare monastery in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. The place was a stark difference from the non-cloistered, active orders she later visited. A metal grate separated the Poor Clare sisters from visitors, and a nun in full habit came out to talk.

“I was completely shocked,” Devitt says. “It seemed so archaic in some ways. But the sister was speaking so gently, and you could just see the joy in her life. In a very internal, subtle way, I was like: ‘I want this. I want this in my life.’ It seemed intensely attractive to me, and, on the other hand, it freaked me out that I found it attractive.

After graduating from Marquette, Devitt spent three years teaching high school. Meanwhile, she went on eight more Nun Runs, visiting more than 30 orders. Along the way, she had the support and camaraderie of Maggie Voelker, a college friend, who briefly entered the Carmelites.

“I could always tell she had a very strong faith, and whatever she ended up doing it would be in service of God,” Voelker says of Devitt. “I could see something a little more intense in her spirituality.”

Devitt continued to feel a pull toward the Poor Clares. In addition to vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Poor Clare sisters take a vow of enclosure.

“Their purpose is to give their lives totally to Christ and offer prayers and penances for the entire world,” she explains. “They are hidden from the world in order to be accessible to the world. And that’s a very, very beautiful thing, but it scared me a lot to think about the practical things. … It would mean I wouldn’t get to travel, I wouldn’t get to go home, I wouldn’t get to hug my mom again. There was a lot of fear there.”

So, she prayed, telling God, “I know you want me to be a sister, but I won’t be one of those scary contemplative sisters.” But none of the active orders felt right. “I desired to give myself in a more radical, complete way. For me, an active order wasn’t enough,” she says.

Devitt made up her mind after her fourth visit to Kokomo. As she knelt in Mass at the monastery, a warmth and peace came over her. She knew she’d found her home.

“In the light of faith, it makes the most sense in the world,” she says. “We have the unique vocation to be all things to all people by being completely hidden in Christ. A missionary in Africa working with AIDS victims or a teaching sister, they are noble, beautiful and selfless people. If that is what God wanted me to do, I would do it. But you touch a limited amount of people directly. Through prayer you are able to touch the entire world.

She dreaded breaking the news to her family. Her mom called and asked how she liked Kokomo. “I loved it,” Devitt said.

“That’s great — you have to follow Jesus,” her mom told her. “Now’s the time to be brave.”

Christine Dsragnesevitt recognized something spiritually unique in her daughter years before, although she never envisioned her active, fun-loving Katie joining a cloistered order. But Christine was moved and reassured after hearing about a seriously ill girl in Kokomo who, unable to join the Poor Clares herself, prayed that someone else would take her place.

A few weeks later, Katie asked to join the monastery. “To think of yourself as the answer to someone else’s prayer is kind of humbling,” Devitt’s mother says.

Devitt, now Sister Mary Agnes of the Lamb of God, before taking her final vows

After visiting Katie at Christmas, Christine Devitt said her daughter was “positively glowing with enthusiasm and happiness” in her postulant jumper and short brown veil.

Although she knew it would be hard to hug her daughter for the last time, she says it would be harder if Katie were a missionary halfway across the world or in a monastery just up the street.

She is used to Katie living in another state, and she can visit her a few times a year.

Other family and friends had a harder time understanding Devitt’s decision and questioned whether she was “wasting” her life and talents by going into seclusion. Devitt says she understood their feelings but that they eventually came around when they saw her commitment.

“The bottom line is they care about me and support me,” she says. “Even if they don’t think it is right, they trust my decision and support me and my judgment.”

The nuns start their day at 5 a.m. Their activities revolve around Mass and seven sessions of prayer, known as the Liturgy of the Hours. The evening recreation hour is a time for the sisters to talk and laugh together, but most of the day is spent in silence.

“The world is so noisy,” she says. “We are afraid to be quiet. We are worried what we might figure out about ourselves. We are constantly on our cell phones, iPods and computers. The quiet is appealing to me, but it will be a big adjustment.”

After asking to join the Poor Clares, Devitt stopped buying new clothes and wearing makeup and contacts. For Lent she gave up her iPod, once one of her favorite possessions, to help ease her attachment to “stuff.”

But leaving behind the people she loved was infinitely more painful.

“In a weird way, it seems like all the people in my life are dying,” she says. “It hurts a lot. But you have to do it for the vocation. I need to have an undivided heart for Jesus.

“Once I give it all to Him,” she adds, “I can love the world with a divine love.”


Pope to Benedictine Abbots and Abbesses: Found New Communities; the Church Needs You!

(September 13th, 2016)

benedictinespopeOn September 8, 2016, Pope Francis received in audience some 250 participants in the congress of Benedictine abbots and abbesses gathered in Rome to reflect on the monastic charism received from St. Benedict and their faithfulness to it in a changing world.

This theme acquires special meaning in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy since, as Francis affirmed, “if it is only in the contemplation of Jesus Christ that we perceive the merciful face of the Father, monastic life constitutes a privileged route to achieve this contemplative experience and to translate it into personal and community witness.”

Today’s world clearly demonstrates the need for a mercy that is the heart of Christian life and “which definitively manifests the authenticity and credibility of the message of which the Church is the depository, and which she proclaims. And in this time and in this Church, called to focus increasingly on the essential, monks and nuns safeguard by vocation a peculiar gift and a special responsibility: that of keeping alive the oases of the spirit, where pastors and faithful can draw from the wellsprings of Divine Mercy.”

With the grace of God and seeking to live mercifully in their communities, monks and nuns “announce evangelical fraternity from all their monasteries spread out in every corner of the globe, and they do so with that purposeful and eloquent silence that lets God speak out in the deafening and distracted life of the world.”

Therefore, although they live separated from the world, their cloistered life “is not barren: on the contrary, an enrichment and not an obstacle to communion.”

pope-benedictines-1300x753Their work, in harmony with prayer, enables them to participate in God’s creative work and shows their “solidarity with the poor who cannot live without work.”

Their hospitality allows them to encounter the hearts of the “most lost and distant, of those who are in a condition of grave human and spiritual poverty,” and their commitment to the formation of the young is highly appreciated. “Students in your schools, through study and your witness of life, can too become experts in that humanity that emanates from the Benedictine Rule. Your contemplative life is also a privileged channel for nurturing communion with the brothers of the Oriental Churches.”

“Your service to the Church is very valuable,” the Holy Father concluded, expressing his hope that the Congress may strengthen the Federation so that it is increasingly at the service of communion and cooperation between monasteries and urging the Benedictines not to be discouraged if their members age or diminish in number. “On the contrary,” he emphasised, “conserve the zeal of your witness, even in those countries that are most difficult today, with faithfulness to your charism and the courage to found new communities.”


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

(September 9th, 2016)

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

(August 31st, 2016)

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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.”


Pope in New Constitution Renews Legislation for Cloistered Life

(July 22nd, 2016)

Early morning light streams to Sister Christine Reinhart  meditating during Lauds,  the second of two morning prayer sessions at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey  near Dubuque, Iowa.  The community of 22 Roman Catholic women follow Jesus Christ through a life of prayer, silence, simplicity and ordinary work.  Their home is a beautiful monastery which sits high on a bluff, overlooking the Mississippi River.

Pope Francis has given an update to legislation on contemplative life, since the last apostolic constitution for that “illustrious portion of Christ’s flock” is from 1950, and legislation for cloisters hadn’t been revised since then.

A new apostolic constitution, Vultum Dei Quaerere, was presented today in the Vatican press office by Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life.

This “illustrious portion of Christ’s flock,” as St. Cyprian described it, constitutes the beating heart of faith and of the love of the Church for the Lord and for humanity, the archbishop said.

The Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi , which dates from 1950, during the papacy of Pius XII, was the regulation in force for cloisters until now.  Vultum Dei Quaerere is therefore valuable inasmuch as it fills the gap of the post-conciliar years, the consequences of which were starting to become evident, the Archbishop indicated.

“This gave rise to the concern of Pope Francis, a pastor attentive to the life of his flock, and his decision to give a new document to all those who in the Church, ‘men and women called by God and in love with Him, [who] have devoted their lives exclusively to seeking His face, longing to find and contemplate God in the heart of the world,’” continued the prelate.

The Holy Father, to underline his esteem for this particular form of consecration mysteriously called to give light to all humanity from silence and from the cloister, gives precise indications regarding the fundamental elements of a life of contemplation that, while not the exclusive prerogative of women, is mostly female.

“Therefore, in outlining the essential elements there is no lack of explicit references to contemplative women, to whom there is presented the icon of Mary as summa contemplatrix, Mary, Virgin, Bride and Mother, who welcomes and treasures the Word in order to give it back to the world … to help to bring Christ to birth and increase in the hearts of men and women.”

The Archbishop focused on the key points of the new Apostolic Constitution, emphasising that not by chance the first of these is formation, a theme which has for many years been of special interest for the Magisterium. “In this regard, the Holy Father on the one hand recalls that the usual place for formation for a contemplative community is the monastery, yet on the other expresses his hope for collaboration between more than one monastery, in various ways: the exchange of materials, the prudent use of digital media, common houses of initial formation, and the willingness of some sisters prepared to help monasteries with fewer resources.”

With reference to the ample space that the document dedicates to prayer, he indicated the Pope’s important clarification that prayer and contemplative life cannot be lived as a form of self-absorption, but must instead enlarge the heart to embrace all humanity, especially those who suffer.

“If it is a profound desire in the heart of Pope Francis to have an outbound Church,” he affirmed, “this is also applicable to those who are called to live out their lives within the walls of the cloister: the attention of the heart, in its maternal care, must continually extend the boundaries of prayer, so that it not only looks upward, to contemplate the holy face of God, but also descends to the depths, to encounter the suffering of man at his loneliest and most marginalized.”

Archbishop Rodríguez Carballo also referred to another two elements that are currently a subject of discernment and reflection for monasteries of contemplative life: autonomy, linked to the role of federations, and cloisters.

All monasteries, except in special cases, judged by the Holy See, are to be grouped in federations, and there is the interesting possibility for membership of federations to be based not only on geographical criteria but also on the basis of affinities of spirit and traditions. Likewise it is hoped that this will lead to the association, also juridical, of corresponding monasteries of men’s Orders, comparable to the formation of the international Confederations and Commissions of the different Orders.

With regard to cloisters, the three types of cloistered life already considered in Vita Consacrata are redefined: that is, the papal, constitutional and monastic cloisters, enabling individual monasteries to carry out careful discernment, respecting their own right to eventually ask the Holy See for permission to embrace a form of cloistered life different from their current one.

Archbishop Rodríguez Carballo concluded by reiterating that in Vultum Dei Quaerere, the Pope has considered all areas of contemplative life.

“With this Apostolic Constitution, his thought is translated into clear guidelines, that will be presented to the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, who will have the task of drafting a new document to substitute the existing one, Verbi sponsa, which contains the legislation regulating the formation, autonomy and cloistered life of monasteries of contemplative or wholly contemplative life.”

For full text of document click here.


Cloistered Nuns Want to Pray for You

(July 18th, 2016)

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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.


Cloistered Nuns Visit “Sisters in the Faith” in Chilean Women’s Prison

(June 28th, 2016)

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A group of 61 cloistered nuns from six monasteries in Santiago, Chile, recently made an historic visit to a local Women’s Prison Center to spend time with the inmates and to attend Mass with them.

“I don’t know if in the 400 years of the history of Santiago, there has been another occasion when contemplative sisters from several monasteries joined together to celebrate the Eucharist with a group of women who are incarcerated, but who are sisters in the faith,” said Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, who celebrated the Mass.

The nuns made the trip to the facility on May 23 to celebrate as the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Ezzati said that the nuns made the request to visit with the inmates “so the sisters who contemplate the face of God every day in prayer could contemplate him in the face of people who are suffering, going through a hard time in their lives.”

“The dear cloistered nuns are the city’s uplifted arms to intercede before God for all of us, especially those who are suffering the most,” he said.

After the Mass, the religious sang a traditional Chilean song to honor the Virgin Mary, and to everyone’s surprise, four of them got up to dance. They then went to the prison courtyard where they continued visiting with the inmates.

For Sister Maria Rosa of the Discalced Carmelites from the San José monastery, the day was “a grace to share with them, to really feel like a sister with them, to feel their sorrow, their joy and to become one with them.”

“It strikes me that this encounter would be on the feast of the Holy Trinity. That means that God dwells in every soul,” she told the archdiocesan communications office.

Railín, one of the inmates, said that “it was good that they came and prayed for us. The sisters and bishops coming helped support us, we need a lot of people to come and see us.”

Ana Chacón, another inmate, said that the religious “give us the spirit of the Lord,  it’s a blessing to have them here. Seeing the dear cloistered nuns doing the traditional dance and swinging the kerchiefs was something new.”

This Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis runs from December 2015 to November of 2016, with the aim of encouraging Catholics to experience God’s mercy – both in the Sacrament of Confession and being concrete signs of this mercy in charitable work.

 


Phoenix Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration Install First Abbess

(March 23rd, 2016)

OlmstedPoorClareOn the Solemnity of St. Joseph, with a visit from their bishop, Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted, the Poor Clares of Our Lady of Solitude Monastery in Arizona, celebrated the installation of their first abbess – Mother Marie Andre, PCPA!

Mother Marie Andre, along with Sr. Mary Fidelis, and Sr. Marie St. Paul, each entered Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Birmingham AL, in the mid ’90s.  During 2004, the Year of the Eucharist, after much deliberation, it was decided that a new foundation of PCPAs would begin in the Diocese of Phoenix, AZ, at the kind invitation of Bishop Olmsted.  This was to be the first contemplative nuns to begin a foundation in the diocese.

On March 2, 2005, the “Desert Nuns” as they have been affectionately called, received the official permission from the Holy See to begin this new Foundation . On May 1, 2005, the Poor Clares left the Alabama Monastery and headed West to begin Our Lady of Solitude Monastery. For the first five years of the Foundation, the community dwelt in Black Canyon City, AZ (North of Phoenix), in a house provided by the Diocese.

Then after a generous gift of land and after a generous gift of funding for the Chapel, they were able to move to our permanent home in Tonopah, AZ (West of Phoenix) in Oct. 2010. Their stunning Eucharistic chapel was dedicated on May 7, 2011.

On December 29, 2015, by decree of the Holy See, Our Lady of Solitude Monastery officially became an autonomous Monastery of Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration.  Sr. Marie Andre was appointed Abbess and was officially installed as such by Bishop Olmsted on March 19, 2016.

Last June, Mother Marie Andrea reflected upon the calling to the cloistered, contemplative life:

“Some might look upon Jesus’ call as a hiccup in a young woman’s plans for the future for having a family and a career, and this decision is often incomprehensible and viewed as a contradiction because she is denying herself the chance to have children and a career.

But it’s not puzzling or bewildering to the one being called and hearing the Voice of the Lord!

This freedom is the total dedication to God in our daily life, and so we pray always every day of our lives for the grace to understand better how Jesus calls us. “

For more information and photos, click here.

 


Oregon Trappists Live Life of Stark Simplicty, Autheniticity and Prayer

(March 4th, 2016)

The first thing a visitor to Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey in Lafayette, Oregon, notices is the deliberate pace of liturgy. Compared to the way these 30 or so monks savor their psalms and hymns, the average parish Mass runs at squirrel velocity.

This is also a place of work and close community that radiates holiness, but holiness built on utter honesty. “Any time you strive to lead a serious spiritual life, you will be stripped of all pretensions and your ego,” says Father Dominique, the 67-year-old prior.

Living a version of the 4th century Rule of St. Benedict, the Trappists rise before dawn, put on their yeomanly habits and begin with prayer. The day is full of worship in the church, punctuated by labor on the grounds, in the book bindery and in the fruitcake kitchen. Monks offer spiritual direction. They are vegetarians who grow much of their own food and must work side-by-side. No one owns anything.
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After Mass, as the sun rises, the mustachioed Brother Dick hefts the crucifix from in front of the altar to the tabernacle, a journey he makes every morning. All the monks here carry crosses of one kind or another, but they seem glad.

Brother Brian, a 56-year-old native of Ireland, transferred in 2013 from a waning Irish Trappist monastery. He found the Oregon abbey’s website and “something popped.” Our Lady of Guadalupe, he says, is characterized by “an excitement about the interior life.”

As they grow in authenticity, monks feel wobbly in face of God’s faithfulness. When he first became a Trappist, Brother Brian wanted to be a saint. After almost three decades, he rises each day and says to God, “I can’t believe you love me.”

The monk’s task, he says, is to connect with Jesus’ self-emptying love. That begins with refusing to put your brothers to shame. If another monk leaves some dirty dishes, for example, don’t excoriate him; Brother Brian just does the dishes and offers a kind correction later.

“Every time you say, ‘I am glad I am not like that brother,’ God comes along and shows you you are ten times worse. It’s a spiritual kick in the rear end,” Brother Brian concludes with a guffaw.

“Jesus says you’ve got to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself,” says Brother Martin, 90. “The only reason I’m here is because this is the best place for me to do that.” A World War II veteran, Brother Martin was part of the group that came from New Mexico in the mid-1950s to found Oregon’s Trappist abbey.

Over the years, he has become the abbey’s ambassador, able to chat about deep matters with anyone.

“The monastic restrictions free you,” Brother Martin says. “Material intensity kills the spirit. You need time and space. You need stillness.” And, he declares, forget the illusion of perfection. The monastery is a place where the only way to grow is to admit your imperfections.

“Don’t send us any angels or saints,” Brother Martin says. “They aren’t going to make it.”

Brother Chris, a 43-year-old California native, arrived in 1998, a trained forester who had recently re-appropriated his faith. In addition to prayer, he has helped restore a rare oak savannah.

Brother Chris invites men — single or married — to consider a 30-day retreat in which the guest lives as a monk in the cloister. “It’s a transformative experience and a time of growing in self knowledge,” he says. “A vocation as a monk lets all your gifts flower.”

He values the intergenerational community, where he considers men in their 90s as brothers. Many monks here recall Trappist life before the Second Vatican Council, when silence was strict. Silence is still the rule much of the time, but there are periods for conversation, which has enhanced fellowship.

“It’s not just me and God, it’s me and the community, too,” Brother Chris says.

Father Todd, ordained last March, has been a Trappist since 2004. At 39, he considers himself a monk first, then a priest to serve his brothers.

Monastic life, he says, tends to shine God’s light into a person, increasing self knowledge, including awareness of wounds. The exposure leads to healing. As for him, he is more joyous.

The life is full and active, not just sitting and meditating. Father Todd, who grew up north of Spokane, works in the bindery and the kitchen and like everyone here needs to put out the garbage.

“If your whole life is blissed out poetry, it wouldn’t have any meaning or foundation,” he says.

31064bCritics accuse monks of escaping from the world. Father Todd knows better, saying that the life is indeed a separation, but one that allows the monk to be united with everyone. “People who come on retreat are trying to get into that,” he explains. “The monastery is a different kind of immersion into human experience. There is a human need for silence and acknowledgement of the divine and we hold space open for that here.”

Father Dominique, the lighthearted prior, walks into the guest house and embraces several volunteers. A piano prodigy and scholar before entering the abbey, Father Dominique as a child knew he wanted to be the kind of priest who kept God company all day.

At 14, he read “The Seven Storey Mountain” by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton and immediately called the Oregon abbey. Advised to continue his education, he attended UCLA and developed his music, along with Latin, French, history and English literature. His vocation persisted and he came to Oregon.

“I know I am not running away from anything,” says Father Dominique. “I am running toward Jesus.” The monks’ prayer, he says, does not stay at the abbey, but “redounds around the world.” Contemplative life, he insists, is the heart that pumps life through the whole church.

Steve Bernards, who grew up in nearby Carleton, comes to 6:30 a.m. Mass with the Trappists every day. He recalls making the trip as a boy with his father in the 1960s, listening to the beautiful chant. After Mass, he often chats with the gregarious Brother Martin, who works in the guest house. He always walks away with some wisdom, often resolved to slow down and notice God’s presence in his life.

“People are so tied up and they go, go, go,” says Bernards. “They don’t take time. I have been very blessed to be with the monks.”

When Pope Francis was named and showed himself to be so extroverted, the Trappist abbot wondered what the Holy Father might say about monasticism. But the pope quickly made it known that he considers contemplatives “wombs of mercy” to the local church.

“The reality of who you really are, that reality is the one God is totally in love with,” says Abbot Peter, 68. “When we touch our real selves, immediately we touch mercy. God wants you, not who you want to be. This is at the heart of contemplative life.”

The need for spiritual sanctuary will never go away, says Abbot Peter, who wears a fishing vest over his habit. He was elected by his brothers as their leader 22 years ago. Back then, it seemed like the worst day of his life. He was not a scholar and did not think of himself as a very good monk. But he knew he loved his brothers and has found that is enough.

“This community lifts me,” he says. “They are my way. Monasteries and marriage both take work, but make you a better person.”

For more information visit here.


Former Villanova Basketball Star Embraces Life as a Poor Clare Nun

(February 24th, 2016)

Once upon a lifetime ago, Shelly Pennefather was the sweetest of shooting stars, an All-American at Villanova and the 1987 national player of the year. Since 1991, she has lived here, in the Poor Clare Monastery, at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in a very modest middle-class Virginia neighborhood.

Pennefather has taken her vows and the name Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She renounced her worldly life, including a six-figure salary as a professional basketball star in Japan, to answer her true calling: To serve God as a cloistered Poor Clare nun.

The Colettine Poor Clares are one of Catholicism’s most austere orders. They sleep no longer than four hours at a time, eat one full meal a day and don’t use phones, TVs, radios or any publications except religious texts. They sleep on a bed of straw; they’re barefoot except for an hour each day, when they don sandals to walk into the courtyard, where they’re allowed to converse with each other.Pennefather

When Harry Perrett, her former coach at Villanova first met Shelly, he had a full head of hair, not a comb-over. She had a heavenly jumpshot, one honed by her late father, Mike, a jumper so pure and accurate, it helped make Pennefather one of the top five high school prospects in the country. By the time she graduated from college, Pennefather had scored 2,408 points (still the school record for male or female players) and grabbed 1,171 rebounds (still the women’s mark).

“She could play guard, forward, center,” Perretta said of his 6-foot-1 star. “She was intelligent, could shoot, handle the ball, everything. She wasn’t the best forward, or center, or guard. But she was the best all-around player.”

At Villanova, Pennefather attended Mass daily and was very spiritual. “She didn’t hide that at all,” Villanova associate athletics director and former teammate Lynn Tighe said. “It didn’t surprise any of us that she was going to be a nun. It just took us all aback that she was going into a cloister.”

Pennefather’s faith was evident at the 1987 Kodak All-America team banquet in Austin, Texas. As a publicity shot for her senior season, Villanova had Pennefather pose in a white tuxedo, with top hat and cane, standing beside a limousine and beneath a theater marquee bearing her name. In Austin, she wore a simple navy blue suit and told her fellow All-Americans, “I only hope that with the talent each one of us has received, that we never shame the God who gave it to us. . . . Thank you, and God bless you.”

Her decision to quit basketball followed three seasons of stardom in Japan. With no WNBA in 1987, Pennefather signed with the Nippon Express. She spent much time alone in Japan, time for reading and introspection, and studying Japanese. She went to daily 6 a.m. Mass. “That was where she got the calling to the cloister,” Perretta said.

By 1991, Pennefather was earning $100,000 a season and could have signed a new contract worth nearly $200,000 a year. Yet during each of her three offseasons, she had returned to the United States and honored a personal vow by working for a month with the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order of nuns. For parts of three summers, Pennefather worked in a soup kitchen in Norristown, Pa. She even met Mother Teresa and Mother Teresa’s personal confessor, Father John Hardon.

It was Father Hardon’s name that Pennefather uttered when she rang the doorbell at the monastery in 1991. The door opened. As Pennefather’s late father told Alex Wolff in 1997, “It was as if someone asked you, ‘Who said you could play basketball?’ And you could answer, ‘John Wooden.'”pennefather2

Pennefather became a novice at the cloister. Her friends and Villanova teammates struggled with her decision. At first, many wept.

Tighe asked Pennefather, “Why are you doing that? I’m glad you’re becoming a nun. But there’s so many opportunities out there to teach and coach and influence kids’ lives.”

“She said, ‘Lynn, I would never choose this for myself. This is what I was called to do,'” Tighe recalled. “You can’t argue with that. I don’t know the strength of that calling. You say, ‘OK, good luck to you.'”

On June 6, 1997, six years after entering the monastery as a novice and shortly before the WNBA’s birth, Sister Rose took her vows as a Poor Clare nun. A crown of thorns was placed on her head, a band bearing the likeness of Jesus Christ slipped on her finger. For just the second time since she’d come to the monastery, her family was allowed to embrace Sister Rose on the altar in the small, painted-cinderblock public chapel. Their next embrace will come in 2019, when she celebrates her vows.

Shelly’s mother, Mary Jane Pennefather and her siblings including Therese, who played at Villanova from 1997-2000 attend Mass periodically at the monastery. As Sister Rose receives Holy Communion they catch a brief glimpse of her through a Dutch door, which opens to the nuns’ choir behind the altar. Because Sister Rose is 6-foot-1, the wall behind the altar was topped by several panels of beveled glass. The “Pennefather clouds,” as they’re called in the cloister, shield Sister Rose from public view.

“I believe she’s really happy, and she’s doing what she was called to do. We should all be so happy,” said Tighe, who occasionally has feelings of personal loss. “Some days, I feel like I’ve lost my good friend because you can’t pick up the phone and call her. But there’s no doubt in my mind that she’s my friend, because she prays for me each day. I don’t know that my other friends do that!” She laughed. “But I’m absolutely certain she does, and there’s something pretty special about that.”

What has most impressed Perretta about Sister Rose and her fellow Poor Clares is “how witty they are. How intelligent, how they laugh,” he said. “I feel like all my buddies are in there. They know me, they know my children’s names. The place has an aura, where people are doing things and ask nothing of anybody.

“When I leave there, I feel like I was in the presence of great people,” Perretta said. “It rejuvenates me every year. It makes me feel like there’s a better place.”

There is, of course, a place as heavenly as the jumpers Shelly Pennefather once launched, a place Sister Rose can only imagine.