Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Contemplative Nuns Regional Meeting

Out-takes From the Regional Meeting
of Redemptoristine Contemplative Nuns

"The inner Life of God is, of course, the mystery of mysteries. But this much we know: each of the divine Persons is a total Gift to an Other, absolutely nothing is held back in their joyful dance of circumincession. Total giving and total receiving, in which all is shared...We are created for community. Actually, "our personhood is not an always and already accomplished fact, but a gift received in the relations of interpersonal love."(Michael Downey - Altogether Gift, A Trinitarian Spirituality) "The Institute [Order of the Most Holy Redeemer] IS each individual member. Each member is therefore responsible for her part of the mission that was given to the whole Institute. If I do not live with my eyes fixed on Jesus; if I do not contemplate him in the Gospel and if I do not allow him to actualize in me what he lived during his mortal life; if I refuse the death to my self that is necessary to reach this goal, the whole Institute is effected."

"Simply, our rule of life is the Gospel. Living in fidelity is what a Redemptoristine is all about...'Fidelity in Community' - this is viewing our Order as one community - gives every Redemptoristine the greatest opportunity to be a generous giver in total FIDELITY to the spirit and charism of the Order we love and have embraced - with a sense of humor!!!"

"...Purity of heart does not indicate, in the thinking of Jesus, an outstanding moral virtue, but rather a quality which should go along with all the virtues...According to Gospel, what determines purity or impurity of action -- whether it be almsgiving, fasting or prayer -- is the intention..... Originally the term hypocrisy was reserved for the theater. It simply meant to act, to represent the scene...It is making one's life a theater in which one acts for an audience; it is to put on a mask, to cease to be a person and become a character. And the tragedy is that some people live out that character rather than be themselves...As believers we have to remember the saying of a Jewish Rabbi who lived during the time of Christ, who said that ninety per cent of the hypocrisy in the world was found in Jerusalem. (Can it now be said about our spiritual Jerusalem - the Church, our dioceses or our religious communities?)...It would be a precious contribution to our society and to our Redemptoristine community if the virtue of the pure of heart would help us to maintain alive within us the nostalgia for a world that is clean, true, with out religious hypocrisy or nonreligious hypocrisy; a world in which actions corresponded to words, words to thoughts, and the thoughts of people to those of God...'Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see god.' Purity of heart is an openness and transparency in which God can clearly be seen in us. It is at the heart of the Christian and Redemptoristine life. It is our life."

"...What challenges do we meet in trying to be a Viva Memoria [living memory] of Jesus in an aging community?...First there is the challenge and acceptance of 'aging' with its effect on energy, memory, health, and dependency on others...It seems to me that we need to realize that this is also the situation facing many We continue to favor care at home as long as possible, but know that this may not suffice. We need to be conscious of this, accept the reality of this, prepare for this...It seems that at least there has to be an interior growth toward what the Lord has prepared - and this has to be there for all of us. Someone said to me since coming here: the process of the pains and sufferings of growing old are the 'filling up of what is lacking in the Suffering of Christ.'...Our fixed gaze on the Lord is then seen as even more important for the radiation of the Living Memory of Christ - coming from our being and not just from our actions or words. "

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Contemplative Nuns Meet in Esopus

Redemptoristine Nuns of North America Regional Meeting

We have been having a wonderful time praying with, sharing with and enjoying the company of twenty-five contemplative nuns. In addition to the nine sisters from our monastery, the group includes sixteen others from Liguori (Missouri), Fort Erie (Ontario, Canada) and Ste Therese (Quebec, Canada), Merrivale (South Africa). Discussion has covered a range of topics from the use of current technology to the challenges and gifts presented in aging communities to the implications of our charism for the signs of the times. We have been both touched and alarmed by the circumstances in Zimbabwe as experienced by our facilitator, a Redemptorist priest, who had to return to that benighted country on Friday because it was his last chance to fly there directly via British Airways. That company is now refusing to fly into the chaos that reigns in Zimbabwe. So we have learned from these circumstances and our on-going exchange with each other how very important our apostolic work of prayer continues to be in our world.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Benjamin wearing pumpkin hat knitted by Nonna supported by Daddy and Nicholas enjoying his prize. He finally settled on a mushroom-shaped pumpkin.

Pumpkin patch time was fun for the grandchildren last weekend. A bit of final fling as the next day would be their first in day care. My daughter-in-law considers herself fortunate to have been able to fend off financial reality for almost four years. She once told me she always wanted to be a 'stay-at-home Mom'. But the time had come for her to join the ranks of working mothers who must entrust their little ones to others for day to day care. Seems to have worked out well for both children. Nicholas enjoyed his new friends. Benjamin, only ten months old, needed a bit more time but is a happy baby and content in most situations. Nonna (that's me) was very relieved to hear about a smooth transition.

Meanwhile, back at the monastery we are busy dealing with the day to day and getting ready for our Regional Meeting. More news about our Redemptoristine confab will follow. It will be a source of great to joy to have twenty-five contemplative nuns from five Redemptoristine monasteries praying together in our chapel.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rembering Father General's Visit and Moving Along to the 'Next Big Thing'

Memories of our brief time last week with Father General Joseph Tobin,CSsR still linger and we remain very grateful for his generous presence among us as we celebrated the 100th Anniversary of Mount St. Alphonsus, rejoiced with so many Redemptorist brothers in renewing friendships, catching up with news of both the Congregation and our Order of contemplative nuns and, not to be overlooked, many orders for habits to be produced in our sewing room. We are delighted to comply.

Now we are ratcheting up our efforts to make ready for a Regional Meeting of our Order to take place here Oct. 22-30. Nuns from five monasteries, Fort Erie, Canada;Ste. Therese, Quebec; South Africa; Liguori, Missouri and Esopus, will gather to share sisterhood, build and renew relationships, focus on community life, share our life of prayer and consider the movement of the Spirit as we consider the place of Redemptoristine contemplative monastic life and the charism in today's world. Quite a challenge. Father General Tobin has left us a challenging videoed taped addressed filmed during his recent visit to Esopus. We look forward to viewing it together and discussing it implications.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Redemptorist Father General Joseph Tobin, CSsR Visits with Contemplative Nuns - Redemptoristines

L to R: Srs. Mary Jane, Mary, Lydia, Moira, Maria Paz. Fr. Gen. Tobin,
Srs. Mary Anne, Paula, and Margaret 10/8/07

The Celebration Continued

The absolute highlight of Mount St. Alphonsus 100th Anniversary celebration was Mass in its awesome chapel, a Mass for which so many priests were present that only a fraction of the group could be seated in the sanctuary. The laity present had received the Eucharist and had ample time for their prayer of thanksgiving as the priests continued to approach the altar to take Communion. It must have been a moving moment for each of them since it was that sanctuary in which they were ordained. For many of them, the Mount, is like Mother Earth.

Father General Joseph Tobin was the chief celebrant. In his homily he spoke of the joy of the moment, the pride and the privilege of having been a part of this place, of the Congregation nurtured there, of the vast numbers of priest who went forth from its halls to minister and serve, to go on mission, to teach, to write, and, above all else, to bring the love of Jesus Christ the Redeemer to the poor and most abandoned. Fr. Tobin said it was very easy in moments such as this to remain with ones eyes looking back. He reminded that the place and the occasion call us to look forward in hope and in trust. Of necessity, Mount St. Alphonsus is no longer a seminary. Of necessity missions are being closed and parishes returned to diocesan management. But a new spirit of St. Alphonsus is blowing through the Congregation, not only within the individual provinces but throught out the world. This view offers much encouragement.

Earlier in the day we enjoyed a lecture by two Redemptorist scholars of history, Fr. Carl Hoegrel and Fr. Thomas Travers (See the link to his homily blog in the side bar.) Here are some amazing factoids from that presentation.

The Baltimore Province of the Redemptorists bought the property (235 acres) for $57,000.

There were 2000 apple tress on the property (Newton-Pippin apples).

The building is 440 feet long and 90 feet high.

Wintersee, the architect also designed Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Brooklyn, a flagship Redemptorist parish, and also the towers on the Redemptorist Mission Church in Boston.

At one point in the building process 100 Italian stone cutters were on the job and earning $3.50 per day.

Building began on 1905 and in the fall of 1907 the first seminarians arrived.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Mount St. Alphonsus 100th Anniversary - Continued

Old photographs cannot do justice to the beauty of the chapel of Mount St. Alphonsus. Particularly stunning are twelve mosaic angels above the main altar which lead the eye to a very unusual stained glass dome. This done depicts the assembly of great saints before the throne of the Trinitarian God. St. Alphonsus is being welcomed to this gathering in the presence of Mary.

For more pictures and a complete history of the Mount use this link to the Redemptorist website:

Monday, October 08, 2007

Mount St. Alphonsus - 100th Anniversary Celebration - 1907-2007

Over one hundred and fifty Redemptorist priests and brothers are gathered at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus, New York to celebrate the centenary of this venerable institution, the location of the Seminary of the Baltimore Province from 1907 to 1985 and since then a retreat center offering a place for prayer and spiritual growth since 1989. It is a joy to see these men come together to share their memories of missionary service in places up and down the east coast of the United States, in the Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti and the Domincan Republic. These are our "Redemptorist Brothers" for whom we pray and from whom we have received so much.

These 400+ acres of property on the banks of the Hudson River only one hundred miles north of New York City was purchased by the Congregation early in the 20th century with the intention of constructing a new seminary. It would be the location for the theologate level of education therefore the place of ordination for generations of priests. Tuberculosis was making its way through the seminary in the Baltimore area and the search was on for a healthier climate and the proper location for a building intended to be a seminary but having the architectural features recommended for TB sanitariums of the day - big bedrooms, high ceilings, and lots of large windows to let in the fresh air. The result is a huge castle-like affair, very masculine and made with the best of materials. Its common rooms are generous. The dining room can seat 200 and the library positively 'romantic' with its three story open center lined with balconies of shelving at each level. In its hay day their was a farm, cattle, and horse on the property. These provided training for young missionaries heading out to the campos of Brazil. Oddly enough, while the learned how to ride horses they were not taught Portuguese before shipping of to Brazil.

More about this special celebration the the Mount's stunning chapel will follow.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Recollection and Silence

Our recollection as Redmptoristines is our 'life, hidden with Christ in God.'
It unties us with Christ in spirit and in heart enabling us to live the Paschal
Silence, being an essential value of monastic life, liberates the soul, and always
brings with it the call of the desert to solitude and peace.
It opens a person to the depths of the mystery of God and to
intimacy with Him.
Redemptoristine Rule - 6.45,46

The other day I enjoyed a quiet blissful almost entire morning of silence. I went early to our large sewing room furnished with many sewing machines, cutting tables, and racks for hanging completed capes for the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre or habits for Redemptorist priests and brothers. It is a bright room with large windows that allow for a view of the river valley, the vagaries of the weather or the deer and Canadian geese that wander by. Some times this room is very noisy, humming with the sound of a few workhorses of the sewing business vying with each other for mastery and maybe the click clack of a typewriter (yes, we still have one). Most days I share the room with another sister or two or three and so there may be conversation about the work we are doing or a brief exchange about community business or a personal concern. But most of the time conversation is minimal as we try, within humane limits, to maintain those primary values of contemplative monastic life - silence and recollection.

It seems that this business about maintaining silence remains part of the 'mystique' with which lay people regard our life. I am currently reading a delightful pictorial history of the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani, Kentucky, the community to which Thomas Merton belonged. The author speaks of this fascination and how newspaper readers delighted over one hundred years ago to read of a visit of outsiders into the enclosure (the governor and his wife, no less) and the nature of the spoken words issuing forth from the long silent lips of the monks. It also seems that extended periods of silence are looked upon as a particularly difficult penance. But the other morning, when I started my sewing early, when the sunlight was streaming through the windows and no one came to disturb me, that morning was glorious.

This reaction would not have been the case just a few years ago. Over the years of raising three sons in a small house, as their bodies and circles of friends expanded, I found myself gravitating more and more to my bedroom. It was a place to go when I had enough of the activity and all of us needed our own space. Gradually the room became a technology center too. There was the telephone, of course, T.V., VCR, radio/tape/cd player, eventually a computer and, but of course, my sewing machine. My feet did not hit the floor in the morning without one, maybe two, of those devices being turned on beginning the endless stream of input with which I kept daily rhythm. And it just went on from there. This must all sound very familiar. It was part of my facility with multi-tasking, at which success is a boon to motherhood combined with the world of work.

I would not have entered the monastery in the year 2000 if I had not already begun to cultivate the ability to turn it all off. I began a few years before by avoiding all information technology in the morning. Even the twenty-minute drive to school became meditation time. But the commitment to contemplative life upped the ante. Shortly after I entered I was posted to the sewing room. I arrived one morning with cassette tape player on my hip and headset in place. Later, I was privately encourage by my formator (read as novice mistress), that I should not come to work so armed. Rather the goal was to allow the silence to do its work, to bring me to a place, some moments, of recollection. Now that may have an arcane ring to it. What exactly is recollection? It is a posture, a way of being, that speaks of openness, of availability to God, to His grace and to the inspiration of the Spirit. It is a contemplative stance in a hectic, distracting world.

Prayer is not a one way street. Seems to me the old catechism said (the new one too) that prayer is a conversation with God in which both talking and listening takes place. Recollection is that contemplative way of being which allows for the listening part.

During that special morning I was putting very exacting finishing touches on a habit destined for a Redemptorist priest I know. Years ago, the same sister who advised mental silence in the sewing room, shared that she enjoyed this work for the Redemptorists. It was a contribution to their varied ministries, a support for them in addition to our prayers. She even suggested when a habit proved to be a difficult one, calling for much ripping and adjusting, "He must really need your prayers and effort." So that morning I prayed for the priest who would receive that habit and felt privileged to be able to provide, at least in part, this sign of his commitment to Jesus our Redeemer and to serving the poor and most abandoned.

The problems of our world call out to us for a more conscious awareness of ourselves, our lives, the choices we make and our relationship with all other people, all other creatures and the environment which sustains us. I have found that I cannot live more consciously, cannot hear God speaking directly His words of love for me and for the world, unless I purposefully cultivate opportunities to enter into silence and recollection, prerequisites to contemplative prayer. I eagerly await another quiet morning in the sewing room.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Foundation Anniversary Celebration

Contemplative Nuns
Prepare to Celebrate Fiftieth Anniversary

The Redemporistines of Esopus, New York are preparing to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their foundation on December 8, 2007. As introduction, A Bit of History appears below.

The Order of the Most Holy Redeemer was founded on Pentecost, May 13, 1731, at Scala in the Kingdom of Naples according to the founding inspiration of Venerable Maria Celeste Crostarosa.

Concurrently with the Order of Nuns, assisted by the monastery of Scala, and with the encouragement of Maria Celeste, St. Alphonsus founded for men in 1732 the Congregation of the Most Holy Saviour. In 1749, to avoid confusion with another institute, the Holy See directed that the name ‘Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer’ be used. We refer to this relationship as the ‘double institute’; the Congregation in missionary service to the ‘most abandoned’; and the Order also fully apostolic in its ministry of contemplation and prayer.

As a bishop, St. Alphonsus began expansion of the Order by inviting the Nuns into his diocese (1766). In the 19th century the Order spread to Vienna, Austria in 1831. The branch of the ‘family tree’ extending to Esopus grew from Vienna to Brugge, Belgium (1841); to Dublin, Ireland (1859); to England (1897); and to Toronto, Canada in 1947. By the mid-50s, the Canadian monastery was filled to overflowing and began to make ’foundations’. The first came to Esopus in 1957 at the invitation of the Redemptorist Baltimore Province which offered to build a large monastery on the grounds of its Major Seminary. A group of six sisters, under the leadership of Sr. Mary Catherine Parks, settled in for a two-year stay in a rented house a few miles south on Rt. 9W. Three of those sisters are esteemed members of the community today; Sr. Mary Anne Reed (Detroit); Sr. Margaret (Peg) Banville (Toronto); and Sr. Paula Schmidt (Grand Rapids). The first ’novice’, a former teaching sister, is also a senior among us; Sr. Mary McCaffrey (Brooklyn).

In 1960, the sisters moved into their new home; one that offered a handsome chapel and insured both the enclosure and accommodations for women flocking to the monastery. However, it was the cusp of great change in society and the Church. The Second Vatican Council “opened windows” and declared “the universal call to holiness.” The Feminist Movement began to open previously unheard of opportunities. While the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War Movements raised consciences in matters concerning justice and peace. Many factors contributed to a shrinking of the ranks in all religious communities. This community remained small, never filling a huge building which could not meet the needs of an aging community and was costly to maintain. Through Redemptorist generosity, the community moved into a new home in 2001.

Today we earn an income by making habits for Redemptorist priests and brothers and ceremonial capes for the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. As part of a national trend with historical precedent, the community is once again receiving women who are eager for a life of prayer, contemplation and solitude; who bring maturity, skills from the world of work and, often, from a life time of homemaking and motherhood. Above all, they wish to be “living memories” of Jesus and true daughters of the inspiration of Maria Celeste. We strive to live the Gospel; to be a visible witness and living memorial of the mystery of redemption which the Father accomplished through Christ and in the Spirit.

Monday, October 01, 2007

St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face - Therese of Lisieux

It took me a very long time to 'grow into' St. Therese. The "Little Flower", sugar coated by her sisters in the edited versions of her autobiography The Story of a Soul and further idealized by biographers, she seemed impossibly good, infuriatingly good, and certainly inimitable.

A number of factors counteracted my early reactions. Publication of the unedited originals of her autobiographical works was a huge step in the right direction. With the approach of the 100th anniversary of her death and the pilgrimage of her mortal remains from Lisieux to locations around the world many were inspired to ventures into previously unexplored areas of research concerning her life. These reality-based efforts broke the plaster saint image which seemed so remote and beyond my human failings. Taking its place was a young woman of great faith and devotion who along with a privileged and spoiled childhood had experienced deep psychic wounds. She, like many others, followed those she admired and the real call of God into contemplative religious life while hardly appreciating the full demands of the reality of that vocation. She wanted to love and serve "His Majesty" with all her heart but she discovered how challenging a desire that was and how very often she failed. But she did not give up. Instead, it seems, she grew up. She began to think not of the grand gesture, not of the missionary assignment to Vietnam, but to lower her sights to what is, in reality, a far more demanding theater of operation. She would concentrate on the ordinary, little, yet extremely challenging things and people and events, and physical pains of everyday life. She came to see that the point of her life would not be concerned with the huge gesture, the great gesture of the heroine Joan of Arc whom she portrayed in plays put on in the Carmel of Lisieux. Rather her sphere would be the "little way", the "little way of love." And she pursued that "way" in spite of great trials in body, mind and faith until the very end of her little life which hasmade its way throughout the world.

In the book Everything is Grace - The Life and Way of Therese of Lisieux, Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC writes:

When the gospel speaks of our being called to be like God and tells us that God is love, Therese accepts this as a truth to be lived brashly. When Jesus assures us that the two great commandments are really one commandment, she accepts that as a truth to be lived selflessly. When Jesus speaks of having come not the righteous but for sinner, she embraces that as a truth to be lived gratefully. When Jesus requests mercy and not sacrifice, she welcomes that as a truth to be lived personally and socially. When Jesus assures us that he will draw everyone and everything to himself, she rejoices in that as a truth to be lived literally. When Jesus commands love of the enemy, Therese applies that in an all-embracing way, to the enemy within ourselves as well as to the enemy outside ourselves. And when Jesus tells us that the reign of God is at hand and that all are welcome, especially the poor, the weak, and the suffering, Therese realizes that the opportunity to participate in the call to holiness is to be found in every experience of daily life, especially in suffering, and even in her own imperfect, weak response to grace. In the evening of life she will come before God, Therese says, with empty hands, confident that she will be clothed in God's own justice and goodness. (SS 277) This is the same "old" gospel, but seen through the eyes of a young woman who is dazzled with the promises of the gospel message. (pg. 26)