Monday, April 30, 2012

Contemplatives' Mass of Thanksgiving

For everything that has been we say,
"Thank you, Lord."

On Sunday April 29, 2012 at 2pm our contemplative monastic community invited friends to join us for a Mass of Thanksgiving - also a bit of a send off as we prepare to leave our current monastery on the grounds of what was Mt. St. Alphonsus Retreat Center (former major seminary of the Baltimore Provine of the Redemptorist Congregation).

The celebration has a bit of a new twist to it since it turned out to be an opportunity to explain to all present the recent change in plans for our relocation. As previously announced on this blog, we had intended to move to a former convent in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Until last week we were in contract to do so. Due to difficulties concerning a buried and leaking oil tank we were forced to withdraw from the contract which was due to expire on the 27th.

As of May 1, 2012 we have 31 days to find interim housing and begin a new search for a permanent home. We are arranging to rent space in a nearby facility. We have already begun to network, talk to realtors and personally visit properties.

In the meantime I post here the introductory remarks offered at the Mass by Sr. Moira Quinn, our Prioress. They are followed by the Intercesory Prayers written for the Mass. We count on your prayers and support.

Mass of Thanksgiving Introduction

Good afternoon and welcome to our Mass of Thanksgiving for all the love and support all of you have given to us here in Esopus over the years.
Over 54 years ago the sisters came down from Canada to the Town of Esopus.  Foundresses, Sisters Paula and Mary Anne, are still with us today. The Redemptorists had rented a lovely old house in West Park called “Heart’s Ease,” as a temporary residence while their monastery was being built on the property of Mount St Alphonsus.   Soon after their arrival Sr. Mary joined them.
Recently, we made the acquaintance of the new owners of “Heart’s Ease” who are restoring it to its former glory. We were invited as a community to have “tea” and to celebrate the Eucharist in the very room where the sisters had Mass those many years ago.  It was a moving experience for us all; an  experience of coming full circle in our history.   
Eleven years ago we moved into this lovely monastery and now God is calling us to move again.  For the last six months, we thought we had found a place that would suit us in East Rutherford, New Jersey; a place which offered the possibility of a future for our community.  However, we have come to realize, after being unable to come to a satisfactory understanding with the owners of the property, that it was not meant to be. 
So, while we will be moving from Esopus May 31st, we will be moving for  only a temporary stay until we discover the place God wants us to be a radiant witness, a living memory of the Redeemer and God’s plan of love for the world.  Presently, we are in negotiations with the Cabrini Sisters just down the road for our temporary location.

Prayer of the Faithful
For all that has been, we say, “Thank you, Lord.”
For all that will be, we say, “Yes, Lord”
Ø With gratitude for our Redemptoristine and Redemptorist family.
we pray that the mystical charism of Maria Celeste and the missionary charism of Alphonsus will continue to invoke the “Living Memory” of Christ’s redeeming love, we pray to the Lord. 
Ø With appreciation for the beauty of this land and it river, we pray for the protection of all creation and that this property will continue to be a locus of spiritual blessing, we pray to the Lord.
Ø Remembering all the sisters who have gone before us, especially Sister Mary Catherine and Sr. Peg; invoking their intersession for the two foundresses who remain among us, Sr. Mary Anne and Sr. Paula, and upon the entire community, we pray for an outpouring of the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we pray to the Lord.
Ø With grateful hearts we remember the many women who have sojourned for a time with this community; may they be blessed always in their spiritual journeys, we pray to the Lord.
Ø On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we ask that those hearing the call of God will be given listening hearts and guidance in discernment.  With appreciation, we pray too for all women in vowed religious life, that our Church and all the People of God will offer them generous support, we pray to the Lord.
Ø Appreciating the presence of so many here today, we also remember many others who have gone before us and offer a prayer of profound gratitude. We remember all of our friends, lay associates and benefactors, may they be abundantly blessed, we pray to the Lord.
Ø We pray for our Church; may Pope Benedict, the bishops, pastors and lay leadership be encouraged and enlightened as they respond in love to the signs of the times and the needs of all, we pray to the Lord.
Ø We remember all those who have gone before us to the heavenly feast; that they may be enjoying the fullness of God’s presence and interceding for us in our need, we pray to the Lord.
Ø For all the graces received through the intercession of our Mother of Perpetual Help, we say, “Thank you, Lord.”  In all that is yet to be, with hearts open and courageous, in unison with Mary, may we always respond with a resounding, “Yes, Lord”, and so we pray to the Lord.
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Friday, April 06, 2012

An Urban Saint

In the Arms of God

There used to be a feature in the Reader's Digest entitled "The Most Unforgetable Character I Ever Met". Today I learned of the death early this morning, early on Good Friday, of one of my most unforgetable characters.  Betty had a most memorable character. For over ten years I brought Holy Communion to her on Sunday mornings. I'd been ask to take this on by a close friend of mine who had already been bringing Communion to Betty for many years, always on Tuesday mornings and always along with fresh fruit and vegetables. My friend continued to do this for many more years. My appointments with Betty ended with my entrance into the monastery.

There is so much more I want to say about Betty. However, at this time, by way of introduction, I post the obituary I wrote long ago and put aside for this day. It is great comfort to me that this wise woman, always close to the Lord, is now whispering compassionate pleas while in the embrace of her Beloved.

Athalie “Betty” Elizabeth Wimbish

c. 1950

Kingston, NY – Athalie Elizabeth Wimbish, well known to residents of uptown Kingston as a local presence particularly to shoppers at London’s clothing store on North Front Street in Kingston where she was employed from the early 1940s to the late 70s, died at Ferncliff Nursing Home on Good Friday, April 6 at the age of 95.

She was born on August 4, 1916 at
100 Gage Street, Kingston
, the daughter of Andrew and Blanch Elizabeth Wimbish and grand-daughter of Hannah “Hattie” Elizabeth Jackson. She proudly spoke of the African-American and Mohawk heritage received from her father and mother and the Dutch cultural influence of her maternal grandmother. She graduated from Kingston High School in 1934. There she wrote interviews for “Dame Rumor” and played basketball. The year book indicated that she was college bound and spoke of missionary work in Africa.

Kingston High School
Her childhood was spent in
Albany Avenue
mansions where her grandmother served as housekeeper. One employer was the owner of the Fuller Shirt Factory. In these settings and as a precocious child of mixed race she was exposed to a variety of educational influences. Her grandmother provided religious formation at both St. John’s Episcopal Church on
Albany Avenue
and the AME Zion Church on
Franklin Street

In the late 1930s Betty Wimbish experienced the excitement of the Harlem Renaissance and her first trip to Europe. She returned to Kingston to care for her mother and grandmother, working first at Montgomery Wards where her mother was the elevator operator. Beginning in 1943, she fulfilled many tasks for London’s, including inventory, accounts receivable, shipping aid packages to Stanley London’s relatives in Europe and secretarial assistance to Mrs. London who was President of Hadassah, a Jewish organization for women.

First attracted to the Catholic faith during her time in New York City, she was received into the Church in the 1950s at St. Mary’s Church in Kingston which was very welcoming to people of color. After being rejected in an effort to become a Catholic sister due to her race, she made a decision to serve the Church in every other way possible; catechist at St. Mary’s; prayer support to any number of priests including Rev. Daniel Egan known as the “Junkie Priest”; ecumenical efforts in concert with the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement at Graymoor, Garrison, NY, and fund-raising for overseas missions.  She was a member of a world-wide mission tour in 1965 which included stops in Hawaii, Japan, India and the Holy Land. In India she sat on the dais during Mass celebrated by Pope Paul VI.

Around the time of her conversion to Catholicism Ms. Wimbish made a life choice, a preference for personal poverty and simplicity motivated by her deep faith and supported by an active spiritual life. By the 1970s she had assumed this persona to such a degree that she became known only as “Black Betty”, dressed always in black with a kerchief or beret covering her head at all times. She was readily recognized on uptown streets as she walked to and from daily Mass at St. Joseph’s Church and on to work. For more recent arrivals to town she merely seemed to be a local character, the woman in black who swept the floors at London’s clothing store.

After retirement in 1976, she became an urban hermit, praying constantly, serving as confidant and aide to the poor and as a conduit of funds she received from more fortunate friends. Agnes Scott Smith, who taught Athalie Wimbish at Kingston High School, now deceased, described her as “quietly pious, an enigma who became a nun without going into the convent.”

Athalie Elizabeth Wimbish is survived by a nephew Sherwood Harvey and his wife Venice and one grand nephew who were devoted to her care during these last years. She is also survived by her friends Mary Cicale and Sr. Hildegard Pleva, OSsR, her spiritual sisters who cherish memories of her wisdom and holiness They are forever marked by her influence.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Contemplative Nuns Relocate

Announcing Our Move:
The Story of Our Process
and Our Hopes for the Future

It has seemed an extraordinarily long time in coming. We are grateful for the support, patience and advice offered to us by so many. We are particularly grateful to our Redemptorist brothers who have so generously contributed to our ability to move into our own home.

With the help of God we will move to
4 Jersey Street
in East Rutherford, New Jersey during the last week of May. This urban residential location may appear to be a very surprising choice. Some background for our decision-making in this regard can be reviewed in an article posted to this blog a few months back, “Monastic Architecture: The Household of God”.

We learned just one year ago that we would have to move from Mount St. Alphonsus. The search began. The list of our particular needs was great; among them many factors which do not figure into the considerations of a regular family.

The monastic pilgrim travels two inseparable parallel paths in a journey of self-abandonment and interior transformation into Christ; the way of prayer and the avenue that is life in community. Within the enclosure created to support and protect a life of intensive intimacy with God and intensity of relationship with a stable group, all of the functions of the monastic household are carried out twenty four hours a day, seven days a week within a fixed group of members. Unlike the nuclear family or the small group of apostolic religious living together, the contemplative monastic residence must have room for everyone to do everything together most of the time. No members will be off to a ball game or have a late night at the office. No one will go out to work. No one can arrive home after a long hard day and announce their departure to take in dinner and movie with a friend. These realities determine architectural form. The dining room and community room (living room) have to be larger than one might expect. Anyone whose work for the community requires a private office space has to have one within the confines of the monastery. The income generating work of the community, whatever it may be, will call for considerable space, the equivalent of a small manufacturing enterprise including materials storage, assembly, shipping, ordering, etc. All of the members of the community will share the work of maintaining the household. Cooking, cleaning, communication, greeting and housing guests, and scheduling, to name a few typical household tasks, also affect the need for space within the enclosure. In addition, just as the nuclear family has a role in educating its young members so does the monastic family. Like any good parent, the monastic community seeks to provide sufficient resources as well space for instruction and study to equip and inspire new members for the life they have chosen. Monastic structures are designed to provide for both this intensive life in community and the solitary search for God which is the vocation of each member.  

In addition to these considerations was the desire to have daily Mass in our own chapel (something many contemplative communities are doing without), handicapped accessibility, building condition, supportive surrounding community.

In our process we personally inspected many sites and thoroughly investigated others via the Internet and lengthy phone conversations with realtors. We walked through private homes, a bed and breakfast inn, a former mansion built by one of the Ringling brothers, former novitiates and retreat houses and cast our net as far as West Virginia.

Last October we received a call from a young priest at Most Sacred Heart Church in Wallington, NJ. His godmother is a friend of our community and she had appealed to him to call us because the church’s former convent (sold in 1983 to the Franciscan friars) was on the market. He offered a rundown more complete than any realtor’s. And we were off.

Built in 1963, this unusually large parish convent has never been empty or neglected. The Franciscans maintained it as a friary, development offices and headquarters for the St. Anthony Guild. As does any venerable building of the 1960s, it requires regular tender loving care and watchfulness. But sturdy it is and commodious. The property is long and narrow running from corner to corner on a short block. Directly across the street from the chapel end of the building on Paterson is Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in the town of Wallington which is the third largest concentration of Polish-Americans in the nation.

From the first floor entrance visitors will have access to two parlors, the chapel, a meeting room and a half bath. The enclosure on the first floor includes community room, prioress’ office, library, dining room, kitchen (newly modernized), walk-in pantry, a large bedroom with a private bath and two half baths, one handicapped accessible. At the rear, near the pantry is an exit to a ramp for the handicapped and access to a two-car unattached garage and drive way with parking room. Two sets of French doors lead from the public meeting room to a large raised concrete patio facing a small back yard. And the chapel – just the right size - exposed brick throughout with beautiful stained glass windows. There are two sacristy rooms.

The second floor has 11 bedrooms. Original small bedrooms were modified into five large rooms with private baths. There are three sets of small rooms with connecting doors and three single small rooms. None of these have private baths. However two bathrooms on the hall were recently remodeled, one totally handicapped accessible.

The basement offers a large sewing room for our cape department with a smaller room adjacent for storage and CSsR habit department. This level also includes space for archives and computers as well as a laundry room and half bath.

The adaptations already made to the building support our use and save us expense. However, there is much to be done: handicapped ramp to chapel in place of three shallow steps in the hall; modifications to first floor bedroom bath for accessibility and safety; painting; security system; dual burning furnace needs to be changed from oil to natural gas; bathtubs changed to showers in some bathrooms; more interior lighting for safety; and repair or replacement of existing chair lift to second floor and installation of another to the basement. And these are only the most immediate. We have a two-year plan, a five-year plan, etc. To achieve all of this, we have been working with an architect, building contractor, and countless other professionals.

Not only do these items carry a price tag but so does the house itself. In this regard we have received tremendous assistance from the Redemptorists. However, as first time home buyers, without any equity from a previous home sale, we have had to enter into the realm of home financing. In order to pay off this debt we will be launching a major fund-raising campaign. We have applied for and received grants for remodeling and handicapped adaptation but grants are not available to help with purchase loans! Therefore we will depend on the generosity of others and the small income we generate. To this end we are developing a new website. Its ‘home page’ is already up on the Internet and has a Pay Pal “Donate” button for those who feel comfortable making a contribution on-line. Here's the current link:

What cannot be left out of the recommendations for this building is its location in the heart of an active Catholic community, its proximity to other Catholic parishes and also locations of Redemptorist missions. These factors increase the likelihood that we will be able to create a rotating schedule of priests willing to come to offer Mass in our chapel.
Perhaps we will have Mass at a time when parishes do not offer them so lay people will come to join us for Eucharist. We are also eager to re-establish our lay associate program and to offer occasions for spiritual enrichment in terms of contemplative life-style as well as spiritual direction.

We did not seek this move. However we have sought to see God’s invitation in it. We live in an era of change at every level. The People of God cry out for a spirituality of depth and meaning, for community, and for the need to be encouraged by those willing to witness to the love of Jesus Christ in the Church and the world. Religious life is in the throes yet again of coming to grips with the signs of the times and discerning how to respond, how to reconfigure in order to remain true to the mission. In all of this we seek to bring to fulfillment in a different time and a different place the eternal truth of Maria Celeste’s revelation to follow Christ, to be so united to Him, that we become “Living Memories” of Christ radiating the love of God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this is more necessary now than ever; when we are no longer surrounded by meadows and river but by the flow of God’s people inviting us into their pilgrim journey.