Religious Sisters, an Appreciation and an Appeal

Pax Christi. In this Ad Rem, I offer a brief reflection on religious life and especially on female religious; I give a long overdue public appreciation of our own Sisters here at Saint Benedict Center; and, finally, I make an appeal for alms for some much needed convent repairs.

We live in a day when consecrated life is under attack. The world at large never understood consecrated life (and cannot), but in recent years has attacked it all the more in salacious films and other venues. For a certain stripe of secularist, the vows of religion are absurd violations of personal autonomy and are therefore inimical to human nature. Those who look at the world through the perspective of the sexual revolution see consecrated virginity and celibacy as, at best, a total waste. Worse than that, the modernists in the Church are trying to “reform” traditional communities out of existence.

One wholesome and Catholic way of resisting attacks against a holy person or thing is to love what is under attack all the more. We should apply this thinking to Our Lord Himself, to Catholic doctrine, and to the Traditional Latin Mass, among other realities. Loving the consecrated life of religion by appreciating its goodness and its advantages is a charitable way of making up for the hatred and indifference heaped upon it.

The religious life is not merely an appendage added to Catholicism; it is a radical living of the Gospel by way of adding to the commandments of God the evangelical counsels. I say “radical,” not in the sense of “revolutionary,” but in its literal sense of “going to the very root” (Latin radix = “root”). The religious life is the fullness of the Christian vocation. In the words of Blessed Columba Marmion, the great Benedictine spiritual writer, “The religious life is not an institution created on the borders of Christianity; plunging its roots into the Gospel of Christ, it aims only at expressing the Gospel in all its integrity. Our religious ‘holiness’ is but the plenitude of our Divine adoption in Jesus; it is the absolute tradition [i.e., ‘handing over’] of the whole of ourselves through love, to the will of the Most High. Now His will is essentially that we should be His worthy children.”

In one sense, consecrated women — nuns, religious sisters, cannonnesses, anchoritesses — are more representative than consecrated men of what the consecrated life is. The reason is simple: In her virginal consecration to Jesus the Heavenly Bridegroom, the female religious is what the Church Herself is — the Bride of Christ, which is a fundamentally feminine reality. As the Church, both virgin and fruitful, is “called out” of the world to be united with Christ (Ekklesia, the Greek word for Church means “called out”), so, too, the Sister is called out of the baptized to be uniquely espoused to Christ.

We often speak of religious women in terms of sheer negation: She can’t get married! But, while religious life most certainly is an anticipation of the heavenly state — in which the blessed “shall neither marry nor be married; but shall be as the angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30) — for all that, this life really is a profound affirmation, one with a deep nuptial significance: Celestial beatitude, which the religious life heralds, is nuptial, for it is the chaste “marriage of the Lamb” (Apoc. 19:7) wherein all of glorified humanity forms that “bride adorned for her husband” (Apoc. 21:2), who is Jesus Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom (cf. Matt. 25:6, Mark 2:19).

Religious women who are faithful and true spouses of Jesus Christ should be loved and admired first of all for what they are, which I have just attempted to explain very briefly. But after that, Christ’s spouses should be appreciated for what they do.

Here, I would like to express my appreciation for my own Sisters: the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Saint Philomena’s Convent in Richmond, New Hampshire. They are “my” sisters by familial relation, and I am pleased to call them so, for a more devout, more dedicated, and harder working group of ladies would be difficult to find.

Along with the common life of prayer, there are common labors that all the Sisters engage in: study, domestic chores, our missionary “bookselling” apostolate, etc. In addition to what is common to all, our Sisters are each assigned to various tasks: teaching in our IHM School, catechizing children, adult education, farming, running our girls’ scouting program, cooking, cleaning, sewing and knitting, making rosaries, playing musical instruments (every sister plays at least one instrument), singing sacred chant and polyphony.

Their life, filled with hard work, is not easy, but they gracefully and generously go about their myriad tasks without calling much attention to themselves — so much so that it is too easy to take them for granted. They are that dependable.

Our Sisters don’t seek fame and celebrity. To give our readers a little snapshot of the Sisters’ community life, I asked for and received Sister Marie Thérèse’s gracious approval to name our Sisters and give you some idea of what each one does. Keep in mind that the older each Sister is in the community, the more likely it is that she has had a variety of duties over the years. Here, I am focusing primarily on their current assignments. They are listed in descending order of profession.

Sister Marie Thérèse — The Sisters’ Prioress, she has taught at various levels over the years. Currently, aside from her various duties as superior, she is very involved in our farm labors, “specializing” in rabbits. She is also an excellent instructor of Gregorian chant.

Sister Maria Philomena — The Sisters’ Sub-Prioress, she is the director of the Saint Augustine Institute of Wisdom, does a great deal of our agricultural planning, and takes care of our pigs and chickens.

Sister Mary Peter — She is the principal of our lower school and teaches third and fourth grades. She also teaches catechism and intermediate fiddle.

Sister Maria Perpetua — She helps with our school administrative functions and teaches seventh and eighth grades. She also helps Sister Marie Thérèse with the rabbits and is a seamstress.

Sister Mary Joseph — She teaches first grade and lower school music. She also frequently employs her calligraphy talents for a variety of uses and seems to crochet at every available opportunity. She is one of our three Sisters involved in the girls’ scouting program.

Sister Maria Rosaria — She teaches beginning fiddle, cooks, and takes care of a flock of goats currently numbering twelve, and a smaller group of rabbits. She is an adult leader in the scouting program, also maintaining an herb garden and concocting wonderful herbal preparations.

Sister Marie Gabrielle — She teaches fifth and sixth grades, works as an adult leader in the scouting program, and assists with milking goats and feeding chickens.

Sister Maria Junipera — She cooks and assists Sister Maria Rosaria with goats and rabbits.

Between prayer, work, and study, our Sisters have a very full day. The list of chores does not give the full picture or do justice to the value of each of these Brides of Christ. As I said earlier, a more devout, more dedicated, and harder working group of ladies would be difficult to find. And they are ladies, with the good manners that are proper to the gentler sex, yet elevated to a supernatural and charitable sort of charm. I am very grateful and honored to call them my Sisters in this one religious family of the MICM.

With all the foregoing in mind, I now turn to the matter of “an Appeal”:

Convent Repairs Urgently Needed

Saint Philomena’s Convent is a thirty-year-old building. While the roof is sound, having been replaced in the last few years, there are some more or less serious problems with the building’s siding and windows, as well as some internal damage to the bathrooms, whose fixtures and rotting floors need to be replaced. The fact that some of the damage is causing mold in the building is a health concern for our Sisters. Most of these repairs are simply the result of the building reaching its present age. One small addition — a much needed mud room at the entrance — results from the progress of Project Isidore and the presence of farm animals near the Sisters’ living quarters. The Convent building, by the way, was generously donated to us in 2009, and has been serving our Sisters’ needs very well ever since.

One of the tasks we have planned for the upcoming Year of Our Lord, 2022 is a very careful budgeting process that will factor in not only present and immediate future needs, but also long range maintenance. We will be very attentive to a line item that we know must absolutely go into our budget: depreciation of all of Saint Benedict Center’s present assets. Careful attention to this will prevent us from having to be quite so urgent about future infrastructural repairs, such as this much needed work on Saint Philomena’s Convent.

For those who like itemized lists, here is what we need to repair in the Convent. One note on these numbers: We asked a local builder (who does very good work) not for a bid but for ballpark figures. We know that changing materials prices will likely complicate this. We also know that there is a real possibility that in-kind donations and/or discounts on materials and labor could bring these figures down.

  1. Three showers replaced plus rot repair, leaking ceiling (remedied and repaired), plumbing replacements/repairs (sinks, faucets, 2 outside spigots): $27,000
  2. New Siding: $65,000
  3. All Windows Replaced: $20,000
  4. External Doors Replaced: $7,500
  5. Covered Entryway: (up to) $25,000

TOTAL: $144,500

Other smaller repairs include refinishing floors in three areas of the house, fixing exterior lighting, repairs to exterior walkways and fencing, enlarging the current woodshed, and replacing the wood stove.

Whatever you might be able to do to help our Sisters would be gratefully received. Thank you for all of your past support for our community and our Crusade. Without you, we would not be able to do what we do. Be assured of the Sisters’ prayers (and the Brothers will certainly pray for you, too!).

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