Poor Clares discuss their religious vocations
PORTSMOUTH, Ohio (Catholic Times) - Any notion that cloistered nuns who constantly pray before the Blessed Sacrament and spend much of their lives in silence must live a solemn, somewhat grim existence quickly disappears on a visit to St. Joseph Monastery in Portsmouth.
CLOISTER - Sister Marie Therese (far left) Sister Imelda Marie (center) and Sister Marie St. Claire (right)pray at St. Joseph Monastery in Portsmouth, Ohio. (Catholic Times/Jack Kuston)
Mother Dolores Marie, PCPA, abbess, said the monastery has been revitalized by the presence of three young women who have become part of the community since 2003. The newest member, Sister Mary Immaculate, PCPA, is in the second year of a two-year novitiate in which she is preparing for her first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Their vocation decisions
Sister Marie Ste. Claire, PCPA, and Sister Marie Therese, PCPA, both joined the order at about the same time and took their first vows a little more than a year ago. The vows will be renewed each year until 2011, when both take solemn vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for life.
Mother Dolores Marie, a member of the community since 1991, and the monastery’s mother vicar, Sister Imelda Marie, PCPA, a member since 1994, both came to Ohio in 2002 from the Poor Clares’ Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Irondale, Ala., which was founded by Mother Angelica, best known as the founder of the Eternal Word Television Network.
All five nuns said the decision to enter the cloister wasn’t as difficult as it might appear to be because they felt an overwhelming desire to live the contemplative life.
"I found my Protestant friends understood my choice better and admired it more than my Catholic friends did," said Sister Marie Therese, an Alabama native. "It shocked so many people that a ‘normal girl’ who was very much into acting and the theater in high school would become a nun, but this was something I’d been drawn to for years, partly because my dad worked for EWTN."
"I was looking for love and realized the world couldn’t offer everything I was looking for," Sister Imelda Marie said. "I had plenty of friends in Louisiana where I grew up, and I know I could have gotten married and been happy in that life, but it just wasn’t what I was called to do.
"In this hidden life, you don’t always see or know whether your prayers have been answered, but as you trust more and more in God’s love, you find yourself realizing that he will meet your needs, and that’s a liberating thing."
"I grew up Catholic in a part of Florida where there weren’t many religious or priests from which I could take an example," said Sister Mary Immaculate. "I said the Rosary daily and prayed to find what I was meant to do. When I was 16, I began to realize the Lord wanted something more for me, and I wanted to give more for God. He has done so much for me and was calling me to serve him with an undivided heart."
God wins them over
Sister Marie Ste. Claire described herself as "a southern California girl who mostly likes Ohio but misses the beach."
"The Lord kept inspiring me with this desire to give him everything, even though I kept fighting it," she said. "Eventually, I came to realize God had given me his whole self in the Blessed Sacrament and I wanted to return that gift by giving myself to him. ...
"I went to college in New Hampshire with the idea of going to med school, but instead, that’s where I made the decision that led me here. After my first visit to St. Joseph’s, I knew Jesus was here. A friend at college used to say I’d marry the first guy who asked me, and he was right, but not in the way he expected."
Mother Dolores Marie came to the Poor Clares from a career in retail merchandising and said the last thing she would have anticipated while growing up was becoming a nun.
"I never was involved with religion until I went to work at EWTN as a set designer’s assistant," she said. "When I saw the nuns there in their habits, I was terrified. I tried my best to avoid being introduced to Mother Angelica, but it happened.
"I was caught up in a lot of worldly things, but in time I found myself increasingly drawn to spending time with the Blessed Sacrament. I’d go there sometimes not to pray, but just to be in the presence of Jesus. At first I didn’t realize I had a vocation, but in time I realized God was calling me to his service."
When Mother Dolores Marie was transferred to Portsmouth, there was concern that the monastery would have to close because of the declining health of the four elderly nuns who lived there, but the addition of the younger sisters eliminated that threat.
Local postulants wanted
Sister Mary Vincentia is the last of the older nuns remaining at the monastery. Two others are at the Mohun Health Care Center in Columbus and one has died.
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