BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
If she had to pinpoint the first time she had a strong sense that God was calling her to religious life, Cistercian nun Sr. Christina Marie Murphy would say it was at a Youth 2000 retreat when she was a freshman in high school.
“Encountering our Eucharistic Lord at that retreat was life-changing and likely planted the seed of my vocation,” said Sr. Christina Marie, who grew up attending Precious Blood Parish in Owensboro.
Sr. Christina Marie, who belongs to the cloistered contemplative Valley of Our Lady Monastery near Madison, Wis., said a call to religious life “is always a bit of a mystery.”
“Mine seemed to unfold over many years,” explained the nun in an Oct. 2 email interview with The Western Kentucky Catholic.
She said the topic of a religious vocation was “not an infrequent topic at Owensboro Catholic Middle and High School where I attended school,” and that the community was “supportive of religious life and encouraged young people to discern that call.”
It also helped that she befriended Sr. Larraine Lauter, OSU, who worked at Precious Blood at the time and who provided a tangible example of religious life.
But that experience at Youth 2000 – an annual retreat held at Brescia University for young people to encounter Christ in the Eucharist, especially through Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – was a powerful indicator that “God wanted me to belong to him through religious consecration,” said Sr. Christina Marie.
A hidden path
“I came to Valley of Our Lady Monastery 13 years ago as Chrissi Murphy,” said Sr. Christina Marie. “After a year’s postulancy I was given my baptismal name as my religious name: Sr. Christina Marie.”
After several years of formation, she made her final solemn vows in 2013.
She told the WKC that her attraction to religious life was exclusively toward “contemplative, monastic life.”
“While I could appreciate active religious communities and their important role in the Church and the world, it was clear that my path would be a more hidden one,” said Sr. Christina Marie.
She said she found the great need and suffering in the world “daunting.”
“What could one person do?” she said.
But, the future nun came to realize that she could “draw near and implore the One who can do all things. Even if they never knew it, I hoped others in the Mystical Body could be helped through my prayers, sufferings and sacrifices in this hidden life.”
‘A place for me’
Chrissi Murphy, as she was known at the time, had completed her master’s degree in ecology and was working in Puerto Rico at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry when she found herself frequently browsing information about religious communities.
“My intention was to return to the States to begin studies for a Ph.D., but each time I researched graduate programs I inevitably strayed into researching religious communities,” she said.
She realized it was necessary to address a possible call to religious life before committing to continuing her education.
Based on the information on their website and her communication with their vocation director, Valley of Our Lady Monastery “seemed a good fit,” said Sr. Christina Marie.
“I visited a few communities, but this one seemed to be where God wanted me,” she said. “There were no divine revelations, just a sense that He had prepared a place for me here.”
A conduit for grace
Sr. Christina Marie explained that in the Mystical Body, everyone has a part to play – “and the entire Body can only flourish when each member fulfills its role.”
“The contemplative life has been likened to the heart of the Mystical Body, and for good reason,” she said.
Though “very hidden,” she said contemplative life “functions as a conduit.”
“As we lift up to God the praise and thanks and needs of His children, we also allow His grace and mercy and love to flow through us to them, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing,” said Sr. Christina Marie.
“We can’t do anything on our own,” she added, “but in response to God’s call, we have the immense privilege and responsibility of giving all our prayer and sacrifices to Him and allowing Him to work in and through us for His glory and everyone’s salvation in a way we know only by faith.”
Sr. Christina Marie said that as others in the Church work, raise families and engage in active ministry, “we try faithfully to do our part, to pray day-in and day-out, with and for everyone, as we strive together to build the Kingdom of God.”
“Though unworthy of this vocation, I’m grateful to God for such a gift and grace,” she said.
Help the nuns!
Since its founding in 1957, Valley of Our Lady Monastery has striven to maintain, expand, and creatively reconfigure their living quarters, but the buildings they inherited – never intended to be a permanent monastery – are worn out, ill-suited to their contemplative monastic life, and increasingly unsafe and unhealthy. Recent growth in vocations (from 12 to 23 in just over a decade) prompted these nuns to discern through prayer and consultation that they should build a new monastery that is safer and more conducive to their way of life. Through help from generous benefactors, they have purchased a secluded 229-acre farm in their Wisconsin diocese and have drawn up an architectural design. They have raised approximately $9 million of the $12 million Phase 1 goal; Phase 2 will be an additional $6 million. The progress is encouraging, but a gap remains and so they continue to invite others to participate in this project. They hope that many will be eager to help them build a new monastery where they can continue to live their vocation faithfully, for the good of all, and for God’s glory. For more information, visit build.valleyofourlady.org. Please pray for the nuns and support them as you can, and know of their prayers for you.
Originally printed in the November 2020 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2020 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic