From Kentucky to Italy

Passionist nun named superior of monastery connected to St. Gemma Galgani shrine
Mother Catherine Marie Schuhmann (back row to the right of the window) with the majority of the Lucca community, as well as Sr. Joan Mary Topor (back row, pale habit) and Mother Fernanda Barbiero, (far right, habit with vest). Mother Fernanda is the Holy See Representative and General Delegate of the Passionist Nuns. COURTESY OF ST. JOSEPH MONASTERY


When Sr. Catherine Marie Schuhmann, CP, a contemplative Passionist nun in Whitesville, was directly called upon by the Holy See to become the superior of an Italian monastery attached to the shrine of St. Gemma Galgani, her fellow nuns were not incredibly surprised.  

“It was easy to see that they were going to call upon her to assist in some way,” said Mother John Mary Read, CP, superior of the Whitesville Passionists, who live at the cloistered St. Joseph Monastery.

But they certainly did not anticipate a “call” quite this significant, least of all Sr. – now Mother – Catherine Marie.

The Italian monastery, which is located in a town called Lucca, was founded in 1905 after Jesus requested this of St. Gemma in a vision. St. Gemma was never a consecrated religious herself, but had a Passionist spiritual director and embodied Passionist spirituality.  

St. Gemma’s body lies beneath the main altar of the shrine, which pilgrims visit from all over the world.

Unfortunately, the decline in religious vocations which has affected communities around the world has happened to the Lucca community. Today they only have 12 nuns.  

The community struggled to maintain the shrine, seek vocations and continue their contemplative life. They were also in urgent need of a superior.

The Holy See turned to the flourishing Passionists in Whitesville – and the nun who is largely credited for working with the Holy Spirit to make that happen.

A call in Kentucky

Bishop William F. Medley wishes safe travels to Mother Catherine Marie Schuhmann, (center) and Sr. Joan Mary Topor, on May 31. COURTESY OF ST. JOSEPH MONASTERY

Mother Catherine Marie – at the time Kay Schuhmann – left her parents and nine siblings in Louisville to enter the Passionist cloister in 1961, thinking she would remain with the community until her death.

Over the 57 years of life as a Passionist nun, she oversaw the 1995 move from their original Owensboro cloister to their new home in Whitesville, served as superior for 21 years, and in recent years has seen six young women join the monastery.

Additionally, she served as the community’s liturgist and organist, vicar, novice directress, councilor, Passionist Oblate Formator, and covered a variety of administrative tasks.

“It was quite a shock for me to receive the Holy See’s request that I would help,” said Mother Catherine Marie in an email to the WKC on May 6. “But after much prayer and in dialogue with my superior and others, I became convinced that this is a call from God, as difficult as it may be.”

Mother Catherine Marie is not sure how long she will be needed to serve in Italy. Technically, she is superior “pro tempore” (temporary).

“But I trust totally in the grace of God and depend very much on the prayers of my own community of nuns here in Whitesville, as well as those of our Passionist Oblate community and so many friends throughout the world,” she said in the email.

Though they will miss her, Mother Catherine Marie’s Whitesville community is confident that she will be a great asset to the Lucca community.

“She is really gifted; she has a visionary outlook,” said Mother John Mary.

Sr. Maria Faustina Carmichael, CP, who made her first profession of vows in 2017, said Mother Catherine Marie had often shared that she felt “Providence was really steering this community.”

In retrospect, “it really felt like he was setting up a flourishing community here” so that they could potentially serve in even wider ways, added Sr. Maria Faustina.

Vocations boom

Sr. Maria Faustina said that a number of years ago, the community had made a “conscious decision that vocations would be a priority.”

“Because they said that if we don’t have vocations, we don’t have a future,” she said.

Theresa Krauskopf is an aspirant at St. Joseph Monastery, which means she is currently living with the nuns and actively discerning whether she is called to this community. 

“Mother Catherine Marie was mother superior when I first visited; I remember feeling so welcomed by her and so encouraged,” said Krauskopf of her first visit six years ago.

Before Passionist nun Mother Catherine Marie (fourth from left) leaves for Italy, several of her Whitesville sisters perform a musical skit for her, entitled “Go On the Plane,” to the melody of “Home on the Range.” COURTESY OF ST. JOSEPH MONASTERY

Krauskopf believes a big reason for their flourishing vocations is prayer. She said she thinks a common pitfall is dismissing the importance of praying for vocations, and focusing on more on “doing.” 

That’s not to say that modern technologies, such as a frequently-updated website and a blog – both of which the Passionists have – should be ignored.

In fact, several of the younger nuns, including Sr. Maria Faustina, learned about the Passionists via the website when discerning a call to religious life.

“I say it’s from the Holy Spirit working through technology,” said Sr. Maria Faustina.

The nuns told the WKC that another practice that has borne fruit is having frequent vocation retreats at the monastery, where visitors “can see nuns in their natural habitat,” quipped Krauskopf.

Following God’s will

Mother Catherine Marie left her monastery on June 8, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and arrived in Italy on the following day’s Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Prior to her departure, the nuns held a prayer service for her, and also had time to just be together as a community – with laughter, but “also a sharing of our hearts with her,” said Sr. Maria Faustina.

The goodbyes were bittersweet, but they know “God has guided (this process),” said Mother John Mary.

The Whitesville community has kept up with Mother Catherine Marie via photos and emailed updates, and they appreciate the spiritual bond that is growing with the Lucca sisters. Mother Catherine Marie, who is still learning Italian, is currently being accompanied by an active Passionist sister, Sr. Joan Mary Topor, CP, who serves as a translator and instructor.

Sr. Maria Faustina said the “moral of the story” is that “we always know theoretically that we belong to God, but when it comes to the practical, you know…” she said with a chuckle.

“It is about being faithful, and being ready for whatever God asks,” said Mother John Mary.

St. Gemma Galgani

  • Lived from 1878-1903
  • Patroness of pharmacists and those who suffer from spinal and back pain and disease
  • She bore the stigmata – in which she experienced Christ’s wounds in her body for the sake of suffering for the Church

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