The journey of Sister Mary Emmanuel Wade, pictured left.
And the journey of Sister Mary Thérèse Morales, on the right are below.
During this Year of Faith some Catholics are
sharing with us how they live their faith. We begin this periodic series with people who are in the process of becoming
life-long members of religious
By Tanya Connor
PETERSHAM – Repeated praying of the Psalms prepared two women to speak new words.
The women were Sister Mary Emmanuel Wade and Sister Mary Thérèse Morales. The words were their simple vows, professed for the first time Sept. 22 at St. Scholastica Priory. They were Benedictine monastic vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life (which includes poverty and chastity).
The novices made their vows during Mass in the chapel the sisters share with the monks in their twin monastery, St. Mary’s Monastery. St. Scholastica’s and St. Mary’s have separate governance and finance, but share the property and worship together, said Mother Mary Elizabeth Kloss, the sisters’ major superior.
St. Mary’s superior, Father Gregory Phillips, said he has given homilies, but never one for such an occasion. Preaching before the novices made their vows, he said they have spoken many statements, “but never one like … the profession of ours.”
“They begin with ‘I,’: ‘I, Sister … profess for three years before God and his saints …’” he said.
They prepared to speak their “I” by speaking the Psalms the communities sing repeatedly, he said, referring to the Liturgy of the Hours, which is a major focus for the contemplatives.
Psalm 1 likens the righteous to a fruit tree, and the novices’ vows are like the first fruit of their singing the Psalms, the first public sign of “God’s planting and caring for them here,” Father Phillips said.
Referring to the last verse of the last Psalm – “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord” – he said the sisters will praise God by living their vows: stability by staying with the brothers and sisters here, planted by a life-giving stream as Psalm 1 describes; conversion by faithfulness to monastic life, accomplished by turning to God for help; obedience as expressed in the Psalms, in Christ’s desire to do the Father’s will and in praising God.
“They’ve been brought here also by their families and friends, who have shaped and formed them.”
He said their “I” is St. Paul’s: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me…” (Gal. 2:19-20)
“The ‘I’… in a vow is a taking up of oneself and placing it before the Lord,” Father Phillips said.
For the Rite of Simple Profession after the homily, Mother Mary Elizabeth asked the novices questions and showed them the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia, which they follow. He lived in Italy from about 480-534 A.D. His twin sister was St. Scholastica, after whom their community is named.
They read their profession charts and they and Mother Mary Elizabeth signed the charts on the altar.
Raising their arms, Sister Mary Emmanuel and Mary Thérèse sang the Suscipe (Latin for “Receive, O Lord”). Mother Mary Elizabeth presented them each with the black veil the sisters wear, to replace the white veil of novices. She and the other sisters and monks then gave them the sign of peace.
Now they are junior sisters. They join one other junior sister, Sister Mary Francesca Trovato, who made her simple vows in June 2010, and 13 solemnly professed sisters, Sister Mary Elizabeth said. She said two other women are planning to discern a vocation there.
“It’s glorious; it’s wonderful,” she said of gaining new members. “We’re so grateful to God that Sister Mary Thérèse and Sister Mary Emmanuel have come. We’re so grateful to have them join in this prayer for the Church and the world. That’s what our life is offered for.”
The community’s main work is Mass and Liturgy of the Hours, Mother Mary Elizabeth and her sister, Sister Mary Angela Kloss, said.
Sister Mary Angela said the sisters’ main means of support is donations, but they are experimenting with making cheese to sell. They had a book shop, and the monks still do, she said.
St. Scholastica’s is part of the Subiaco Congregation, which is one of many congregations in the Benedictine order, Mother Mary Elizabeth said. Within this structure, St. Scholastica’s is independent; she is an elected major superior. She said St. Mary’s is a daughter house of the Benedictine Plus Carden Abby in Scotland, which appoints their superior.
The core of St. Scholastica’s community predates their Benedictine life, which began in 1979, Mother Mary Elizabeth said. They came to Petersham in 1985, and the monks came shortly after.
Some of the sisters were part of a separate community in Tickfaw, La., which joined the community here in the 1990s. The Louisiana community closed and moved all its members here in 2009.
Mother Mary Elizabeth explained the process of joining this community as follows.
A woman comes to live with the sisters as an observer for three or four weeks, then enters and becomes a postulant for six months to one year. She becomes a novice by taking the habit and receiving a white veil and a religious name. During the novitiate, one-and-one-half to two years, the woman learns about monastic life.
Then she makes simple vows and becomes a junior sister, receiving the black veil the fully professed sisters wear. These vows are for three years.
The junior sister discerns with the community when to renew her vows, which she can do more than once, or not at all, going directly to solemn (lifelong) vows.
All along, the community and interested woman discern whether this vocation is right for her. If not, she can leave before making solemn vows.
Sister Mary Elizabeth said St. Thomas Aquinas said everyone should discern in a monastery as part of making life choices.
She said their community has had times when it was not receiving new vocations, and not all who come, join. One old nun used to say, “Dey comes and dey goes, but mostly dey goes,” she said.
But they don’t need advance training.
“You come in the door and you’re able to live the life,” Mother Mary Elizabeth said. “You can live your vocation right from the beginning. You’re given the liturgical books and the place you stand to pray.”
– For more information or the schedule for Mass and Liturgy of the Hours, which are open to the public, contact the sisters at 978-724-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Tanya Connor
PETERSHAM – “I think it’s just a solidification of everything that’s been forming, just a deepening of what God’s placed in me since the beginning.”
Sister Mary Emmanuel Wade, 32, was speaking about making her simple vows Sept. 22 at St. Scholastica Priory. She is now a junior sister in this contemplative Benedictine community.
“I’m very happy for her in her chosen profession,” her mother, Christine Wade, said after the Mass. “It’s a little bit hard as a mother who wants to be with her more.” But she said the community is understanding.
“It’s a lovely community,” she said. “We can visit. We have e-mailed. We’ve spoken on the phone.”
Mrs. Wade said Sarah, as this one of her two daughters was named, was born in St. Louis, Mo., and brought up in North Stonington, Conn., attending St. Bernard’s High School there.
Then it was off to Providence College, where she majored in chemistry. She worked for Pfizer in Groton for three years. Then, considering religious life, she returned to Providence College for a master’s in Theology.
“Of course we’re thinking, ‘You’re making such good money,’” Mrs. Wade said. She said her daughter’s boss asked whether she could stay on the job and make religious life her avocation.
The boss said she was the best employee he ever had, Sister Mary Emmanuel’s father, Robert Wade, said. Chided that he would embarrass her by saying that, he asked, “Would you like me to tell you when she played hooky from high school?”
“With my best friend, who became a Carmelite nun,” affirmed Sister Mary Emmanuel.
She had her holier moments too.
“I began my discernment in 2002 with a life of deeper prayer, on my own, but also with World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II in Toronto,” she said. “Eucharistic adoration was an incredible aid to my vocation.”
She said the first inkling of her vocation came at adoration.
“I wish I could do this my whole life,” she thought.
“At the time I thought it was ridiculous,” she said of that wish. She figured a person could not stay in church praying 24-hours a day.
“Now I understand that God is calling me to live a life of unceasing adoration, not so much in a specific location, but in my heart, my mind and my spirit,” she said.
Reading monastic authors like Thomas Merton was integral to her understanding of monastic life, she said. In 2006 she entered a Cistercian monastery in Wrentham, commonly called the Trappistines, which also follows the Benedictine rule. She became a novice there, and left in 2008.
What drew her to St. Scholastica’s?
“There is a simplicity about this community,” she said. “It’s like a family, I think because it’s a small community. The balance of brothers and sisters living parallel monastic lives is very enriching.”
Asked a few weeks ago what it was like as she prepared to make simple vows, she replied, “It’s very beautiful to be able to give yourself wholeheartedly to God without division. It’s a radical life, radical meaning total, complete devotion of your being to God.”
The journey of Sister Mary Thérèse Morales
By Tanya Connor
PETERSHAM – “There were so many ways that God called me; it was like he was banging down the doors.”
Sister Mary Thérèse Morales, 52, was talking about her vocation. She took another step Sept. 22 when she professed her simple vows at St. Scholastica Priory before God, her fellow nuns and monks and guests, including her mother and sisters, who came from Louisiana for the occasion.
Sister Mary Thérèse hails from Louisiana. She said she lived in Lafayette, near cloistered Carmelites, and in 2001 became a secular Carmelite. As a lay member of this order she chose the name Thérèse Ann of the Blessed Sacrament.
“I had a very big devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and God actually called me through that,” she said.
One day a fellow secular Carmelite, Datie Cespiva, asked her if she’d ever thought of becoming a nun. She’d just begun thinking about it, but responded, “Why do you ask me?”
Mrs. Cespiva explained that for six months the Holy Spirit had been prompting her to raise the issue, but she kept avoiding it.
“It gave me much joy, because God had started to do things to show me that he was asking me to give my life in this way,” Sister Mary Thérèse said of the question.
One of those things was a homily she heard about religious vocations – two Masses later than the Mass she originally planned to attend that Sunday night.
At another Mass, the Gospel was about Jesus telling the rich man to sell everything.
“I felt like Jesus was speaking loud and clear to me,” Sister Mary Thérèse said. “I was in tears. They were joyful tears.”
When she went on retreats, she asked, “How do I know God wants me to become a nun?”
“I had it in my mind, ‘It doesn’t matter what I want to do; I want to know what God wants,’” Sister Mary Thérèse said. “As I was discerning, I was learning that it was God who was putting that desire in my heart, and that gave me joy… because I thought the life was so beautiful.”
The secular Carmelites read about Carmelite saints, including John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux.
“I just was drawn to the monastic life,” Sister Mary Thérèse said. “They were so deep, and I loved the depth.” But, she said, “I never really wanted to be a Carmelite nun.”
She’d been wearing a St. Benedict crucifix since about 2000, she said. Six years later, a priest gave her a brochure about a Benedictine community in Tickfaw, La., and told her to call them.
“They invited me to come and see,” she said.
She was 46, older than most communities would accept. But this community took her in, and she stayed about a year and a half, becoming a novice. Then, needing surgeries, she had to leave.
Meanwhile, the community moved to Petersham. The community they joined here would not have accepted someone her age, but, since she’d been with the Louisiana community, she was allowed to join the merged community in Petersham, she said.
“I never in my life would have left Louisiana,” Sister Mary Thérèse said. God knew that, and arranged for her to meet the community in her home state, she says now.
He also knew she longed to see fall foliage. Leaves even played a role in her vocation. She tells the story this way.
When she was on a retreat, a brown leaf with a tiny patch of green dropped on her lap. She thought of the brown as symbolizing her wretchedness, the green as the little good in her.
Opening Jesuit Father J.P. de Caussade’s book “Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence” at random, she read that God knows everything, even the fall of a leaf.
Then a nun came up and handed her “the perfect leaf,” big and green, on which she’d written, “Great is Thy Faithfulness, O Lord, unto me.” The prospective sister thought of that leaf as symbolizing what she could become, with God’s grace: more perfect, more beautiful.
Later, as she was preparing to become a postulant in the Tickfaw community, another leaf fell near her. She felt God was continuing the message she got from the earlier leaf, by saying, “This is where it can happen.”
Sister Mary Francesca
By Tanya Connor
PETERSHAM – Pope John Paul II’s death, a trip to Medjugorje and Benedictine monasteries played roles in her vocation. She jumped at invitations, and feared the loss of the one that eventually landed her here.
This is the story Sister Mary Francesca Trovato, 55, tells of the journey that brought her to St. Scholastica Priory, where she made her simple vows as a Benedictine monastic in June 2010.
Sister Mary Francesca said when she was a volunteer in Focolare, a movement within the Catholic Church, near Chicago, she was having a hard time and wanted spiritual direction. A member told her about Benedictine monks in Chicago. When she went on retreat there, they were celebrating Mass for Pope Paul II, who had just died.
“They sell coffins, so they had one out with his picture on top,” she said. “I knelt over there by the coffin. … It was kind of like somebody pierced my heart. I felt like my dad died. I cried. All of a sudden I looked at an icon cross and said, ‘God, I never want to leave you alone. I don’t want you to feel this pain.’ In a way I think it was Providence, and ‘things have to change’ and ‘I need to be under your cross.’”
On a walk outside the monastery a Benedictine oblate (a lay member of the monastery) she didn’t know invited her, out of the blue, on a trip to Medjugorje, in the former Yugoslavia, where the Blessed Mother has reportedly been appearing to visionaries for years.
“Sign my up,” she said, without hesitation.
“I always wanted to go,” she told The Catholic Free Press. “My main question to any of the visionaries was, ‘Is God happy with me?’”
While people were singing in Medjugorje, a sentence would come to her heart, and soon it came up in the song, a song she didn’t know, she said.
“There was this cross shimmering with all kinds of colored lights and I was attracted to it,” she said of another experience there. The oblates said she was going to be an oblate, and later admitted it was the St. Benedict cross.
“No,” she responded. “I belong to Focolare.” But all the crosses she was attracted to in Medjugorje were St. Benedict crosses.
She returned home and visited the monastery where she’d made the retreat.
“The monks just welcomed me like I was part of their family,” she said.
“One of the oblates said, ‘I’m going to discern whether to be a Benedictine sister.’”
“I’ll come with you,” she said. “So off we went for the week and I just felt like it’s home. I felt like I had wings and I was floating around.”
When it came time for them to return to the monastery in New Mexico as observers, the other woman decided to marry, so she went alone, she said. Two months later, on the Feast of St. Benedict, she told the superior, “OK, Mother. I want to come in. I feel a vocation.”
She was told to go home instead, and finish the two courses needed for her teaching degree. That way if she left religious life, she would be equipped for a job. Since she’d never been in a community, the sisters also told her to visit Benedictines in Tickfaw, La., and Naples, Fla.
“I went for the week and Mother extended the invitation: if I wanted to join the community, I was welcome,” she said of her reception in Tickfaw. She asked Mother Mary Elizabeth Kloss to wait, as she’d been assigned to visit the Benedictines in Naples too.
She’d been there three days when she awoke at 2 a.m.
“I got up in tears,” thinking, in reference to the Tickfaw community, “I have a house and I just lost it,” she said. She told God, “You’ve got to make it 7 o’clock really fast” so she could call Tickfaw.
“I wanted in,” she recalled. “I wanted Mother Mary Elizabeth to know I was coming: ‘Don’t lock the door.’ I knelt down under a palm tree. My first question was, ‘Does your offer still stand?’”
“What do you mean what offer? I’m sick and tired. I want a house.”
Mother Mary Elizabeth told her to call the Benedictines who’d sent her there.
She cried and told their superior: “I’m sorry. I found a home. I’m going.”
Entering the Tickfaw community in August 2007, she thought, “I’m home.”
“Never forget,” she said. “The most gorgeous, beautiful part of my life.” She became a postulant, then a novice, and when the community moved to Petersham, she came here.
“I’m happy,” she says now.