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Local cloistered nuns explain how isolation can open ‘doorways to God’

The Passionist nuns pray the Liturgy of the Hours in November 2019. COURTESY OF COREY BRUNS


A community of cloistered nuns living in a secluded corner of Daviess County have found that their already “social distancing” lifestyle can provide practical application for non-cloistered people trying to grow in their faith amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think one of the aspects of cloister that is least understood by the general public is that the solitude and ‘social distancing’ it entails are doorways to God,” said Sr. Cecilia Maria, CP, who belongs to the cloistered Passionist nuns at St. Joseph Monastery in Whitesville.

Mother John Mary, CP, mother superior of the Passionist nuns, told The Western Kentucky Catholic in a May 16 email that for the time being, they will not yet be opening liturgies or the grounds to the public.

(Bishop William F. Medley had announced on May 15 that public Masses in the Diocese of Owensboro could resume beginning May 20 – but stated that this was not required, considering the advanced age and/or health risks of some pastors, and that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is still suspended, considering the elderly, vulnerable and ill. Additionally, some parishes are not yet able to meet specific state guidelines, and so will need to postpone public Masses until those guidelines can be met.)

Sr. Mary Andrea, CP, said that the pandemic has certainly affected daily life in the monastery – such as daily checking temperatures being and extra careful with hygiene– but they have tried to continue a normal routine.

She said the nuns continue “our regular schedule of liturgy, prayer, work, meals, recreation, and rest,” and are putting off any trips outside the monastery “that can wait.”  

Sr. Mary Andrea explained that though they are cloistered, they do take a vow to promote devotion to the Passion of Jesus, which is typically lived out by offering a retreat center and having liturgies open to the public.

But with the current restrictions, “we do still find ways to fulfill this vow (such as via our website and blog, our newsletter, and more),” she said.

Sr. Lucia Maria, CP, prays before a crucifix at St. Joseph Monastery in Whitesville. COURTESY OF ST. JOSEPH MONASTERY

Sr. Cecilia Maria spoke to the challenges for many people spending a lot more time at home than they ever expected.

“Living all the various aspects of our lives in once place can definitely pose a challenge, and that challenge is compounded when we are sharing that space 24/7 with others,” she said.

Fortunately, “centuries of monastic life and discipline have a lot of wisdom to offer for just this situation,” she said. “Two things come immediately to mind: a schedule and dedicated space.”

Sr. Cecilia Maria said that in the monastery, if it is time for recreation (social time), “I can put aside my work and enjoy my sisters, without guilt that I ought to be doing something else.”

And if it is her prayer time, “I can trust that my sisters are not going to disturb me without real need,” she said.

She suggested that in creating such a schedule within the context of a family, family members can take into account the “needs and priorities of each member, and it can be adapted to their own unique circumstances.”

“For example, parents of young children might build into their schedule two ‘quiet time’ periods, one for Mom and one for Dad, while the other is ‘on duty’ with the kids,” she said.

Sr. Cecilia Maria also recommended dedicating “a space – perhaps a corner or even a closet – dedicated exclusively to prayer, and also to divide the place where you work from the place where you relax and have fun.”

Sr. Frances Marie, CP, acknowledged that these past several months have been hard for Catholics “longing to attend Mass and to receive the Eucharist.”

Three Passionist nuns sing in their chapel at St. Joseph Monastery in Whitesville. COURTESY OF ST. JOSEPH MONASTERY

She said the nuns want all Catholics, especially those within the diocese, to know that they “are being held and lifted up in our prayers in a very special way at this time.”

“As contemplative religious, this prayer is what we are here for, all the time,” she said. “In this time of pandemic, we feel the weight of this mission more than ever.”

Sr. Frances Marie added that their intercessory prayer goes beyond the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours. She said much of their days are spent in silence, “which fosters prayerful attention to the Lord.”

“This silent prayer, too, is a channel of grace, to help those forced into solitude and isolation to likewise turn their hearts to God in prayer,” she said.

Sr. Cecilia Maria echoed this. She said that in today’s busy world, it is often difficult to “quiet ourselves enough to hear His voice or to sense His presence.”

“The temptation can be to fill up the ‘empty’ free time that we normally would be spending with a group of friends, with digital entertainment,” she said. “Resist the temptation. Extend an invitation, instead, to the Lord God, to fill that void in your day and in your heart. Allow Him to teach you about Himself, and about yourself, and to draw you further into His love.”

Saints and scriptures during this time

Mother John Mary, CP, the mother superior of St. Joseph Monastery, offered a few suggestions for those seeking spiritual resources during the pandemic.

  • Ask the intercession of St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Edith Stein, who in their confinement were prevented from receiving the sacraments and living normal lives. “They soared to the heights of love by their fidelity to the presence of God and their service to those around them,” said Mother John Mary.
  • Read the Sunday readings as well as commentaries on the readings, such as those from Dr. Brant Pitre or Ascension Press.

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