Category Archives: Cloistered life

Improving the “Climate”

Last week Pope Benedict XVI visited the Carthusian monastery of Sts. Stephen and Bruno at Serra San Bruno. Outside the monastery, he addressed the faithful from the local area who had gathered there to see him, reminding them of the great privilege of having a “citadel of the Spirit” in their region. The Pope added:

“Monasteries have an important, I would say indispensable, role. Their purpose today is to ‘improve’ the environment, in the sense that sometimes the air we breathe in our societies is unhealthy, it is polluted by a non-Christian mentality, at times even a non-human mentality, because it is dominated by economic interests, concerned only with worldly things and lacking a spiritual dimension.

“In such a climate not only God but also our fellow man is pushed to the margins, and we do not commit ourselves to the common good. Monasteries, however, are models of societies which have God and fraternal relations at their core. We have great need of them in our time.”

The Holy Father concluded his remarks by exhorting the faithful “to treasure the great spiritual tradition of this place, and seek to put it into practice in your daily lives.”

For videos from the Holy Father’s visit, including the celebration of Vespers, click here. Story courtesy of the Vatican Information Service.

Documentary Reveals Life of Cloistered Benedictines

A former fashion and beauty photographer has released a 90-minute documentary on the life of Benedictine contemplatives.

“Tyburn Convent Gloria Deo” brings viewers within the cloisters of the order’s nine monasteries, starting with the motherhouse in England, and ranging through Oceania and South America.

The order was established in 1903 near Marble Arch, London–the site where dozens of English martyrs were killed during the Protestant Reformation.

Michael Luke Davies created the work. He and Mother Xavier McMonagle, the mother-general of the Tyburn Nuns, presented the documentary last Thursday.

“I was moved to tears many times by the beauty of what I was filming,” Davies said. “For me, it exceeded my expectations of what I could film. It was an incredible experience I shall never forget for the rest of my life. The things I have seen and the moments I have shared with these beautiful religious people I will keep with me forever.” Continue reading Documentary Reveals Life of Cloistered Benedictines

Happy Birthday, Sister!

Sister Teresita, the world’s oldest contemplative nun, celebrated her 104th birthday last week, and received a birthday letter from Pope Benedict XVI.

The Holy Father, who met with Sr. Teresita during his visit to Madrid for World Youth Day, encouraged the Spanish nun to continue “being an ardent lamp of faith, hope and charity.”

Father Angel Moreno, the chaplain of the monastery where Sr. Teresita lives with her Cistercian community, explained in his blog that “Sister Teresita follows the daily rhythm of prayer, from 5:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and she continues giving thanks to God for the grace of having met the Pope, which, she says, motivates her even more to pray for him and to be holy.”

Courtesy of Catholic News Agency.

Record-Setting Nun

She entered the Cistercian Buenafuente del Sistal Convent the day that Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) was born, and today Sister Teresa is 103 years old and the world’s record holder for having lived the longest as a cloistered nun. 

After 84 years as a cloistered nun, Sister Teresa says that the greatest gift she has received has been prayer: “Without it, one cannot sustain oneself. I never cease repeating: ‘Thank you, forgive. Thank you, forgive.'”

The nun is one of 10 cloistered nuns profiled in the Spanish-language book “¿Qué hace una chica como tú en un sitio como éste?” (What’s a Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?). In the book, author Jesús Garcia brings to light the secluded world of cloistered nuns by getting to know what life is like behind the grail, and what inspired them to join.

Sister Teresa’s story began as young girl living in Alava, Spain. She was known then as Valeria, and she was happy with her life on the family farm.  “We were in the field from morning ’til night, working, but we were happy,” she said. 

The eldest of seven children, her father saw how hard Valeria and her younger sister worked and he wanted a different life for them.  “Thinking nuns didn’t work, [my father] would say to my sister and me: ‘Wouldn’t you like to be nuns?'” she recalls.

“I didn’t like nuns,” she continued, “given how comfortable I was at home, [but] to please my father, [I] prayed to the patroness of Vitoria and asked her to give me a vocation. And did she give me one!”

Upon entering the Cistercian convent in Guadalajara, Spain, Valeria took the name Teresa.  “I was afraid to enter, but the Lord helped me,” she said. The sister said that she prayed to both God and St. Teresa for the courage to be committed to her new vocation.

Though Sister Teresa says that there was a time when she wondered about her contribution to society from behind the convent walls, her worries were soon put to rest: “Once, I was tempted to imagine how my life would be outside [the convent] because I felt I wasn’t contributing anything by being here.” 

She adds that it is a concern of many cloistered nuns.  After consulting a priest about her feelings, Sister Teresa says “He told me I had a very beautiful vocation; that it’s worthwhile.”

Sister Teresa says that she is very happy and does not desire anything from the outside world.  “It’s a grace from God,” she says. “I know that many won’t understand my way of living, but I don’t understand any other.”

 Courtesy of, the world seen from Rome.


Allentown Carmelite Monastery

Today I visited the website of the Carmelite Nuns of the Ancient Observance, Monastery of St. Therese, in Coopersburg, PA, near Allentown. This Carmelite community is an affiliate of the Institute on Religious Life, but I hadn’t read much about them. What a beautiful cloistered community! Click here for their horarium, or daily schedule.

What really struck me, however, was the online biography of the community’s foundress, Mother Therese of Jesus, O. Carm. (1877-1939).

The occasion for writing the biography came when, during an expansion of the monastery’s mausoleum, Mother Therese’s remains were exhumed and were found to be incorrupt, despite the passage of 63 years!

The Coopersburg Carmelites follow strict papal enclosure. The essence of their daily life is living in the presence of God, in imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the prophet Elijah. They pray especially for priests, religious, and for all missionaries, and they pray and do penance for the whole world.

The Coopersburg Carmelites maintain their own orchards, bake altar breads, and do other labors in cloister to maintain their monastery.

Abandonment to Divine Providence

Today I thought would share with our readers an inspiring reflection by Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P. entitled “A Matter of Abandonment to Divine Providence.”  

One particularly vivid image from this reflection is the idea that a monastery is to a diocese what a tabernacle is to a parish church. The monastery or cloister is a lighthouse set on a hill, serving as a reminder of God’s presence to all.

The cloister embodies the attitude of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was able to say “let it be done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). It represents the silence and abandonment to God’s will that allows us, like our Blessed Mother, to ponder God’s Word in our hearts (cf. Luke 2:19, 51) and allow it to change us. 

Read the entire reflection here.

On a separate note, today is the feast (or “commemoration”) of St. Turibius of Mogrovejo. For more on this saint, click here.

New Home for Benedictine Sisters

Earlier this month there was an open house at Our Lady of Ephesus Priory in Gower, Missouri. This is the new home of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, an IRL affiliate. Click here for photos taken at the open house, courtesy of Kansas Catholic.

The community strives to imitate Our Lady’s retirement from the world in quiet seclusion, as well as her apostolic charity. Consecrated entirely to her and filled with her spirit, which is none other than the Holy Spirit of God, they aspire to be, to the successors of the Apostles in our times, what she was to the Apostles in the beginning: behind-the-scenes encouragement, assistance, and support.

New Norbertine Community

Norbertine Sisters of the Bethlehem Priory in Tehachapi

The late Most Rev. John Steinbock, in one of his final acts as Bishop of Fresno, approved the foundation of the Norbertine Sisters of the Bethlehem Priory in Tehachapi.

The cloistered sisters, who now are 20 in number, began in 1996 as a group of lay women who wanted to become Norbertine canonesses. This past Saturday, they were officially erected as a part of the worldwide Norbertine family.

They rented a house in Portola Hills across from the abbey, and began living an apostolic life of prayer together. In 1998, the five original members received their habit in St. Michael’s Abbey church and moved to a temporary house–the former convent at the parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Santa Ana, where they were warmly welcomed.

After a piece of land was procured for them in Tehachapi, a group of helpers, both Norbertine and lay, helped prepare the housing on the new property, situated in the low Sierra–a stunning setting. The sisters grew rapidly in this secluded site, living a cloistered life of prayer and manual labor.

Nine of the twenty made solemn vows in the Cathedral of St. John on Saturday. The Norbertine Abbot General, Thomas Handgretinger, was on hand from Rome to officiate at the Mass, and the sisters gave their vows to Fr. Eugene Hayes, Abbot of St. Michael’s and founding prelate.

What a great day for the Catholic Church in California and for the Norbertines throughout the world!

Psalmody to Love

Trivia question (answer at end): What would you have if Billie Holliday came back to life and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours?

I still vividly recall entering a religious community in the mid-1980s. A native of Los Angeles and a fairly recent law school graduate, I knew I was stepping into a very different environment. As I settled into this life, I realized that I was doing many of the same things I had been doing before entering this community. I had already become accustomed to daily Mass and Holy Hours. The studies (I was preparing for the priesthood) likewise came naturally to a “professional student” like me. And of course the meals and recreation times were very enjoyably spent with the great guys we had in the community.

The one thing that was markedly different for me was praying the Liturgy of the Hours (aka “Divine Office”) at set times each day with the other seminarians and religious. I had owned and used a breviary (a prayer book containing the Liturgy of the Hours) before entering seminary, but the regularity and fervor of this prayer of the Church was the most distinctive–and in many ways the most enriching–aspect of my seminary journey. This attraction to the Liturgy of the Hours has stayed with me ever since.

Today I want to direct our readers’ attention to a fine article  entitled “On the Psalmody of the Divine Office” from the Vultus Christi blog. Author Dom Mark Daniel Kirby (“Father Mark”), a Benedictine prior from Tulsa, is a sound, learned guide when it comes to the Liturgy of the Hours.

Father Mark makes some fascinating points throughout  the piece. I had never considered the connection between the choral recitation of the office and the evangelical counsels.  His treatment of the Thomistic concept of “tranquility of order” (tranquilitas ordinis) as it applies to liturgical discipline beautifully highlights the peaceful and contemplative qualities of the Divine Office. 

While everyone may participate in the Liturgy of the Hours, it’s part and parcel of the daily life of consecrated men and women. As such, Father concludes his article by affirming three fundamental principles regarding the Liturgy of the Hours for religious:

1. The choral celebration of the Divine Office is for all apostolic religious a path to contemplative prayer .

2. The choral celebration of the Divine Office is, according to the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI, your primary service to the world.

3. The choral celebration of the Divine Office assures the supernatural fruitfulness of your apostolic works.

Okay, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Psalm Sung Blue (Yes, my wife didn’t laugh either.)