A Garden Enclosed

The Catholic Chronicle of the Diocese of Toledo had an interesting article on the Visitation Sisters of Toledo as the Diocese celebrated Pro Orantibus Day (“For Those Who Pray”) on the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Presentation in the Temple. It so happens that this day, November 21, is also the day that all members of the Visitation Order renew their vows.

The Visitation Sisters were founded in 1610 by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Annecy, France. The sisters came to Toledo in 1915 to offer their prayers for the diocese, priests, religious and lay people. The Toldeo Visitation consists of 21 women (“22 if you count the dog”), three of whom have made solemn professions in the last year, with three more in formation.

Sister Sharon Elizabeth Gworek, the superior, describes the Monastery, which has the privilege of papal enclosure, as a “trysting place – the place where God and I meet….It’s the garden enclosed where we can be with the Beloved, and be attentive to Him.”

The sisters have some interesting vocation stories. Sr. Kaspar spent some years away from the Church and was briefly married. Later, she broke off an engagement and entered the Toledo Visitation. Sr. Maria Consuelo was in another religious order when she felt in her heart that it was “time just to be with Him.” Sr. Josefa Maria is truly a “late” vocation.  She likes to say that it took her 69 years!

What is the special spirit of the Visitation? I have always judged it to be a spirit of deep humility before God and of great gentleness towards our neighbor —  Saint Francis de Sales


The Vestition of Sister Nicole, O.P.

On November 21, the feast of the Presentation of Our Lady, the Dominican Nuns at the Dominican Monastery of St. Jude in Marbury, Alabama, celebrated the vestition (clothing in the habit) of their postulant, Sister Nicole. In a simple ceremony, Sister Nicole received the habit and her religious name: Sister Mary Thomas of the Holy Name of Jesus, O.P.

During the ceremony, Prioress Mother Mary Joseph, O.P., spoke of the symbolism of the Dominican habit. The white represents purity of heart with which the nuns love Christ above all else; the black represents penance that guards this purity. The scapular was given by Our Lady to the Order as a mark of her protection. Finally, the rosary is hung from the belt as the nuns’ powerful weapon of prayer for the salvation of souls.

It is this dual mission of contemplative availability to God and apostolic zeal for souls which drew Sister Mary Thomas to the cloistered Dominican vocation. During her two years as a novice, she will strive to fulfill the words of the concluding prayer: “May you apply yourself assiduously to following our Holy Father St. Dominic so that you may be ready for the day of your espousals to Jesus Christ.”

The Dominican Monastery of St. Jude is an IRL Affiliate community. Their primary mission is to pray for the salvation of souls and for the preaching mission of Dominican friars. Their daily life centers on the Liturgy, sung in English and in their traditional Dominican Latin chant, as well as Eucharistic Adoration and Perpetual Rosary, study and work. To learn more, visit the nuns’ website at www.stjudemonastery.org.


We Are All Carmelites

The Discalced Carmelites from Lafayette, LA, recently sent us some brochures which included some fascinating vocational stories. Two that were very interesting were the stories of  Sr. Joseph of the Eucharist and Sr. Camille of Jesus. Both sisters are from the Hue Carmel in Viet Nam and came to the US at the urging of Father Marion Joseph Bui, a Discalced Carmelite Friar who came to the US himself as one of the “boat People” in 1981 in order to become a priest. He was ordained by Bishop Xavier Labayan, OCD, in the Lafayette Monastery Chapel in 1995.

At the solemn profession of the two sisters, Father Marion Joseph said that being a Carmelite means being ready to sacrifice all, including family and country, for the needs of the Carmelites and the world.

In a meditation on “The Priesthood, Mary and the Carmelite Nun” which I am sure that you can order from the Carmel, it says that the Carmelites have a special relationship with priests, in union with the Blessed Virgin Mary whose life was “inseparably interwoven with the priesthood and sacrifice of her Divine Son.” While the priest carries the doctrine, she multiplies sacrifices; he casts the seed, she waters it with her tears. He is an apostle by his words, she is an apostle by her immolation; and both save souls.

Sr. Camille was in the first group to enter the Hue Carmel after the Communists returned the monastery to them. The sisters have a true missionary spirit and have willingly chosen to come here. “For us, it is not a matter of being Vietnamese, Filipino or American. We are all Carmelites.”


Pro Orantibus Day

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary where Catholics around the world are asked to give thanks and to remember in their prayers “those who pray,” our cloistered brothers and sisters.

I would like to highlight one such community today: the Dominican nuns of Linden, Virginia, who had a very circuitous path to where they now are today. The first Dominican monastery of nuns was established in 1880 though the sisters trace their own foundation to 1906 when a group of sisters was sent from Union City, NJ, to Baker City, OR.   However, in 1909 they moved to La Crosse, WI, the second St. Dominic’s monastery, where they remained until the 1980’s when the dearth of chaplains and other issues precipitated their “temporary” move to Washington, DC. They remained there for 22 years until 2008, they moved to their permanent home in Linden, VA, in the Blue Ridge mountains.

The new monastery is located in what was once an apple orchard. The building is not complete though the cloister courtyard, cells, infirmary, enclosure fence and kitchen have been erected. Yet to come are the permanent chapel, library, living quarters for a resident chaplain, and several guest rooms for visitors. Most importantly, a cemetery has been dedicated where three of the sisters who were  buried elsewhere have been brought “home.” As the sisters say, “A monastic community is not complete without the presence of the members who have gone before, those who have lived the life, have persevered and have now left this world to go to God.”

The location is bearing fruit. Nine women are in formation with two more aspirants entering soon. Sr. Mary Fidelis, the novice mistress, says, “I think that some of the things that our community values are what young people are looking for in religious life: going back to the traditional habit, devotion to the Eucharist, fidelity to the Church and the Holy Father, and Marian devotion.”


Healing the Heart of Jesus

On November 21, 2012, the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus will be celebrating 100 years in America. They came to this country from Germany in 1912 and settled in Milwaukee at the invitation of the Archbishop. In honor of this special event and to honor their foundress Bl. Maria Teresa of St. Joseph (Anna Maria Tauscher), the sisters in Wauwatosa, WI, will be hosting an open house, rosary and reception along with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Jerome Listecki.

The sisters are very happy that their Mother Foundress founded the Wauwatosa house personally. Sr. Immaculata says, “She walked the grounds, saw the staircase that was in her dream (still standing!), and because they had no money, the sisters all worked together to build a high cloister fence that surrounded the entire property.” Their Mother General from Europe will also be in attendance to share in the festivities.

The sisters now have homes throughout the US but in this particular province they have the provincial Motherhouse in Wauwatosa, homes for the elderly in Kenosha, WI, and Grand Rapids, MI, a Residential treatment center for boys in Wauwatosa, a Residential treatment center for girls in East Chicago, IN,  and Emergency shelter care for infants and small children in East Chicago, IN. The Order’s newest foundation is in Russia.

Their coat of arms beautifully symbolizes their spirit of humility and penance. The silver star in the center stands for the sisters who are striving to practice these virtues. The other stars represent the saints of Carmel of the old law, the saints of Carmel of the new law and the shining virtues of the Mother of God. The arm and hand is that of the prophet Elias, the “Father of all Carmelites.” The sword signifies his ardor: “With zeal, I am zealous for the Lord God of Hosts”. The wreath of thorns represents the sufferings that the Church must endure because of the sins of her members.

The Carmel of the Divine Heart of Jesus should be ignited with fervor and ready to offer itself as a victim in order to atone for all those who have been “torn from the Heart of Jesus.” A Carmelite Sister D.C.J. must engrave the Coat of Arms on her heart and become, through its meaning, a “heroic victim soul.” Our goal is to transform our “silver star” in this life into the golden star in heaven. There as saints, we may give praise to God for all eternity!

See the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Catholic Herald for more information.


Making It a Habit!

I always think that religious sisters are making a mistake when they do not wear a habit. To me, the distinctive dress says: Come talk to me! I love Jesus!

This vocation story is a perfect illustration. A young girl, Teresa Seaton, was pursuing her nursing studies at Kansas City Kansas Community College however “the idea of becoming a Sister wouldn’t fade.” But she did not know any sisters or even anyone who had embarked upon that sort of life

She did notice however some Servants of Mary, Ministers to the Sick, walking around the campus, not hard to miss in their distinctive habits.  They were attending school there as well. “I just asked them a question to make conversation,” she said. “They were so sweet.” Eventually she went on a discernment weekend and the rest is history. She entered the community and will receive her habit in July. (In the photo, she holding tiny shoes – the sisters tease her because her feet are very small!)

The other key component of this vocation story is her mother. Teresa comes from a family of twelve children and her mother always prayed that they would follow God’s will for their lives. She is thrilled that Teresa is becoming a spouse of Christ and hopes that she will be an example to the other children.

Check out the full vocation story here!

The Saturday Salve

New on the Mercedarians’ website is an video showing what life was like in a 1951 Mercedarian monastery in Spain. Most interesting is to see the celebration of the Saturday Mass of Saint Mary, along with the singing of the Salve.

“The friars in the video are taking part in one of the oldest rituals of our Order, ‘the Saturday Salve,’” said Fr. Joseph Eddy, O de M. “This beautiful rite, which we still do today, was started by our founder, St. Peter Nolasco (d. 1256) to give honor to Mary on her day, Saturday. This immemorial Marian custom was also performed in thanksgiving when the redeemers returned with the redeemed Christian Captives.”

The eleven minute video is in Spanish but the images are stirring. “We don’t wash clothes in outdoor cisterns any more — at least in the U.S.,” said Fr. Joseph, vocation director of the U.S. province. “But the noble history of the Mercedarians, the devotion to communal prayer, and the spirit of fraternity among the friars is the same.”

The fourth vow of the Mercedarians — to give one’s life for someone in danger of losing their Christian faith, is no mere relic of the past. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), 19 Mercedarians were declared by the Vatican in 2011 to be martyrs for the Faith, a major step on their road to sainthood.

Visitation Musings

Within the last year, the Sisters of the Visitation of Toledo, Ohio, have had many reasons to celebrate. In February, Sr. Josefa Maria made her Solemn Profession and Sister Marie was received into the Novitiate, and in March, Sister Susan pronounced first vows.

And the sisters were able to experience “Hollywood” firsthand! With the permission of their Bishop, Holy Trinity Apostolate came to film some scenes for the movie “Leonie!” The film is based on the life of Leonie Martin, one of the sisters of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Leonie had a difficult childhood and after several attempts was professed a Visitandine at the monastery in Caen, France. The movie still needs a distributor but the sisters were able to see the finished product in July.

The Visitation community around the world encourages everyone to explore on foot or via the internet the Visitandine museum, Musée de la Visitation, in Moulins, France where  chalices, chasubles and silk liturgical items that have been produced and acquired by the Sisters of the Visitation are on display.  A new 5 minute video with music by Vivaldi and English text, gives people a glimpse into these liturgical treasures.

The theme is “Sacred Silk.” Unique in all of France, these artifacts illustrate the genius and creativity of the weavers in the production of silk, interwoven with gold and silver, from the late sixteenth century. Ten thousand objects have been assembled,many of them on loan from Visitation monasteries from 19 countries throughout the world.

On the occasion of the feast of St. Jane de Chantal in 2010, the museum lent His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI jewelry and vestments for the celebration of the Mass.