Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New Council for Our Monastery

Mother of
Perpetual Help
Elects Prioress
and Council

Sr. Paula Schmidt was re-elected prioress for a second three-year term on January 27. On January 28, Sr. Moira Quinn was re-elected as vicar or sub-prioress for a second term. Sr. Hildegard Pleva was elected secretary, her first opportunity to serve the community in this way.

Since monasteries of contemplative religious orders within the Church are autonomous and do not have general governments (mother generals, etc.), the prioress or abbess has great responsibility and authority as a superior. Sr. Paula will soon celebrate the 57th anniversary of her profession as a Redemptoristine nun. She has given generous service to our community in a variety of offices and has served as prioress many times. Sr. Moira, professed for eighteen years has also served as prioress in the past. In comparison, Sr. Hildegard is, in spite of her gray hair, the baby of the team having only six years in vowed religious life. Since Sr. Paula was one of nuns who came to Esopus in 1957 to found this monastery and Sr. Hildegard is newest in the community, this leadership team represents the entire history of this house. It is, in miniature, our history, our development and our view to the future. It is also, in combination and representation, testimony to many years of faithful witness by sisters past and present to the Redemptoristine charism, to their commitment to the search for God, and to personal and communal transformation into the "living memory" of Jesus Christ. Ours is a life of "union of hearts and mutual charity" lived within the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

In myriad ways these are challenging times in the world, in the Church, within our Order, for our friends and families, and for our benefactors and our Redemptorist brothers. We are well aware of all that is before us and the 'love' Jesus asks us to be in each circumstance and for each person. For us, this awareness underscores time and time again the necessity of our unceasing prayer. In these days, our community of contemplative nuns, women of the Church, spouses of Christ, has renewed our commitment to that apostolic work, the call to unceasing prayer.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Time for Another Book Recommendation

Memorial of
Saints Timothy, Titus
and Paula Too!

Seems entirely fitting that on the day following our remembrance of the Conversion of St. Paul and the close of the Year of St. Paul, we should be remembering two of his loyal disciples, Timothy and Titus. Isn't it amazing to think that within so few years after the death of Jesus Paul should be able to exercise so much influence? To think of the loyalty to his person he was able to engender and, even more, the absolute attachment to the person of Jesus Christ in his followers. This is even more breath taking. He had the Madison Avenue advertizing executive's power to persuade without modern trappings, media or dreadful jingles! It seems he was chosen by God expressly for the message. What exciting times those must have been!

But in my breviary, appears a small, simple penciled note next to the names of Timothy and Titus. It just says, "St. Paula." This was noted because one of our sisters bears her name. Now Sr. Paula's names and feasts are rather convoluted because her name in religion was Sr. Mary Peter and she returned to using her baptismal name, Paula, many years ago. The feast of Sts. Peter and Paul seems to suit her these days. But it is good to remember St. Paula too.

What I have learned about Paula comes chiefly from a marvelous book by Patricia Ranft. The following comes from Macmillan Publisher's website.

Patricia Ranft, Professor of History, emerita, at Central Michigan University, is the author of numerous studies on religious, intellectual and women’s history. Her books include Women and the Religious Life in Premodern Europe (1996), a History Book Club selection; Women and Spiritual Equality in Christian Tradition (1998); A Woman’s Way: The Forgotten History of Women Spiritual Directors (2000); and Women in Western Intellectual Culture, 600-1500 (2002), all published by Palgrave Macmillan. With this current study she returns to her earlier interest in the medieval religious renewal movement, about which she published some dozen articles.

In writing about Paula, Ranft quotes extensively from St. Jerome. Now Jerome has a reputation for being somewhat of a curmedgeon, to say the least. But, it turns out that some of his best friends, supporters and intelectual partners were women. One third of his surviving letters were written to women. He met Paula and her circle of influential and holy women friends in Rome. She and her daughter followed him to the Holy Land. Later she founded monasteries, mastered Hebrew and continued to assist Jerome. He wrote, "If all the members of my body were to be converted into tongues, and if each of my limbs were to be gifted with a human voice, I could still do not justice to the virtues of the holy and venerable Paula." He praise her as a mother, scholar of Holy Scripture, linguist, and advisor. The great variety of her roles is particularly attractive to this contemplative nun who has her own checkered past as wife, mother, scholar and now nun. What a model she provides.

It is no wonder that Professor Ranft includes Paula in the ranks of female spiritual directors of note. Her book is a fascinating and informative corrective to many erroneous notions about the influence and contribution of women through the ages of both secular and religious history.

More about spiritual directors will come on another day.

HAPPY FEAST DAY to all named Paula loving and serving God as wives, mothers, teachers, scholars, advisors AND spiritual directors.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Return to Ordinary Time

Ordinary Time is Not So Ordinary

The number of poinsettia plants has dwindled. The trimmings are gone. The corner once graced by our creche scene looks pretty bare. Ordinary Time has arrived and will, by virtue of the calendar, be a bit longer this year. But that does not mean that the life of these contemplative nuns has returned to 'simple.' This Tuesday our community will have its triennial elections. Every three years, in accord with our Constitution and Statutes, a prioress, vicar (sub-prioress) and secretary are to be elected from among the nuns in the community who have professed solemn vows. For our monastery that means that nine nuns will be participating in the election; eight have sufficient years in solemn vows to qualify for the office of prioress. During these last weeks we have had a number of meetings in which, with the assistance of a professional facilitator, we have considered current realities, the gifts we individually offer to the community, and how we can best live out and promote the Redemptoristine contemplative charism.

Currently our prioress is Sr. Paula Schmidt. She could be re-elected for a second term of three years. Sr. Paula has served as prioress many times in her long life as a Redemptoristine nun. To do so is to give a great and generous gift to the community. The prioress, vicar and secretary compose the council for our monastery. They meet regularly to consider governance and make recommendations to the whole community for discussion and determination at regular meetings. This is a highly collaborative process in which individual nuns can petition the council; in which three voices on the council exchange points of view with each other; in which the total community is kept informed and has a voice in most decisions. This is the product of many years of effort on the part of wise leadership.

The election will be supervised as Canon Law requires by the Vicar for Religious of our Diocese. The Vicar also came to see us for an official pre-election Canonical Visitation a few weeks ago. Please pray that the grace and power of the Holy Spirit will penetrate our decision-making process.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Feast of Little Known Redemptorist Blessed

January 14
Blessed Peter Donders, Priest

Today at our Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) we honored the memory of this virtually unknown Redemptorist who was declared 'blessed' by Pope John Paul II.

His story so admirably illustrates the Redemptorist commitment to bring the news of God's love and redemption to the most abandoned and the poorest of the poor.

The following overview of his life comes from the "Sacramentary and Lectionary Supplement for the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer."

Peter Donders was born in Tilburg in Holland on October 27, 1809. From his youth he felt himself called to the priesthood, but, because of the poverty of his family, his schooling was cut short so he could take up the weaver's trade of his father. This did not prevent him from teaching catechism to children in his free time. He also had a good and influence on people his same age. At the age of twenty-two, the the help of his parish priest, he entered the minor seminary of St. Michael-Gestel as a seminarian and part-time worker, thus paying for his room and board. He was ordained a [diocesan] priest on June 5, 1841. He was able to follow his missionary vocation, setting out for Suriname, which was then a Dutch colony [in South America].

For the next fourteen years, his base of ministry was in the city of Paramaribo where he dedicated himself to some 2,000 resident Catholics and also regularly visited the slaves of the plantations (around 8,000 of them in the Paramaribo area of some 40,000 in all of Suriname), as well the military garrisons and the native Indians and black slaves along the rivers. In 1856, he offered himself as a volunteer for the government leprosarium of Batavia, where he remained, with the exception of a few short intervals, for the next twenty-eight years, caring for the residents bodily and spiritually. He left them, only for a few months, in 1866, when he asked to join the Redemptorists to whom Pope Pius IX had confided the Apostolic Vicariate of Suriname. He was invested with the religious habit on November 1 of that year and professed his vows on June 24, 1867.

Religious profession, in associating him with a missionary congregation, gave him a more vivid sense of the apostolic life in community, allowing him to leave Batavia more often to give himself to the conversion of the native Indians and black slaves. But the name of Donders remained bound to the leprosarium of Batavia. He died among his lepers, poor among the poor, on January 14, 1887, mourned as their benefactor and invoked as a saint. He was beatified in 1982, during the 250th jubilee year of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

For Your Information

Redemptoristine Lay Associate Program

A comment was recently posted to this blog asking about our Lay Associate group. The comment was made to an older post so I thought I'd fill everyone in on the information.

Our Associate group has been sharing in the spirit and charism of our contemplative community and generously sharing with us their prayer life, wisdom and practical assistance for over twenty years. I was a member for eight years before I entered. Most of the women are mothers or grandmothers, busy with their families, active in their parishes, and ministering in various ways (prison ministry, spiritual direction, retreat work, catechises, etc.)

We meet in the afternoon of the second Sunday of each month. A brief catch-up/business meeting is followed by some kind of program: a presentation by one of our nuns or one of the associates, guest speaker (recently a representative of the local chapter of Pax Christi), viewing a film (this week a documentary about Sr. Thea Bowman), and once a year discussion of a book read in common. At then end of the meeting the Associates join the community in singing the Office of Vespers. Then it is time for refreshments and conversation.

New members are welcome at any time. If they have come to a few meeting and find that they want to deepen their understanding of the Redemptorisine charism, they can ask to come before the regular meetings to meet with the sister in charge for special instruction. Often, after about a year, participants will ask to make a prayerful commitment to the contemplative charism of prayer and the Redemptoristine ideal of becoming a "living memory" of Jesus Christ.

Our associates tell us that they are very grateful for their relationship with us, for the atmosphere of prayer, for the opportunity to meet with like-minded people of faith, to get to know this community of contemplative nuns. When their busy lives allow, some will come to make retreat with us or even just to spent a quiet day in the monastery.

The current director of the program is Sr. Moira Quinn whose e-mail address is She would be delighted to hear from anyone who is interested in this way of growing in faith and getting to know our spirituality.

Baptismal Gifts of the Holy Spirit

of the

God's Love Tears Through the Heavens

Since the end of last summer we have had the blessing of the presence of a new priest at Mt. St. Alphonsus Pastoral Center - the large former seminary building with which we share this property. Father Thomas Deeley, CSsR, former missionary in the Caribbean, who spent the last ten years ministering in the South Bronx, is finding new ways to promote the Redemptorist mission in our local community, among the growing Hispanic population in our area, and for us contemplative nun in Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery. His homilies are a blessing and very creative. With his permission I am going to be using his material on occasion.

Last Sunday we entered chapel to find paper doves like the one here scattered on the carpet in front of the altar. Later, each of us present was invited to take one to us for our meditation. Here is part of Fr. Tom's homily:

The heavens were torn open... When we pray we are trying to tear open the heavens. We reach toward God and know that God is reaching toward us and speaking with us as much as he does today during Jesus' baptism, saying "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."

God has torn open the heavens and sent Jesus to us. God has torn open the heavens to send the Holy Spirit over and upon Jesus and the Church. God invites us to know and see him tearing open the heavens to be with us, to forgive us, to speak to us, nourish us and then send us to be his witnesses.

In prayer we literally tear open the heavens as we ask God to make us more conscious of his love for us, more grateful for his love of us. When we evangelize others we are inviting them to also tear open the heavens to plead with God to bless them, to make them free and strong and generous in living the Gospel of Jesus.

When we are born again in Baptism the life of Christ happens within us. We love, we forgive, we heal, we reconcile. We see peace and justice. We do not live ever in fear...but in HOPE. We have overcome the world when we are born again. The world here always means forces that are against God's love and God's plan. They are the 'anti-Kingdom' works. From these forces of death we near to tear ourselves away. God's love and salvation are tearing through the heavens as in the Creation. God's love has literally torn through the heavens to get to us.

Friday, January 02, 2009


New Year

All religious communities but especially contemplative monastic ones have long held traditions preserved and continued because they effusively refocus lives to settle again, even more deliberately, on what is central to our way of life. St. Gerard Majella

One of our customs is to receive by random selection a Patron, Title of Mary, Prayer Intention and Spiritual Practice for spiritual emphasis for the new year. In a sort of 'Holy Spirit Lottery' I received:

St. Gerard Majella for Patron

The Redemptorist General Chapter 2009 for Prayer Intention

Mystical Rose for Title of Mary

The following excerpt from our Rule as Spiritual Practice:

41. Our Vocation of prayer in the Church is to live-out the unceasing prayer of Christ and to make our own this essential element of His redemptive mission. That is why we must live in a climate of intimacy with the Lord and of silent intercession for the salvation of the world.

I am afraid I must admit that I have yet to develop a relationship with St. Gerard, the most well-known of Redemptorist saints. He was a brother in the congregation during the lifetime of St. Alphonsus. He was very fond of our foundress Mother Maria Celeste Crostarosa and sought permission from Alphonsus to visit her at her monastery in Foggia. When she died he said he had seen her soul fly to heaven. Although he is most famous today as the patron of expectant mothers, his intercession is sought for all kinds of needs and intentions. I guess this is the year for me to get to know him better.

The title of Mystical Rose for our Blessed Mother reminds me of the Christmas carol Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming, a long time favorite of mine. "It came a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter" says the song. All of us experience days of dark and cold, an image I get from the carol, yet we are told that in such conditions a rose did bloom. That is the miracle I must ponder.

It will require no great effort to pray for the Redemptorist General Chapter. Our brother Redemptorists are so generous to us that we cannot help but be interested in and try to support in prayer all of their missions and activities. These are critical days for all religious congregations so we invoke the guidance of the Holy Spirit to work powerfully during their deliberations.

The practice of unceasing prayer and the cultivation of silent intimacy with the Lord requires daily dedication and commitment. If one does not believe in the power of intercessory prayer than one cannot comprehend at all the meaning and importance of the contemplative vocation. This is our life.