Listening to the Voice of Christ

sr candidaSister Candida Bellotti spent her 107th birthday with Pope Francis last week. The Holy Father greeted her and other Italian religious after his usual daily mass at St. Martha’s in Vatican City. Sr. Candida is a Camillian Sister who has been 80 years a religious. The Camillians were founded by St. Camillus de Lellis (d. 1614) and pronounce a fourth vow in additional to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience: “To serve the sick, even with danger to one’s own life.” You can always pick them out of a crowd by the distinctive red cross on their habit.

Sister was born in 1907 in Quinzano, Verona, Italy, the third of ten children born into the family. She professed vows in 1932 and worked until her retirement in 2000 at the age of 93! When she was 100, she traveled to Lourdes on a pilgrimage! You are never too old to enjoy life.

She has been over 80 years a religious and said, “I have never regretted having chosen this vocation.” What is the secret to her long life? She says, “To listen to the voice of Christ and to be docile to His will. During my whole life I have thought where the Lord takes me, that’s the right place for me.”


A Pilgrimage with St. Therese of Lisieux

o.carm. shrineThe Carmelites of the Ancient Observance in Allentown, Pennsylvania, are unique in many respects not the least of which is their monastery and chapel, a close duplicate of the one in Lisieux, France, where St. Therese the Little Flower lived and died. It is also the first Carmel of the Ancient Observance established in the United States.

The Carmelites trace their lineage back to Elijah, the great prophet, though the order was formally begun probably in the 12th century on Mount Carmel in modern-day Israel where hermits were believed to have resided for many, many centuries. You may recall from the first book of Kings that it was the site of the great confrontation between Elijah and the false prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged them to a trial by fire, won by the true God of Israel. When the people saw fire descend on the offerings of Elijah, they cried: “The Lord—He is God! The Lord—He is God!” (cf. 1 Kings 18)

stella marisFor all who have been to Mount Carmel in Israel, overlooking the harbor of Haifa, it is a place that leaves one with goosebumps. I happened to stay a memorable night at Stella Maris with the Carmelite nuns who live on the mount and offer pilgrims rooms. The cave below the main altar is believed to be the cave where Elijah lived.

Mother Therese of Jesus, O.Carm., founded the Allentown Carmel in 1931 along with her companion, Mother Clement Mary. Mother Therese was born in Germany and Mother Clement in North Dakota  but both came to America by way of a Carmel in Naples, Italy! In fact, an eruption of Mount Vesuvius precipitated their departure.

Mother Therese died on Easter Tuesday morning, April 11, 1939. However, when the mausoleum was being renovated in 2001, her body was exhumed and appeared to be incorrupt, 63 years after her death. So was the green palm branch that had been placed in her tomb. Her body was moved to the Monastery, and the tomb is now open to the public on Sundays for visits and prayer. The cause for her canonization is being studied.

ocarmThe chapel, whose patroness is St. Therese of Lisieux, is full of stained glass windows showing scenes from the saint’s life not often seen depicted in stained glass. Other Carmelite saints are also highlighted. It sounds like a wonderful place to contemplate the mysteries and majesty of God!

With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts.” (Carmelite motto)





Desert Nun Run

nunrunSome “nun runs” involve young women taking minivans to various convents and monasteries. This “nun run” truly involves running!

The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration of Our Lady of Solitude Monastery in Tonopah, Arizona, are hosting their 5th annual “desert nun run” on March  8, 2014. This is their biggest fundraiser of the year with the proceeds going towards the construction of their monastery. For the time being, they live in temporary modular homes though the chapel was dedicated in 2011. Their goal is to have a complete cloistered monastery in the heart of the desert, a first for the diocese of Phoenix. They also hope that the publicity will build up their community of friends and raise awareness of their otherwise hidden contemplative mission of adoration and intercession.

If you are in the area, sign up! You can do a 10k or 5k run, or a 1 mile walk. If you cannot attend, you can still be a sponsor for the event or a donor. Fr. Mark Mary from EWTN’s “Life on the Rock” will be there, running or walking, I do not know!

The nuns are a foundation from the Mother Angelica’s monastery in Alabama. The “desert nuns” welcome retreatants, both lay and priests, who would like to participate in their life of prayer and solitude.

Solitude is the place where man finds God.  – St. Eucherius

All Will be Revealed in the Next World

cp familyMany Catholics are aware that there are cloistered orders of nuns in the Church, and they probably would be vaguely aware of the Carmelite family and perhaps the Poor Clares, if only because of St. Francis. But the average person in the pew is not likely to know the Congregation of the Passionists, founded by that dear holy man, St. Paul of the Cross in 1720 in Italy.

Which is a shame, because they have the mission to keep the Lord’s Passion forever in their hearts. When the world is going about its business, and people are living their lives oblivious to the salvation won for us by Our Lord’s Passion and death, these sisters ponder it anew every day, every hour, for us!

The nuns make altar breads as a means to support themselves.
The nuns make altar breads as a means to support themselves.

The IRL has three Passionist Affiliate Communities in Whitesville and Erlanger, Kentucky; and in Ellisville, Missouri. This blog post is to alert you that the Ellisville Passionists have a new blog! Through the kindness of some lay people who love them, the blog is an effort to make them better known. Death has taken some of the beloved sisters to their eternal reward and their faithful friends would like to see them receive holy vocations!

So please, visit their blog and ‘like’ it and pass it on to young women who might have a vocation to this life of Prayer, Solitude, Penance and Community. They profess a five-fold vow: poverty, chastity, obedience, enclosure and devotion to and grateful remembrance of the Passion.

A newly professed Passionsist nun wrote: In the cloister, it is so much easier to turn one’s thoughts to God, and to remember also His Church, and all persons in the world, those in and out of the Church, so many living lives of sin and needing God, and to call upon God’s mercy for oneself and others, remembering the dying. In His work for souls, Our Lord relies on us His religious far more than we know. How He has used us will all be revealed in the next world.


My Life For your Freedom

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“What would the Church do without you? She would lack your motherhood, warmth, tenderness and motherly intuition.”

Many of the venerable orders in the Church take a fourth vow that harkens back to previous times yet still is pertinent today. The Camillians, founded by St. Camillus de Lellis (b. 1550) profess a vow to care for the sick, even at the risk of their own lives. The Mercedarians’ fourth vow is to give up their lives, as Christ gave His life for us, in order to save those Christians who find themselves in extreme danger of losing their faith.

The Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, founded by Maria del Refugio, were joined to the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (Mercedarians)in 1946.  Mother wanted to put the sisters under the patronage of Our Lady of Mercy and share therefore in all the graces and indulgences given to the Mercedarian Order.

The sisters believe that true freedom comes through the Eucharist. For those enslaved today by modern forms of oppression and addiction, the sister’s want them to experience the merciful love of God, by living in solidarity and communion with them as God lives in solidarity and communion with us in the Eucharistic mystery.

Every day, when we go to the encounter of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we surrender to Him everything we are and do, and we ask Him to transform us into Himself. …In the evening, we go back to prayer, carrying with us the unredeemed world and present it to Jesus asking Him to hasten the day when He will be all in all.

If you (or someone you know) feel called to such a sacrificial, Eucharistic life, the sisters are having “Shadow the Sisters” Days, April 10-17, 2014. For young women age 18-25, it is a chance to walk in the shadow of a Mercedarian sister to see how she prays, works, teaches, evangelizes and experiences joy in community. The location is Our Lady of Mount Carmel Community in Cleveland, OH. There is no fee though donations are welcome.

For more information, please visit their website.




Teaching Eternal Values

The National Catholic Register has an article in its latest issue (2/9/14) about teaching Orders active in the Church today. I am happy to say that all of those cited are IRL Affiliate members and doing astonishingly well with vocations. Here are some highlights:


op edNashville Dominicans:

Their official name is the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and they were founded in 1860, proving that you do not have to be an new order in order to be thriving. The Motherhouse is located in Tennessee, the state with the lowest percentage of Catholics in the U.S. There are 300 sisters teaching in 40 schools in the US, though there are also sisters in Australia, Canada and Scotland.The Dominicans’ motto is veritas (truth) with the mission to contemplate the truths of Christ and pass on the fruits of that contemplation to others.  The sisters equip students “to go out and transform the culture for Christ.”


ck2 edSchool Sisters of Christ the King

The School Sisters of Christ the King were founded in 1976 by Bishop Glennon Flavin, the 3rd president of the IRL. There are 32 sisters teaching 1500 students in the Diocese of Lincoln. Their goal is “to bring abut the reign of Christ through Catholic education.” Three former students have become sisters within the order! What a wonderful testimony to the holy example of the teaching sisters!


op2 edDominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist

These Dominican sisters were canonically established in 1997. Then there were 4 sisters—today there are 120 sisters whose average age is 29! The sisters teach in schools in 8 states across the country. Sr. Joseph Andrew said, “Ours is a holistic approach, touching mind, body and soul. We seek to put a Catholic culture in our schools.”


opraem edNorbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey

The Norbertines operate St. Michael’s Abbey Preparatory School, a boarding school for 67 students, in Silverado, California. It is consistently ranked among the top 50 Catholic high schools in the nation. There are also expansion plans to handle 100 students. Fr. Victor Szczurek, O.Praem., says that it was “monastic schools like our own that helped form Christendom in Europe and throughout the world.” Their daily program includes Mass and 40 minutes of Eucharistic adoration. By the end of their 4 years of studies, says Father, the students “are convinced of the vital importance of the Church’s sacraments.”






A Good Habit: A Conversion Story

St. Paul visiting St. Peter in prison
St. Paul visiting St. Peter in prison

We regularly get letters from prisoners, and some have renown as published authors, recounting their conversion stories and evangelization efforts behind bars. One man named John Ballentine recently wrote to tell us about a story of his that was published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review (available online).

In the article, entitled “The Power of the Religious Habit,” he recounts the impact that one small religious sister had on a prison simply because she was wearing the visible sign of her consecration to God. Sr. Mary Brendon Zajac, S.N.D., (or Sister Z as she is called) visited John or as he calls himself “this social leper in his Virginia prison.”

Here are John’s words describing sister’s entrance into the prison visiting room:

From the looks on people’s faces that day in the visiting room, it was evident that Sister Z’s habit conveyed to them something of the reality of the Incarnation, of the human linked to the divine, the subjective to the objective, the deeply personal to the institutional. The habit suggested that she was grafted onto the Vine, the supernatural cause of all natural beauty, natural life, and natural power.

To John, Sister Z was a light reflecting the Son, reminding us of the words of St. Francis: Preach the Gospel always, when necessary use words. In his story, John talks about a tough prison guard who was drawn to sister and experienced a conversion of heart. Not only that, after this encounter, John too had a different relationship with this guard, much to his friends’ astonishment.

Read the complete story here. And pray for prison chaplains and those they serve. Like the military, prisoners suffer from lack of presence, ie, lack of those willing to bring the light of Christ to them.

Daughters of Mary of Nazareth

M olga
Mother Olga and Cardinal O’Malley

There are signs all over of a new springtime of vocations in the Church. In the Archdiocese of Boston, a new community of women called the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth is a prime example. Founded by Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart in late 2011, the community now has 3 novices, 2 aspirants, 4 women entering later this year and 9 candidates.

Mother Olga was born in Iraq and in 1995 established the first order for Religious Sisters in the Assyrian Church of the East in 700 years. She received a master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College and for many years was involved in campus ministry at Boston University. In the midst of this work, she was received into the Catholic Church in 2005. A few years after that, Cardinal Seán O’Malley invited her to discern the founding of a new religious order for women.

Their work is varied and many: teaching, conducting retreats, visiting the sick and imprisoned, Project Rachel and campus ministry work, charles To watch a beautiful video on their life, click here.

Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who lived his life imitating the example of Mary and Joseph in Nazareth, is their patron. Their life is built on the foundation of daily Mass, communal praying of the Liturgy of the Hours, daily Eucharistic Adoration, Lectio Divina, and Marian devotions.
Everything about us, all that we are, should proclaim the Gospel from the housetops. All that we do and our whole lives should be an example of what the Gospel way of life means in practice, and should make it unmistakably clear that we belong to Jesus. Our entire being should be a living witness, a reflection of Jesus.
– Blessed Charles de Foucauld


The Religious Class of 2013 – A Glimpse

On January 23, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations issued the results of a survey of 107 men and women religious who professed perpetual vows in 2013. The annual survey was conducted by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

There were some interesting discoveries in the data.

Eight Vietnamese nuns in the Carmel in Mobile, AL
Eight Vietnamese nuns in the Carmel in Mobile, AL

First, the youngest respondent was 26, the oldest 73! Don’t give up hope if you have a call to a belated vocation! Most respondents were born in the USA but the next most common country of origin was Vietnam!

Almost half of the respondents had four or more siblings. Compared to the rest of the Catholic population, they were more likely to have gone to a Catholic high school and college.

Youth activities were important. World Youth Day, Newman Centers, Campus Ministry were common experiences. More than half were discouraged from considering a vocation, women more so than men.

mater ecc
Sr. Mary Benedicta of the Cistercian Nuns of the Valley of Our Lady, Mater Ecclesiae Grant Recipient

Almost all participated in a vocation program such as a “Come & See.” Some had college debt which delayed entrance, on the average two years. There are foundations and groups that can help. Please visit our Affiliates: The Labouré Society and the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations. The Serra Fund for Vocations and the Knights of Columbus Fund for Vocations are also wonderful organizations.

For more information on the study, please visit the USCCB website.

The Laboure Society summer aspirant class of 2014
The Laboure Society summer aspirant class of 2014

An Irremovable Part of the Church

sts europe iiLast week, the Holy See issued its proposed plans for the upcoming Year for Consecrated Life as announced by Pope Francis last November during a gathering with superior generals of men’s institutes. “Make no little plans” as the saying goes and this certainly holds true for this year that is so important to the IRL and its member communities.

The Year will kick off in October to coincide with the anniversary date of the issuance of the conciliar constitution Lumen Gentium as well as the 50th anniversary of the publication of the conciliar decree on the renewal of consecrated life Perfectae Caritatis.

The Year for Consecrated Life will have three objectives.

  1. Gratefully remembering the past.
  2. Embracing the future with hope.
  3. Living the present passionately.

The 50 years since Vatican Council II is an opportunity to reflect on God’s love and mercy. Though the consecrated life has experienced severe strain in the ensuing decades, it is not an “antechamber of death.”

We have hope because the consecrated life will never disappear from the Church since “it was desired by Jesus Himself as an irremovable part of His Church,” said Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. This is a moment “for bearing witness to the beauty of the sequela Christi (following Christ).”

A few of the Events planned for the year will include:

  • A kick off on November 21, 2013, World Pro Orantibus Day (“For those who pray”)
  • A plenary assembly of the Congregation with the theme: “The ‘Novu’’ in Consecrated Life beginning from Vatican II”
  • A meeting of young religious and novices
  • An international conference dedicated to “Renewal of the Consecrated Life in Light of the Council and Perspectives for the Future”
  • An international exhibit on “Consecrated Life: The Gospel in Human History”
  • A world Chain of Prayer among monasteries

Two important documents related to the consecrated life are also being rewritten:

  1. Mutuae relationes: On the relations between bishops and religious
  2. Verbi Sponsa: Instruction on the Contemplative Life and on the Enclosure of Nuns
  3. And possibly Sponsa Christi (Spouse of Christ)

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the Year for Consecrated Life is a call to religious to fully embrace and discover anew the charism and witness of the founders of the institutes as a means to awaken the world. It is a prophetic witness meant to reach those at the existential margins of poverty and thought, as Pope Francis has asked.