Archive for the 'Cloistered life' Category

Keeping Their Eyes on Christ

Friday, January 10th, 2014
Who knew that nuns roller bladed?

Who knew that nuns rollerbladed?

During our December Executive Committee Board Meeting, the IRL unanimously approved the  nomination of the Cloistered Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of the Infant Jesus in Lufkin, Texas, to be an IRL Affiliate Community.

As contemplative Dominican Nuns, their mission is to witness to the Gospel by a hidden life of prayer and sacrifice on behalf of all God’s people. They adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day and evening.

Their monastery is located in the piney woods of East Texas on almost 100 acres of land that includes a small lake. The chapel at the monastery is open to the public to come to for prayer or to attend daily Mass.

The Dominican nuns were founded of course by St. Dominic in Prouilhe, France, in 1206. However, this monastery was founded from Detroit (now Farmington Hills), Michigan, in 1945. There are presently 23 nuns in their monastery who hail from the USA, Cuba, Mexico, Tanzania and Vietnam. They sing the entire Liturgy of the Hours as a community every day.

For more information, visit their website!

oplufkinAnd for a glimpse into their life, watch this YouTube video!

The nuns should keep before their eyes by day and night Christ the Lord who, during his life on earth, offered up prayers and supplications to God with loud cries and tears, and now sits at the right hand of the divine majesty, always living to make intercession for us. (LCM 74:I)

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The Carmelite Family Grows

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

alex sdIn their Christmas 2013 newsletter, the Discalced Carmelites of Alexandria, South Dakota, mention that they are beginning a new foundation in Hague, North Dakota, at the invitation of Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck. Forty acres of land including a farmhouse, outbuildings and a pond make up the property that was purchased by the Diocese. After suitable repairs are completed, the Carmel of the Holy Face will come into existence. They were blessed to receive donations from another Carmel of an altar, tabernacle, grating for the Choir, choir benches, Carmelite statues and books, and much more.

The Monastery of Our Mother of Mercy and St. Joseph in Alexandria was founded 17 years ago as a foundation from Buffalo, NY. It has been led with motherly wisdom by Mother Marie Therese of the Child Jesus during all those years. She has taught “us little ones to follow Jesus and Mary and to treasure and persevere in Our Carmelite vocations.”

The Carmelite Monastery in Alexandria has at least 19 members, including one novice, one postulant and five who made their first profession. They obviously are doing well enough to expand and bring blessings upon another Diocese!

The new foundation has not been without its challenges. Yet they quote St. Raymond of Penyafort who said, “May you never be numbered among those whose house is peaceful, quiet and free from care….Your purity of life must be made purer still, by frequent buffetings, until you attain perfect sincerity of heart.”

They also quote Tertullian who explains that while the old way of prayer “was able to rescue from fire and beasts and hunger even before it reached its perfection,” Christian prayer “gives the armor of patience to those who suffer, who feel pain, who are distressed. It strengthens the power of grace, so that faith may know what it is gaining from the Lord, and understand what it is suffering for the name of God.”

How happy it is to dwell in His house, in imitation of and with Mary in
Nazareth, as well as at the foot of the Cross, comforting Him through our
sacrifices, collecting and disseminating by prayer the grace won by Him through
the shedding of His Blood – under her gaze, to leave all to find All and to
spend one’s life in His Presence!



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Get Your Fruitcakes Here!

Monday, December 16th, 2013

fruitcake2There is a charming article in the Kansas City Star about the Trappist (Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance) monks at Assumption Abbey in Ava, Missouri, who make a popular fruitcake. One could expect that these men, who live in silence most of the time, to be somber and introspective with one foot in heaven. One foot in heaven they may have and if so, heaven will be a lively place once they get there, God willing!

The monks are getting up there in years yet they still produce the fruitcakes and run the abbey as they have been doing for the last 60 plus years. It’s getting more difficult as the monks age. Boniface is 87, Robert is 88, Thomas is 85. These are three of the monks who are the backbone of the abbey. Many of them were in the military in World War II when monastic life was viewed as a spiritual Marine Corps. Then Vatican II came, says Cyprian, and “it was no longer a favorable environment for fruitcake3spiritual life.” Cyprian says, “I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted except to join my brothers in the cemetery.”

Thankfully, help is on the way. Monks from Vietnam are coming in stages to fill out the ranks. They will carry on with the fruitcake tradition, and may even mail some back to Vietnam, though Father Peter from Vietnam says, “Americans like very heavy food.” The monks, in fact, used to make concrete blocks but now make fruitcakes. “We had to change the recipe slightly,” Cyprian said. “And fruitcakes are easier to stack.”

Boniface sometimes bakes over 40 loaves of bread a day. The difference between a cook and a chef, he says,  is that a cook has to do his own dishes. He also has a soup called MustGo soup. “I go through the refrigerator and say, ‘This must go.’”

Assumption Abbey is a daughter house of New Melleray in Iowa and was founded in 1950. The Abbey produces an astounding 30,000 cakes annually, their main source of income. To place an order, click here!


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Men and Women Who Can Awaken the World

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

superiorsLast week, Pope Francis announced that 2015 would be a year dedicated to consecrated life. Needless to say, we at the Institute on Religious Life are very excited!

The Holy Father made the announcement during the 82nd General Assembly of the Union of Superior Generals in Rome. Although a brief meeting with the Union was planned, the Holy Father spent an estimated three hours answering questions from the 120 participants.

According to the Holy See Press Office, the first questions to the Pope dealt with the mission and identity of consecrated life. “A radical approach is required of all Christians, but religious persons are called upon to follow the Lord in a special way: They are men and woman who can awaken the world,” the Pope said.

“Consecrated life is prophecy. God asks us to fly the nest and to be sent to the frontiers of the world, avoiding the temptation to ‘domesticate’ them. This is the most concrete way of imitating the Lord.”

The Holy Father said that the formation of religious must be founded on four fundamental pillars: spiritual, intellectual, communitarian and apostolic. The aim, he said, “is to form religious persons with a tender heart, not acid, not like vinegar. We are all sinners, but not corrupt. Sinners are to be accepted, but not the corrupt”.

The Holy Father concluded the meeting by thanked participants for their years of service to the Church and announced 2015 as a Year dedicated to consecrated life. “Thank you for what you do and for your spirit of faith and your service. Thank you for your witness and also for the humiliations through which you have had to pass.”


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The Lord Giveth, The Lord Taketh Away

Monday, December 2nd, 2013
Sr. Veronica

Sr. Veronica

On November 23, 2013, the Capuchin Poor Clares of Wilmington, DE, as well as family and friends had the joy of witnessing Sr. Veronica de Jesus Amaya’s First Religious Profession. Sr. Veronica’s reception of the black veil, which replaced her white one, symbolized her total consecration to Jesus Christ and her death from the world.

Posted on the internet a day later, was the recording of the death of Sr. Maria Imelda Valencia, OSC Cap., a sister in the same monastery who died on November 4 at age 81.

Sr. Imelda entered the Capuchin Poor Clares in Mexico at the young age of thirteen and learned how to make hosts, sew vestments, play the organ, cook for the community and do laundry. Sr. Leticia writes that, 800 years after St. Clare:

Sr. Maria Imelda

Sr. Maria Imelda

Maria Imelda followed the dream of Clare to live her life totally and exclusively for God.  She wanted to embrace in her arms the God made flesh, and wanted His crucified body to be comforted by her friendship and love.  In her prayer, she was more in touch with humanity than most of us.  God let her hear the cry of the poor and the suffering.  They became loud in her silence.  Their pain became real for her.  Jesus was continuing His Passion in the sufferings of humanity, especially the least among us.  She comforted Jesus in His sorrow by raising up to the Father all those who needed grace in their lives.

Sr. Maria Imelda thought she would live and die in her convent in Mexico. But when volunteers were asked in 1986 to travel to America to begin a new foundation near the Capuchin friars, Sister Maria Imelda, at age 54 was one of eight sisters to embark on the journey. As Sr. Leticia writes:

Sr. Imelda never had the facility to learn English; nevertheless, she found an incredible joy and peace in her new home in Delaware.  As St. Augustine says, “In His will is our peace”.  Can you imagine never understanding a word the preacher is saying, or participating in a conversation, always needing a translator?  What sacrifice!  But for Sr. Imelda, it was just another way of dying to herself so that Christ will rise.

May she rest in the peace of her Spouse whom she longed to see.

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A Tranquil Oasis

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

nazarena-6NazarenaYesterday, Pope Francis met with Camaldolese Nuns at the Monastery of Sant’Antonio Abateas (St. Anthony the Abbot) in Rome as the Church celebrated Pro Orantibus “(For Those Who Pray”) Day. The Camaldolese family is one of the ancient monastic orders in the Church, founded by St. Romuald a thousand years ago. They follow the Rule of St. Benedict (but also check out St. Romuald’s brief Rule) and most but not all of the communities existing today are part of the Benedictine Federation family.

The Holy Father greeted the 21 sisters and celebrated Vespers with them. The monastery was once noted for its resident American anchoress, Sister Nazarena of Jesus, who was born Julia Crotta in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Before entering religious life, she studied music at Yale and received a degree from Albertus Magnus College. She became an anchoress in 1945 and lived for 45 years in a tiny room attached to the chapel.

In sister’s cell was a plank for a bed, a small bathroom, a table and a chair (see old story in newspaper done while she was alive). For food, she lived on bread and water with an occasional grape or boiled carrot as a treat. She had a small window to the outside world and another opening into the chapel when she, unseen, participated in Mass ( a priest gave her daily communion).

When the abbess was asked if Sr. Nazarena was insane, she said, “Sister Nazarena is fully sane and has all her faculties. In a wild, self-seeking world, she has found an oasis that has given her tranquility and made her happy. She is the most serene person I have ever met.” Sister died in 1990 at age 82. Pope Francis went to her cell during his visit.

A book on her life by Thomas Matus is available at




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I Have Given My Angels Charge Over You

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

pbwatertownToday, the Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood are celebrating the Golden Jubilee of their foundation in Watertown, New York. Bishop Terry LaValley of Ogdensburg will offer Mass in thanksgiving. Seven sisters came to Watertown from their newly built monastery in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1963 at the invitation of Msgr. R. J. McCarthy who had a deep devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus.

The sisters also rejoice today as Sister Mary Pham receives her Habit during this Jubilee Mass at St. Patrick’s Church. Sister Mary was born in Vietnam in 1966 and vividly remembers the explosions of bombs and the firing of guns as Saigon fell to the Communists. Even though her parents had only a grammar school education, they were determined to give their children a good education and a country where they could practice and openly keep their Catholic faith.

So her parents sacrificed their own family life in order to make this happen. Mary and 3 of her siblings became part of the “boat people.” They and 54 others went by river and ocean in two small fishing boats in the hope of reaching Thailand. Mary was in one boat and her 2 brothers and sister were in another. She was teary-eyed as she left her parents, siblings, friends and country for the unknown.

When the reached the ocean, the tiny craft waddled like humpty dumpty in the waves and everyone was sick. When gun shots were fired at the vessel, they became separated from the other boat. Later she learned that it had been captured by the Communist Vietnamese Coast Guard but bribes bought their freedom. After 5 days on the ocean, Mary’s boat reached Thailand and she was taken to a refugee camp. It would be five months before she was reunited with her siblings. All four of them arrived in California in 1981 to live with an aunt. It would not be until 1992 that Mary was reunited with her parents and the rest of her brothers and sisters, the year she graduated from college.

Her vocation story is a whole other story. Sr. Mary says of today, “I would not have the joy of being where I am – or being who I am, today, had I not endured the past.”


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Giving Their All To God

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

ocd oaklandA year ago, I wrote about a new cloistered Carmelite community that was being established in the Diocese of Oakland. A daughter house of the Carmel in Valparaiso, Nebraska, the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is the only contemplative community in the Oakland diocese.

On October 1, the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, Bishop Michael Barber, S.J., of Oakland celebrated Mass with the nuns. He told them that their vocation is similar to the Beloved Disciple, Saint John, saying, “You are the ones who recline next to Christ at His breast at the table at the Last Supper, you are the ones who have that intimate place with Him, by giving your life to Him and coming into the walls of this monastery. You are the ones that people, priests and bishops come to.”

The bishop spoke from the heart for his association with the Carmelites goes way back.

When he was a little boy, his grandmother and aunts would take him to the Carmel of Cristo Rey (an IRL Affiliate community in San Francisco). There he noticed a bowl next to a statue of St. Teresa of Avila in which petitions were placed. Later, as a young man hoping to be accepted into the Jesuits, he wrote out his own petition. Twelve years later another prayer request went in, asking that his ordination to the priesthood be approved. Finally, as a chaplain going to Iraq, he asked the sisters to pray that he and his 3000 marines would be safe during the deployment. Not one of his men was killed.

In a beautiful article in The Catholic Voice, it states that the sisters normally have six lit candles on the altar during Mass. The seventh is lit when the bishop comes. What a beautiful tradition. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 79: “On or near the altar there are to be candlesticks with lighted candles, at least two but even four, six, or, if the bishop of the diocese celebrates, seven.”

The Carmelites, said the bishop, are looking for “land on which to build a new monastery or an existing building that could be converted.” They try to be self-sufficient and simple, growing their own vegetables and raising farm animals for milk and eggs. The sisters are vegetarians.

Mother Sylvia Gemma has welcomed their first postulant with another expected within the next few months. Said the bishop: “There are women, 500 years after St. Teresa of Avila, who are still giving their all to God.”


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The Passionist Spirit

Saturday, October 19th, 2013
Sr. Mary Andrea, CP

Sr. Mary Andrea, CP

Tomorrow the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists. In a special way today, we offer up our prayers for Sr. Mary Andrea of the Incarnate Word who is making her Perpetual Consecration today to Jesus Crucified.

Sr. Mary Andrea is a Passionist nun in the community in Whitesville, Kentucky. These words of St. Paul of the Cross were recalled at her First Profession:

Proclaim the message of the Cross in the Sacred Wounds of our most lovable Redeemer opened more by His infinite love than by the hard nails, so that we may drink the saving waters of grace in these springs of eternal life.

We also want to thank God for her superior, Mother Catherine Marie, CP, who celebrated her Golden Jubilee as a Passionist nun on August 24, 2013. Here is what one of her sisters said to honor Mother on her special day:

Mother Catherine Marie, CP, and her mother!

Mother Catherine Marie, CP, and her mother!

What IS this Passionist spirit? What is it that drives you and your community, Reverend Mother and all those who accompany you in this pilgrimage to and around the Cross of our Lord and our Sorrowful Mother? It is to be one with Jesus in that moment of His death and resurrection. You often quote to us that expression of Father F. X. Durwell who said: “Jesus Christ is fixated forever at that moment of His death and resurrection.” Passionists focus on the suffering and death of Jesus, all of which leads to the glorious resurrection of our Lord.

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Fixed to the Cross of Christ

Friday, October 18th, 2013

canonessesOn July 20, 2013, the Norbertine Canonesses’ new priory, the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph, in Tehachapi, California, was blessed in a ceremony presided over by Abbot Eugene Hayes, O.Praem., Abbot of St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. The Catholic World Report has a fine article on Norbertines in general and the sisters new priory in particular.

The monastery is needed for three reasons: to handle the influx of vocations, to give the sisters a permanent place to live and to allow them to be self-sufficient. The acreage, kitchen and work areas will allow them to work the land, raise animals, produce their artisan cheeses, sew priestly vestments, create their Christmas wreaths, etc. There were five founding sisters originally with the number of Norbertine nuns now up to 26. The monastery will be able to house 48 sisters.

A local TV station did a wonderful feature story on the sisters and their new home, giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their life. Interviews with the sisters, a tour, a picture of their cloistered life and thoughts from Mother Mary Augustine are all included. Well worth a look.

One of the precious items in the new chapter room is a crucifix that was spotted in 1967 in a dumpster behind a church by a man who rescued and restored it himself. Not an easy task as two arms were missing and a new cross was needed. After the man’s death in 1987, the crucifix found its way to an antique shop where a friend of the monastery purchased it for the sisters. I hope this man is able to look down from heaven and see how treasured is his gift of love.

He wants to be wholly fixed in your hearts
Who for your sake let Himself be fixed
to the Cross.
St. Augustine


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