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.
The journey stories of Sisters Mary Emmanuel Wade and Mary Thérèse Morales can be found at www.catholicfreepress.org.