Heelan grad seeks a life of contemplation
A day in the life
The nuns at Our Lady of the Angels are Franciscan sisters, members of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. They seek to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament at virtually every moment of the day. At least one sister is always in adoration, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“This is where I have gotten to know the father, son and Holy Spirit the most,” Sister Mary Kate said of her time in silent adoration. “In the silence, he gives us himself. Silence is always a gift, and something we can ask him for. The silence to encounter him and just be in him.”
At the cloistered monastery, Sister Mary Kate shares in the daily lives of this growing order of cloistered nuns. The sisters rise at 5:25 a.m., begin the day with the Divine Office and then Mass at 7 a.m. The day is structured with times for prayer, adoration, meals and work. They speak “as necessary,” and begin the grand silence at 8 p.m. before retiring at 9:30 p.m.
“The work period looks different for each sister, and is almost never the same,” Sister Mary Kate explained. “We have sisters that work in the kitchen cooking meals for the community, a few in the canning room processing fruits and veggies from our garden. Some sisters work in the sewing room, the infirmary, bookkeeping, the mail room receiving prayer petitions and writing letters, some in the sacristy, archives, and a sister who handles all of our choir music.”
But it is the times of contemplation with the Lord that Sister Mary Kate treasures most.
“Each sister has an hour of assigned eucharistic adoration each day,” she explained. “We also pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together in the presence of our Lord, and anyone on the public side (of the enclosure) is invited to join in. Sisters are also assigned night hours to keep watch with our Lord while everyone else is sleeping.”
Before coming to the monastery, Sister Mary Kate first made a weekend visit, then a week-long visit, and finally a three-month stay. This portion of the discernment process is known as “aspirancy” and takes about a year. When she made her decision to move forward, it was a family event.
“Most of my family came all the way down to Alabama with me, including four of my nieces and nephews,” Sister Mary Kate said. “That day was filled with joy as well as tears. Everyone in my family is so close and they are my best friends. It was hard, yet beautiful and filled with joy. For me, following after the Lord and seeking his will is almost always hard, beautiful and filled with joy and that is what makes loving him so exciting.”
While her family is always close to her heart, the transition to cloistered life has been smooth for Sister Mary Kate. She describes her childhood in Iowa and South Dakota as years of joy. Some of her favorite times were annual family trips to Adventureland, or just enjoying a big bowl of Blue Bunny ice cream with friends.
“Funny enough, I miss how flat Iowa was,” she said. “The sunset was so easy to see and so beautiful. I loved seeing hay bales. When we were little, we played many fun games on them. The sun beaming on the corn fields is also a memory that warms my heart.”
But, what she has found, more than surpasses flat earth and colorful sunsets.
“I think one of the greatest mysteries that continues to change for me is the reality that God loves me infinitely, and I’m always going to be learning how much he loves me,” Sister Mary Kate said.
. The next step in her journey comes early next year, when she hopes to take the next step in this process.
“Please God, come February, there will be a ceremony to become a novice and I’ll receive the holy habit, a white veil and a new name,” she said with hope in her heart.
It’s a life she said she never could have imagined just a few years ago, but one that continues to amaze her for the beauty and joy it offers. She said it really wasn’t her idea at all, but one nurtured by God.
“I probably never would have chosen the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration here in Alabama, or the life in a cloister, if he hadn’t chosen it for me. When I realized that religious life was where he was leading me, I knew that he would also lead me where I needed to be at the right time. So, I just continued my daily routine, kept going to prayer and just waited for him to reveal it.
It was in adoration, Sister Mary Kate said, that the Lord “put the Poor Clares in my heart.”
She visited with her spiritual director and visited the Poor Clares in Canton, Ohio, before beginning to see that she was being called to Alabama. Working with her spiritual director, Sister Mary Kate noted, was an important part of this early discernment process.
The campus of Our Lady of the Angels is located in the lush hills of northern Alabama. The enclosure is connected to the national Shrine of the Most Holy Sacrament, making the shrine accessible to both the nuns and the visiting public.
If Our Lady of the Angels in Hanceville sounds familiar to readers, there’s good reason for that. It was founded by the late Mother Angelica and her fellow sisters in 1962, originally in Irondale, Alabama. Several years later, Mother Angelica founded EWTN, which today is the largest Catholic broadcasting company in the world.
The Hanceville monastery, about an hour north of the EWTN campus, was built many years later as Mother Angelica sought to maintain the quiet, contemplative life that the sisters had always been seeking. Next to the new monastery is the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The shrine is open to the public year-round. Visitors are asked to respect a simple dress code so that clothing befits a holy place. Shoulder and knees must be covered. To learn more and see photos of the shrine, visit olamshrine.com.
This article appeared in the 11/2/23 Vocations edition of The Lumen.
Lori Berglund is a freelance writer based out of Dayton. She attends Holy Trinity Parish in Webster County.