Vocations: January 2009 Archives

The Vatican announced today that it is initiating the first-ever visitation of women's religious communities in the United States. The visitations are being undertaken to help strengthen religious communities in the U.S., which are suffering from a sharp drop in vocations and gentrification of their ranks.

FRode.jpgOn the heels of issuing a report on the health of U.S. seminaries--which were found to be in relatively good condition--the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, headed by Cardinal Franc Rodé, is embarking on a comprehensive study of the more than 400 congregations present in the United States. The visitations will only assess those religious who engage in apostolic or active work, and will not involve contemplative communities.

The visitation process is being spearheaded by Connecticut native Mother Mary Clare Millea, A.S.C.J., who was appointed by Cardinal Rodé. Mother Clare is the superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a group of sisters that is based in Rome but has 135 sisters in the U.S.

According to a December 22, 2008 Vatican decree authorizing the visitations, the study is being undertaken "to look into the quality of the life" of the members of U.S. religious institutes.

CMillea.jpgMother Clare estimates that the project will take about two years to finish, and says that upon completion she will submit a confidential report to Cardinal Rodé. There are no plans to publish the findings.

Sr. Eva-Maria Ackerman, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, explained how the several-stage process will work at a press conference in Washington D.C. on Friday.

"First, Mother Clare will solicit voluntary input from the superiors general through inviting them to make personal contacts with her in Rome or in the United States. During the second stage, the major superiors in the United States will be asked for information such as statistics, activities and community practices."

She continued, "selected on-site visits will be made during the third stage. During this time, the sisters will have an opportunity to share with the visitation teams their joys and hopes, challenges and concerns about their lives as women religious in the Church today. The final stage will be the compilation and delivery of a comprehensive and confidential review by Mother Clare to Cardinal Rodé.

Sr. Ackerman also added that the "visitations are beginning as we speak."

In a press release announcing the initiative, Mother Millea indicated that while she is not obliged to visit every community of women religious, she looks forward to learning and better understanding the "multi-faceted dimensions of the sisters' religious lives, as well as their abundant contributions to the Church and society."

"I am truly humbled, and a bit overwhelmed," Mother Millea said of her assignment. "While I have visited each of the communities and missions in my own congregation, the thought of gathering facts and findings about nearly 400 institutes across the United States can be daunting in scope."

"I am praying for all the sisters who will be a part of this Visitation, and hoping for their prayers "both for the good of the process as well as for me in this role," she added. "I ask the prayers of the American Catholic clergy and faithful too."

More information about the visits can be found at www.apostolicvisitation.org

OSB monk.jpgA Spiegel Online article of January 25, 2007 looks into the monastic life from the German perspective: fewer monks and nuns professing vows and more lay people for a way to make sesne of their lives. The experience of the monks and nuns in Europe, in this case Germany, is not unlike the experience one can have in monasteries in the USA when it comes to diminishing numbers, lack of vision and hope for the future, and with plentiful  examples of liturgical & theological dissent. One can't forget that so many of the '68ers are still in charge.

But not all is bunk as there are a number of indicators pointing out that people are considering the monastic life anew. In fact, there are bright, generous and fun men and women entering the monasteries: they are on fire with the reality of serving and loving the Lord and His Church; they are ready to spend themselves for the eternal good of others and they are willing to preach Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior for humanity. That doesn't mean that thousands of men and women are running to cloister but those are very willing to take up the sacrifice of the cloister seriously. In accepting Christ one is never disappointed or easily thrown under the bus.

BUT there are equally bright, generous and loving people whose vocation is not to enter the monastery but it is to follow Christ  more deeply in following a rule of life --like the Rule of Saint Benedict-- while living in the world. The oblate life (also referred to as a third order or even in a secular institute) is beautiful and flourishing today.

I've had this article in my file for a while but some interesting points are worth considering even now. Monastic life in the 3rd millennium.

Today is the 62nd anniversary of the monastic foundation of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in North Guilford, Connecticut. Faithfilled nuns made the journey from a Dominican nun's monastery in Summit, New Jersey to a suburb of New Haven in 1947 to spend their lives for the Gospel and the Church.

nun at adoration.jpgNearly 40 nuns of the Order Preachers live in a papal enclosure offering sacrifices and prayers for our salvation; they study and work for the up-building of the Kingdom of God. The nuns follow the charism of Saint Dominic as it is lived today within the Dominican Order which says that "there is indeed a diversity of gifts, but one and the same Spirit, one charity, one mercy. The friars, sisters and laity of the Dominican Order are to preach the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ throughout the world; the nuns are to seek, ponder and call upon him in solitude so that the Word proceeding from the mouth of God may not return to him empty, but may accomplish those things for which it was sent." (From the Fundamental Constitutions of the Nuns)

I am grateful for the presence of the monastery because it has offered me a place to pray, that is, to enjoy the friendship of Jesus and His Mother, Mary. Nuns have perpetual adoration before the Blessed Sacrament open their chapel to countless visitors who want to do the same; there is a possibility of making other spiritual exercises like the Stations of the Cross. The nuns support themselves entirely on the donations they receive and the income from a modest bookstore.

The context of Our Lady of Grace Monastery is in the Archdiocese of Hartford, 15 miles from New Haven and priests from the Dominican Priory of Saint Mary's, New Haven.

OP cross.jpgThe value of prayer and sacrifice was learned early in my life through the nuns of this monastery. Now with the Lord, Sisters Mary Dominic and Veronica used to sit with me talk about life and God. Over the years I made a regular pilgrimage (really a short trip from my parents' home 12 miles away) to the monastery because it was interesting, even mysterious. How many places do you that beckon you to know Christ? As a teenager I would ride my bicycle to the North Guilford monastery to serve the Sunday Mass celebrated by Father Luke and then ride all the way home again. I count on the witness of these nuns because I trust it. Our Lady of Grace Monastery is not sentimental; it's not fake, it's not transient; the lives of the witnesses are rooted in Jesus Christ. Would that all of us could say the same. Would that the witness of these nuns could rub off more so that we could give be the face of Christ in the world.

Our Lady of Grace Monastery
11 Race Hill Road
North Guilford, CT 06437-1099

(203) 457-0599

RJN ordination.jpgIn 2005-2006, the Congregation for Catholic Education conducted an Apostolic visitation of all the seminaries and houses of formation which prepare men for the sacrament of Holy Orders. The visitation was coordinated by Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, a veteran seminary rector. The Congregation's document is signed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, the Prefect and Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, O.P. the under-secretary.

Cardinal O'Malley notes in his letter to the US bishops that, in general, the report is positive, healthy but indicates the holes in the formation programs, namely:

- Mariology and Patristics;

- a commitment to sentire cum Ecclesia in the area of moral theology, particularly homosexual behavior;

- need for continued vigilance toward matters of the internal forum;

- that there be a greater collaboration between bishops and rectors to ensure consistency of formation for seminarians during times of vacation (what do seminarians do when they aren't in school or being supervised?);

- that Mass be celebrated every day in the seminary, including Sunday;

- that only priest personnel vote for the advancement of candidates;

- that there be a check for irregularities the program;

- and to know and deal with the impediments candidates may have incurred at the start of formation.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley's letter to the US bishops

The Final Report from the Congregation

NO formation program of priestly formation is perfect. As is all reports there are some items that never surface with honesty: prayer life, assent to Thumbnail image for Christ.jpg what the Gospel teaches, assent to magisterial teaching on all matters, sexuality, service to those in need, healthy interpersonal relationships with men, women and consecrated religious. Though I can't say with certainty that the interviews were dishonest I can say that there is a certain amount of non-disclosure based on the context of the seminarians and faculty and who made up the visitation committee. Not all committees were equal. Plus, the bishop with a seminary in his diocese had an opportunity to dispute what was written in the report. Some things can be rewritten. What I am also interested in are the names of the seminaries and formation houses who are doing the good work and those who need to revamp their programs. In all of this review and hype about programs, we need to keep one cnetral fact straight: keep the focus on Jesus Christ crucified and risen. Without Christ, what's point? 

Nuns find peace on a farm near Virginia Dale. They tend to gardens, they do maintenance, they even herd cattle. But most of all, they pray.


By Erin Frustaci

Fort Collines Now



About 35 miles northwest of Fort Collins, life is quiet, peaceful and contemplative--a Virginia Dale.jpgcontrast from the fast-paced consumer-driven lifestyle found in other parts of the world. Tucked among rocky foothills and fresh country air, the tiny town of Virginia Dale is all but forgotten.

And yet, there is a certain timelessness for those who call it home. The natural landscape, free of distractions, serves as the perfect backdrop for a community of about 20 Benedictine nuns of the Roman Catholic Church whose life work and mission is prayer.

"The focus is not on all life's accessories, but on life itself," Mother Maria-Michael Newe said.

Despite the complexity of the modern world where people are attached to their Blackberries, email and iPods, Maria-Michael believes there is still a need for simplicity and peacefulness in society.

"I think people are seeking this, they are just afraid of it," she said. "They are so used to being busy that they are not used to sitting still in the quietness."

nun investiture july08.jpgThe nuns, who range from 23 to 93 years old and come from all over the world, build their days around the seven-day services which make up what is called the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours. Maria-Michael said the premise is to be prepared at all times to praise God. And if the volume of mail, email and phone calls for prayer requests is any indication, their work is greatly appreciated.


Throughout the day a chorus of voices chanting prayers can be heard from the chapel. At other times the stillness and deep quietness reverberates all around. Then there are also more unconventional sounds of the Abbey: An 89-year old nun weeding her flower gardens, an industrial mixer blending cookie dough for fresh homemade cookies, a green Gator's engine starting as three young nuns prepare to heard cattle to a different barn.

The nuns work within the monastery and valley to support themselves. They divide up daily housekeeping tasks including cooking, cleaning, laundry and maintenance, as well as operate a gift shop that sells religious books and handmade cards and craft items. They also run a small online altar bread distributing business.

As a cloistered community, they only go outside for necessary business purposes such as grocery shopping or doctor appointments. Tuesdays are usually the days when select nuns make a trip down to Fort Collins to run errands.

"Work is a blessing," Newe said. "It's such a joy when you can bring home the gifts of God and help sustain the table."

Following in the footsteps of their pioneer sisters, the nuns also are active ranchers. They run a herd of beef cattle, grow hay, collect eggs from the chickens, milk the cows and tend to the vegetable gardens.

The Abbey of St. Walburga relocated to Virginia Dale in 1997 after outgrowing its former location in Boulder. When the abbey first came to Boulder in the 1930s, the area was spacious and open. But as the city built out with busy highways and new subdivisions, an expansion of the abbey became problematic. The nuns spent several years looking for a new home. A Denver businessman and his wife eventually donated the land in Virginia Dale to them.

It's a much different way of life, but one that is rewarding for those who are meant to live it, the nuns said. Contrary to misconceptions and pop-culture movies like Sister Act, Newe said the community is not a shelter for people who are running away from their problems. In fact, she said the women who join monasteries do it because they are called in that direction.

"You have to be mature enough to live in a community and yet be alone," Newe said.
A typical day begins promptly at 4:50 a.m. with Matins, or vigils. More prayer sessions, including Lauds, follow. From 9-11:30 a.m. the women are dispersed throughout the property for the first work session of the day.

Sr Maria Gertrude.jpgMany of them change into denim overalls to work on the farm, though they still wear the traditional veils. On Tuesday this week Sister Maria Gertrude Read, 23, and Sister Maria Josepha Hombrebueno, 30, spent the morning painting the fence by the farm a vivid red. The fall is busy time for maintenance in preparation for winter.

"We've been painting it bit by bit," Read said. "We've been doing it for a couple weeks."

Read just made her temporary vows two weeks ago. She has been in the Abbey for three years.

"I felt called to some kind of religious life," she said.

She grew up in Boulder and was raised Catholic. However, she said it wasn't as meaningful to her when she was younger. When she was 14 years old, she had a specific experience while at a church summer camp when she knew she wanted to become a nun. Before that, she said she had pictured nuns as scary.

"It was this push," she said. "It was a transforming moment. My whole life changed after that."

She began looking at different monasteries and then decided to look closer to home. She admits that she could have gotten married and had a "normal job," but it wouldn't have been the same.

"I don't think it's fair to say I wouldn't have been happy somewhere else, but I wouldn't have had the same fullness and joy."

At 11:30 a.m. Sister Maria Gertrude and Sister Maria Josepha quickly cleaned up from their painting project and slipped back into their black habits, the traditional religious costumes or robes. After another prayer session in the chapel, the nuns gather for their formal meal at noon.

"When you live in a community, you really have to serve each other. You have t," Newe said.

During that time, scripture is also read aloud. After the meal, the nuns have quiet time, where they can rest, go for a walk or spend private time praying. The afternoon is dedicated to classes for the younger women and another session of work before afternoon and evening prayers.

Most women begin their quest by visiting a monastery. Once they decide it is something they want to pursue, they become a candidate for about the first three months. After that, she will receive a postulant veil and remain a postulant for about nine months. During that time, the woman studies the Benedictine rule, traditions and ways of prayer. From there, she will become a novice for two years. At the end of that period she will make her first vows of obedience, stability and fidelity to the monastic life. After another three years, she will make her solemn perpetual vows.

Sister Raisa Avila, 22, is in the earlier stages of discernment, having only been at the abbey for about a year. She is a postulant.

"It's a lifelong commitment, so you want to make sure," she said.

Avila is originally from Vancouver, B.C., in Canada. She was born and raised catholic but didn't take it seriously until she was faced with challenges. She was in school and had a different life, but she knew there was more out there for her.

"My love for God drew me here," she said.

She attended a monastic living weekend at an abbey in Canada and was hooked. But Avila admits the path wasn't always smooth. The transition into the lifestyle at the abbey has been challenging, Avila admits.

Mother Maria Michael  and Sr Genevieve Glen.jpg"I'm still human," she said. "I cried when I left home. I missed my family, but at the same time, you have to make sacrifices."

She said God has brought her through the tough times. She said she eagerly looks forward to the next stages of the process. Avila has also learned more about farming than she could have ever imagined. Though she did not grow up on a farm, she now greets the cows and llamas as if it were second nature.

During her afternoon work last Tuesday, she helped two other sisters heard the cattle to get them ready to be sold in an auction in Centennial. With a smile on her face, she then headed back into the chapel.

The abbey has become a place for prayer for the nuns as well as volunteers and people outside of the community.

"Our place really is a house of prayer. You don't have to be catholic to pray here," Mother Maria-Michael Newe said.

And while there are areas of the abbey that are cloistered such as the dining and living quarters, the public is invited to visit much of the property. In fact, the nuns run a retreat house on the property where groups and individuals can spend some time away for a set fee. The retreat house, which can fit about 23 people, is designed to offer quiet withdrawal from the busy noise of the ordinary home and work world.

Newe said prayer can be a hefty job at times, but it is also extremely rewarding. She said she often receives prayer requests for troubled relationships, illnesses and financial struggles. She is happy to take the requests because she said it is part of her duty.

"Somewhere in the world someone is needing that prayer," Newe said. "And we take them and their cause to heart. It's a work of love."


The blog 



World Meeting of the Families 2009

The family, teacher of human and Christian values

January 13-18

Mexico City


Holy Family2.jpgOur God, indivisible Trinity, you created the human being "in your image" and You admirably formed him as male and female that so together, united and in reciprocal collaboration with love, they fulfilled Your project of "being fecund and dominate the Earth"; We pray to You for all our families that so, finding in You their initial inspiration and model, that is fully expressed in the Holy Family of Nazareth, can live the human and Christian values that are necessary to consolidate and sustain the love experience and to be the foundations of a more human and Christian construction of our society.

We pray to You for the intercession of Mary, our Mother, and Saint Joseph. For Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A video about the Pope's participation in this magnificent event is seen here.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.



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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Vocations category from January 2009.

Vocations: December 2008 is the previous archive.

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