Category Archives: Cloistered life

A Desert Nun’s Clothing Ceremony

dseet nunOn June 6th, Jennifer Meissonnier became Sr. Augusta Mary of Our Lady of Grace, becoming clothed in the habit of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration  in Tonopah, Arizona. They are commonly referred to as the “desert nuns.”

The image of the desert is appropriate because it was the underlying theme behind Sr. Marie Andre’s talk during the ceremony. As she rightly pointed out, many people misunderstand the call to the cloistered life, viewing it as “barren.” On the contrary, a life lived in response to the Lord’s call is always fruitful. “Our life here justifies the absence of an exterior apostolate/working out in the world,” said Sr. Marie Andre, “by drawing down from Heaven an abundance of divine grace to assist the evangelical workers (especially priests and active-order Sisters) in the field of their labors.”

As Jennifer began her journey into the desert, Sister Marie Andre quoted Fr. Robert Barron who said quite beautifully: “The desert represents a stripping away so as to make the fundamental things appear. In the desert there are no distractions or diversions or secondary matters. Everything is basic, necessary, simple. One survives or one doesn’t. One discovers in the desert strengths and weaknesses she didn’t know she had.

Sister Marie Andre asked the question posed by the Psalmist long ago: “”Is it possible for God to prepare a table in the desert?’ (Psalm 78) And like the Israelites of old, we have to say YES!!!! Not only a table with the manna of old, but a Eucharistic Throne, and this happens because God does all!”

Here are some highlights from the clothing ceremony. God bless Sr. Augusta Mary of Our Lady of Grace!




Chosen: The Hidden Life of the Poor Clare Colettines, Rockford

reeseDuring this year’s National Meeting at the seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, the IRL was blessed to host a photo exhibit on the lives of the Poor Clare Colettine nuns of Corpus Christi Monastery in Rockford, IL. Entitled Erased From the Landscape: The Hidden Lives of Cloistered Nuns, the 40-photo exhibit beautifully portrays the everyday, extraordinary life of these women who are hidden from the world but are at the heart of the Church’s mission.

During the National Meeting, Abbie Reese, artist, author and filmmaker who developed the exhibit, talked about her next project called Chosen: Custody of the Eyes. For this project, Abbie provided the cloistered nuns with camera equipment, allowing them to capture their life on their own, rather than have an intruder inside the walls.

Chosen follows the story of one of the newer members of the community, beginning with her discernment, entrance, clothing, and vows. The new sister, who uses the pseudonym Sister Amata to protect anonymity, reflects on her transition and life within the monastery. This was one of Abbie’s aims—to capture the internal journey of this mysterious road to the cloister.

reese3How did Abbie, a non-Catholic, get a foot in the door with this community? It began when she approached the nuns and asked if she could undertake an oral history storytelling project. After a period of prayer and discernment, the nuns opened their cloister to Abbie who conducted interviews with members of the Poor Clare Colettines, allowing their story to be told to the world. Reese relays the oral history of the community in her work Dedicated to God: An Oral History: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns (Oxford University Press, 2014). (See prior blog post on this fascinating book)

If you would like to help Abbie raise the $15,000 needed to finalize the film and send it to post-production, please consider supporting her work through her current crowdfunding campaign. Please visit–2#/story to make a tax deductible donation. During this Year of Consecrated Life, please consider supporting the effort of Reese to bring the life of Corpus Christi Monastery to the world.

180 Years of Consecrated Life – in three sisters!

Mother Mary John, OCD

What some families give back to the Church in terms of children who enter religious life is often incredible and heroic. Witness the jubilee celebrations of Mother Mary John Billeauld, O.C.D., Sr. Theresa Anne Billeaud, C.D.P., and Sr. Anne Deelaus, O.C.D. Together they are celebrating 180 years of consecrated life!

On May 24, 2015, the three Sisters celebrated their triple jubilee during a Mass in front of a record breaking crowd of over 400 family members and friends. Concelebrating the Mass with Bishop Emeritus Sam Jacobs of Houma, Louisiana, was Msgr. Michael Jamail, V.G. of the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, and several other priests.

Mother Mary John and Sister Theresa Anne are blood sisters.  They come from a family of nine girls, five of whom entered religious life. Three are Sisters of Divine Providence and two are Carmelites. Commenting on her vocation, Mother Mary John said, “I just knew that (Our Lord) wanted me to be a Carmelite nun and He filled me with a desire to respond to Him. When this conviction is so strong on one’s heart, there is no room for doubt.”

Sr. Anne, OCD
Sr. Anne, OCD

In this year celebrating the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Avila, Mother said that one of the best experiences of living the life of a Discalced Carmelite nun at the monastery in Lafayette, Louisiana, is knowing that the legacy left to them by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross “can be fulfilled in our own lives today…”

Sr. Anne comes from a large family as well. Two of her sisters entered religious life as Carmelites in Rhode Island and New Orleans. After Vatican II, with all the changes sweeping through communities, Sr. Anne said that her superiors in Lafayette “strove to faithfully maintain the original Carmelite charism – prayer for the Church and world, and the necessary silence and solitude that would foster the growth of prayer and awareness of the needs of the time.”

What kept her going through the years? It was simple, she said. “I knew God wanted me here and I wanted to be here.” Difficulties experienced were lightened by her relationship with Jesus and His Mother and her sisters in Christ.

We gave thanks for these many years of fidelity to a call of the Spirit who has filled the hearts of our Sisters with His Living Flame of Love. With St. Teresa we can say: “The true love of God is as a fire!” This Fire has inflamed the hearts of our Sisters through these many years.

See the interview with two of the sisters in The Advertiser, Lafayette, LA and watch the video of the Mass on the Lafayette Carmel website.

Ada Carmelites: Refugees and Foundresses of Many

adaIn 2016, the Carmelite Nuns in Ada, Michigan, will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of their founding. In 1916,  sixteen Carmelite nuns (12 professed and four postulants) fled the terror and raging persecution in Mexico and came to the United States.

After traveling to Cuba, New Orleans and Saint Louis, they finally found a home in the Diocese of Grand Rapids under the paternal care of Bishop Henry Joseph Richter. Their monastery was placed under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  From this sacrifice of family and country came bountiful blessings. New foundations bloomed from Grand Rapids back to Mexico in 1919, then Buffalo, Detroit, Littleton, Traverse City, Iron Mountain and Denmark (WI).

Their original frame house in Grand Rapids was expanded and added on to many times to accommodate growth. Finally, in 1984, they were given ten rural acres outside of town in which to build a permanent, quieter home. They moved to Ada (Parnell), Michigan, in 1991.

This year, the are celebrating the 500th anniversary of their foundress’ birth. Commenting on St. Teresa of Avila, foundress of the Discalced Carmelites, Pope Francis said: “(Teresa) asked her sisters not to waste time discussing ‘matters of little importance’ with God while ‘the world is in flames.'”

Be rooted in prayer, in communion with Jesus. Pope Francis said: “The prayer of Teresa was not a prayer reserved solely to a space or time of day; it arose spontaneously on the most diverse occasions. … She was convinced of the value of continual, if not always perfect, prayer. … To renew consecrated life today, Teresa has left us a great heritage full of concrete suggestions, ways and methods of praying that, far from closing us in ourselves or leading us merely to inner balance, enable us always to start again from Jesus, and constitute a genuine school for growth in love for God and neighbor.”

A Glimpse into the Santa Fe Carmel

santa feFor the year of Consecrated Life, the Carmel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Teresa in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has put together a charming little video to give people a glimpse into their life.

The Carmel is situated in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo (“Blood of Christ”) Mountains, on the high desert of northern New Mexico, reminiscent of the terrain of the Order’s first founders who lived in the 12th century on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land.

They are part of the Spanish Catholic legacy of Santa Fe that has been present for more than 400 years. Santa Fe means Holy Faith! Their monastery traces its heritage back to Avila, Spain by way of Mexico.

A history book on the Carmelite order states that St. Teresa actually arrived here before the Carmelite sisters! A picture of her is found on the reredos of San Miguel Mission (built in 1610), the oldest church in the United States. The oval picture, found on the top left of the reredos, dates from the early 18th century and originated in Colonial Mexico. It is considered one of the earliest portraits of the saint.

reredosThe Carmeles arrived in Santa Fe in 1945 from the Carmel in Dallas, Texas. They in turn founded houses in Albuquerque, NM; Jefferson City, MO; and Kenya.

We pray that we may be a second Bethany where Our Lord may rest among those who have chosen the better part.

An Eastern-Rite Carmelite Monastery

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Holy Annunciation Monastery in Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania, is the only Carmelite Monastery in the Western Hemisphere belonging to an Eastern Catholic Rite. They belong to the Order of Discalced Carmelites and have the special mission to pray for the unity of the Eastern and Western churches.

Mother Marija of the Holy Spirit, Sister Marie Helen of the Cross and Sister Ann of the Trinity (d. 2001)  inaugurated the monastery on February 23, 1977. Fr. Walter Ciszek (may he one day be canonized), SJ, encouraged Most Rev. Michel Dudick, the Bishop of the Ruthenians (Byzantine Church) of Passaic, NJ, to accept them into his eparchy.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, several Byzantine rite girls came to them from Slovakia and Carpathia. In return, in 1995 and 2002, they sent Sisters there to begin the Monastery of St. Therese in Koritnyani, Transcarpathia (Ukraine). In 1999, they accepted Sisters of the Syro-Malabar Rite from South India, now five in byz 3number, who today comprise one third of their community.

Six to seven  hours daily are devoted to prayer and sacred reading. They also operate a bakery with mail order sales (you can request a catalog for Christmas!), design gift cards and breed miniature horses. Check out their website (Carmelites Mini Corral) if you would like to purchase a stallion, mare, foal or show horse!



5 Myths About Cloistered Life

marbury3The Dominican nuns of St. Jude Monastery in Marbury, Alabama, have a little brochure describing the 5 myths about cloistered life.

Myth #1: They pray all day

Their whole life is harmoniously ordered to preserve remembrance of God throughout the day. They chant the 7 hours of the Divine Office daily and have times for Adoration, meditation and the rosary. But they also clean, cook, nurse, study, recreate and more. They rise early and go to bed late and their hearts are free for God alone.

Myth #2: Talented. Go elsewhere?

Of course, all of the talents a women brings to the cloister are put to good use (teacher, musician, artist, writer, nurse) but the greatest gift a woman gives to God is the gift of herself, so that it may bear fruit a hundredfold for the life of His Mystical Body. Contemplatives are Christ’s chosen spouses, imaging in a radical way the exclusive union of the Church as Bride with her Lord.

Myth #3: The Cloister is for Introverts

The cloistered life involves solitude of heart which leads to deeper union with God. It also involves intense community, for you live in the enclosure with your sisters 24/7, 365 days a year. They pray, work and recreate together, striving to grow in unity of heart and mind rooted in love of God. . The cloistered life is for both introverts and extroverts—both have strengths and challenges which are transformed by grace; both serve God.

Myth #4: Cloistered Nuns Never Talk

The question is not, “Do I like to talk?” Rather it is, “Am I able to keep silence?” Silence is an ancient monastic observance which directs a nun’s thoughts and affections towards God rather than in unnecessary and distracting chatter. During work hours, however, the sisters speak when necessary and talk during meetings, classes and recreation.

Myth #5: Unfit for the Active Life? Try the Cloister.

Actually, the cloistered Dominican life is just as demanding though not as distracting as that of a student, mother or active religious. Normal good health is essential to enter upon their life of total dedication, complete self-giving to Jesus through Mary for the salvation of souls, lived through the monastic life of the community.

Contact the Dominican nuns for the brochure or if you are interested in knowing more about their life.


Carmelites – Doubly Blessed

Malaya Twins This vocation story is interesting because of the generosity of the family in offering two daughters to God, in this case twins, who made their solemn profession as Discalced Carmelites on February 14th, 2015.

The twins, Sr. Mary Sheila and Sr. Shirley Therese, age 25, became Carmelites in Sarawak, Malayasia. Twins are common in the family and these twins are one of four sets in the clan! Their mother Juliana, had a difficult first pregnancy with them and prayed that God would spare at least one of them. He doubly answered her prayers by preserving the life of both. When Sr. Shirley was diagnosed with leukemia at age 10, Juliana prayed again for the life of her daughter, promising if she were healed that she would offer this child to God. She was double blessed again, because both children accepted the call from God to enter religious life.

Rather than viewing this as a double loss, their father, Stephen said, “It’s not a sacrifice by the family. It’s a gain for the whole Roman Catholic community and we are all right with that.” The twins’ mother was instrumental in bringing a Sunday school to the parish and said that the twins at an early age showed a devotion to God, preferring saints’ stories to other books.  A friend said, “Juliana is a very hard-working Catholic and we can all see she has brought up her seven children very well. The twins are the eldest, followed by five other children who are all very obedient and God-fearing. She has set a very high standard for other Catholic women to follow.”

Their monastery in Mir, Sarawak, was founded in 1985 and houses ten nuns. The twins are the first members of the indigenous tribe of the Kenyahs to become Discalced Carmelites.

The brochure from the monastery states: “The Carmelite Monastery is an open witness to the reality of the presence and the existence of God, which in today’s broken world, is often denied. It is a reminder to the world of the validity of Gospel values.”

“In the hidden garden, the needs, joys, wounds and sorrows of the world are carried before the throne of God hourly every day, especially in the Sacred Liturgy.”

To read more, visit the Borneo Post (now that’s a great newspaper name!)


Timeless Lenten Meditations From Mother Mary Francis, PCC

pccJust in time for Lent, Ignatius Press has released a book of profound and timeless Lenten mediations from Mother Mary Francis, PCC, the abbess of the Poor Clare Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Roswell, New Mexico.

Mother Mary Francis (1921–2006) was abbess for over 40 years and is most famous for her classic book on Poor Clare life, A Right to be Merry. This new work, entitled A Time of Renewal: Daily Reflections for the Lenten Season, presents beautiful meditations on the liturgical season of Lent, revealing the treasures of the liturgy to Christians in all walks of life. Her insight into Holy Scripture and her poetic way of writing make her reflections on the daily Mass readings fresh and attractive.

As the Ignatius Press press release says:

Mother Mary Francis excels in the art of persuasion, aware that the human heart cannot be forced but only gently led to holiness. She makes this goal attractive and desirable by tirelessly explaining why striving for holiness is the happiest and wisest way to live. This book provides a wealth of material for plundering the riches of the Lenten season and for deepening one’s spiritual life. Her meditations are profound and timeless, not changing from year to year, thus providing a lifetime of Lenten meditations in this one volume.

To order, visit the Ignatius Press website ( or call: 1-800-651-1531.

Handmaids Sell New Mexico Monastery

opbOn October 17, 2014, the Handmaids of the Precious Blood agreed to the sale of their former Motherhouse in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, to the sovereign nation of the Jemez Pueblo. Rev. Mother Marietta, H.P.B., and the Pueblo’s governor, Joshua Madalena, were the signers of the agreement, which had a closing date of December 31, 2014.

The New Mexico monastery of Cor Jesu, located in a rural area in the mountains between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, was home to the Handmaids of the Precious Blood for sixty-seven years. It was in 1947 that Father Gerald Fitzgerald founded the Handmaids to support the priesthood by their hidden lives of prayer and sacrifice, and daily Eucharistic Adoration. Father Gerald knew that “in strengthening the priest you strengthen the whole Church.” The sisters visibly display this charism by the wearing of a wine-red habit, symbolic of the Precious Blood of Christ, and the white veil, symbolizing the white Host of the Eucharist.

With the sale, the sisters will have completed the move to their temporary home (though they are still working out some business and legal details for the transfer to Tennessee) on the grounds of Christ Prince of Peace Retreat Center in the diocese of Knoxville under the paternal care of Bishop Richard F. Stika. With the arrival of the five sisters from New Mexico and the presence of their newest member and first native Tennessean, Sr. Christiana, the sisters had a very joyous family reunion.

Bishop Stika said, “Their prayers and many sacrifices as a silent proclamation of the Gospel are the very ‘soul and leaven’ of the Church’s evangelization efforts and works of mercy. Indeed, cloistered religious are truly indispensable co-workers in the mystery of redemption.”