29 August 2006


As promised: a little renovation update. Two weeks ago, we were treated to a tour of the renovation work by our project manager, Kelley Flynn. There are walls in some places and beams in other places that allow us to picture the outline of rooms and begin to imagine what it will look like when things are finished.

Among the highlights of the tour was this outline of a window pictured above to the left. It was discovered behind the wall at the end of the sisters' dormitory passage (known as "Blessed Lady's Passage). It seems that it was once an outside wall of the belltower, before the dormitory wing was built. Our architects are working on how to incorporate it into the "new" wall that will be there. What a delightful surprise!

At right, Mother Philomena studies the wall of a soon-to-be bedroom. It is very exciting to watch the progress from tour to tour.

27 August 2006

Fidelity and Frustration

During this year of the Sunday Gospels from Mark, we continue our little excursion in the Gospel of John with today's poignant reading. It is easy to paint a picture of Jesus and the 12 apostles and omit some of the agonizing details that, no doubt, were part of Jesus' experience. In today's reading when Jesus is abandoned by many of his followers, we have a window into some of the suffering that Jesus experienced when followers decide to leave him.

There are many significant themes in today's Gospel; perhaps one we might consider is that Jesus' heart knew the pain of rejection and sadness. One could almost hear the frustration in his tone as he asked the twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Surely we can all relate to the pain and frustration of being abandoned, of having someone we love "murmur" behind our back or choose not to associate with us any longer, etc. And perhaps it is worth noting that Jesus' response to rejection, to murmuring (or some translations of today's Gospel even have "complaining") and to ridicule is one of gentleness. Aware of the murmuring, Jesus began to explain that he offers "spirit and life" to all who have been called by the Father. How often is our response to murmuring one of gentleness? How often have we responded gently when we felt abandoned by someone whom we love? Easier said than done. This, however, is the challenge of being one of those who "stays" -- one of those who did murmur and complain about His teachings. The cost of remaining with the Lord is the exacting experience of allowing him to mold us - gently - into a disciple after his own Sacred Heart.

...be faithful to abide with Him and leave Him not,
except to see and do what He commands.
St. Jane de Chantal

24 August 2006

God of all Fruitfulness

There is one who plants, one who waters and still more who weed (and even one who "talks with them!) -- but we all know that it is God who gives the growth. And, indeed, we have much for which to be grateful this year! Amid the busyness of our renovation (update forthcoming) it seems that there has been less time than usual to tend the vegetable garden; despite this, however, we have window-sills full of ripening tomatoes. In fact, we are quickly running out of window-sill room! (Not a bad problem to have.)

In addition to having a bountiful harvest of tomatoes, we have more summer squash than we can dream of eating. Our dispenser, Sister Mary Austin, has managed to disguise it in numerous creative ways. Perhaps the most noteworthy (and very tasty) was the "squash cobbler" we had for dessert last week. It almost tasted like an apple pie!

There is no nifty quotation from our Holy Founders today. It probably comes as no surprise that St. Francis de Sales, in his voluminous writings, does not have anything to say about the tomato. (For, tomatoes did not make their way into French cuisine until the 18th Century.)

21 August 2006

One Last Journey

Today marks several noteworthy occasions. It is the 439th anniversary of the birth of Saint Francis de Sales. Also, it would have been the 98th birthday of our Sister Anne Marie who went home to the Lord on 5 July. And this morning, we made our "last journey" with our Sister Vincentia. She is pictured above at a computer in the monastery's former "typing room" (soon to be called the "St. Joe's Workroom" upon our return this winter!)

Many members of Sister's family were able to join us for the Mass of Christian burial. Among the interesting things we learned from them was that Sister Vincentia (baptized "Veronica") was known affectionately as "Aunt Ronnie." She and her sisters, when not working at the shirt factory, were active members of St. Joseph's Church, the first Slovak Catholic Church in the Western Hemisphere. They planted the garden, mowed the lawn and preserved the fruits and vegetables. We all chuckled to learn that their "Aunt Ronnie" enjoyed attending dances at the local Hazle Park.

The monastery is grateful to all our friends and benefactors whose thoughtfulness made today's celebration a beautiful one.

18 August 2006

Solemnity of Our Holy Mother

Today is a grand celebration in our house. First and foremost it is the Solemnity of Our Holy Mother, Saint Jane de Chantal, the feast day of our Sister Maureen de Chantal and birthday of our Mother Philomena. In terms which used to describe a major solemnity in our monastery, this triple-celebration might be considered a double and solemn feast to the third degree!

Compared to the voluminous writings of Saint Francis de Sales, there are far fewer writings that survive from Saint Jane de Chantal. Among her conferences and memoirs, however, are many gems worth sharing. One popular theme about which she wrote was what she called "the martyrdom of love." When asked about this mystical martyrdom, our practical and down-to-earth foundress had the following to say:

"God keeps his servants and handmaids in this present life so that they may labor for him. . . .Divine love takes its sword to the hidden recesses of our inmost soul and divides us from ourselves."

Perhaps even more telling is Saint Jane de Chantal's reply when asked how long this martyrdom would last: "From the moment when we commit ourselves unreservedly to God, until our last breath." This speaks to all of us, no matter what work, occupation, vocation or state in life we occupy. When we acquiesce to the Lord's will in our life and we do not hold any part our ourselves back from Him who created us, we, too, live this martyrdom of love. May Our Holy Mother intercede for all of us in yielding ourselves unhesitatingly to the Lord in the daily activities of our lives. May God be praised!

16 August 2006

Requiescat in Pace

At 11.32 am yesterday morning, the Lord (and His Blessed Mother) came for our beloved Sister Mary Vincentia. Sister was 83 years old and 51 years professed as a Visitandine. Sister's last years were marked by great physical suffering including a leg amputation, last year, which required a great deal of physical therapy. Sister died peacefully and with no struggle in the company of Mother Philomena and Sister Stanislaus, our infirmarian.

Sister was born in Ohio and grew up in Hazelton, Pennsylvania. She was the youngest of 7 children. Sister Vincentia did not have the opportunity to attend high school, as she became a nanny to her older sister's children after completing basic schooling. Later, sister took a job in a shirt factory where she worked for 10 years. During her time at the shirt factory, Sister Vincentia (then "Veronica") acquired a fiance, of whom she was "quite fond." Feeling called to devote her life to the Lord as a religious, however, she ended her engagement and pursued her religious vocation.

Alumnae will remember Sister Vincentia as the school portress. For years she greeted students, family and guests upon their arrival. She was the "face" of Visitation to many a visitor. Sister also served our community very faithfully as sacristan. In her spare moments she liked to crochet. In recent years, she was a pioneer on the internet, becoming one of the first in our community to use email to keep in touch with family and friends. Sister had a childlike sense of wonder and a great appreciation for things novel and clever. She loved to tell riddles and jokes and witty stories. And among Sister's favorite terms of endearment was "dearheart." Surely the Lord looked upon her and welcomed her home as one "dear" to His Most Sacred Heart.

A word to our locals: Sister will be waked from 9-11am on Monday 21 August. The funeral will follow at 11.00am. Both will be held in our Chapel of the Sacred Heart.

14 August 2006

St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe

Today, we commemorate a saint of our time. St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe was born in 1894 in the then-Russian-occupied Poland. He became a Conventual Franciscan and was ordained to the priesthood in 1918. After serving as a missionary in Japan, Kolbe returned to Poland during World War II and when his Friary was closed in 1941 he was captured and imprisoned at Auschwitz.

After a prisoner escaped from the camp, ten others were selected to die as a punishment. One of the ten, Franciszek Gajowniczek, began to cry out that he would never see his family again. Prisoner number 16770 stepped forward and asked to take his place. Thus began the martyrdom of Fr. Kolbe. As for Franciszek Gajowniczek, he lived 53 more years and died in 1995 at the age of 95.

A snippet from today's Office of Readings from a letter of St. Maximilian gives us a window into the heart of so generous and so brave a man: "Obedience raises us beyond the limits of our littleness and puts us in harmony with God's will." St. Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying, "Preach always, use words when you have to." This son of St. Francis died as a faithful and obedient servant (and "preacher") of the Gospel -- he laid down his life for a fellow prisoner.

Prior to his imprisonment, Kolbe established the sodality of the Militia of Mary Immaculate. Click here to learn more about it.

"Charity and obedience are so closely united that they cannot possibly be separated. Love makes us obey promptly."
St. Francis de Sales

11 August 2006

Your Cross

Today's Gospel gives urges us to reflect on our own willingness to "take up [our] cross" and follow Christ. St. Francis de Sales has a poignant reflection on this. We shall let his words be today's reflection on this powerful Gospel reading.

God in His divine wisdom has
from all eternity beheld the cross
He bestows on you --
His precious gift
from His Heart.
He contemplated the cross
with his all-knowing eye
before bestowing it on you.
He pondered over it with His divine mind;
He examined it with His all-wise justice;
With his loving mercy
He warmed it through and through;
And with both His hands
He weighed it
to determine it be
one ounce too heavy for you.
He blessed it with His all-holy Name;
With His grace He anointed it;
And with His consolation
He perfumed it through and through;
And then once more
He considered you and your courage.
Finally it comes from heaven as a special message of God
to you,
an alms
of the all-merciful love
of God
for you.

08 August 2006

St. Dominic

As we celebrate the Feast of St. Dominic, we shall defer to our Dominican brothers and sisters for words of wisdom about their Holy Father. Do visit the Summit Dominicans' blog and Fr. Powell's blog -- both of which will, no doubt, be honoring their Holy Founder.

Our monastery has a special connection to the Dominicans. Our very first history, A Story of Courage was written in 1894 by Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, youngest daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne and wife of George Lathrop. Rose, widowed in 1898, went on to become Mother Mary Alphonsa, foundress of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne. Click here to read more about this Servant of God, whose cause was introduced in 2003.

Many blessings to all the sons and daughters of St. Dominic. May they, by their preaching and by their prayers, draw many souls to Christ and his Church.

06 August 2006

Feast of the Transfiguration

** Does anyone know why this is "only" a Feast and not a Solemnity?
Please share in comments if you do. Thanks. **

Fire is a powerful image throughout the Bible; it is a very striking symbol for the Peter, James and John who witness the Transfiguration of our Lord. For Peter, in particular, it is a significant symbol that marks his own transformation.

Jesus is transfigured between Moses, whose relationship with Yahweh began with the burning bush, and Elijah, who was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Peter sees the Light of the world shining between two great heroes of the Israelite people and he wants to pitch a tent and stay on the mountaintop. Who could blame him? He recognized something wonderful when he saw it.

Not long after the glorious Transfiguration of the Lord, Peter finds himself in the courtyard of the high priest, warming himself in front of a charcoal fire. Standing before the fire, a powerful image of light, Peter denies his relationship with the Light that has come into the world. Just three chapters later, in John's Gospel, Peter is before another charcoal fire. This time, the Lord has prepared it and is cooking breakfast for the disciples. Following this famous breakfast on the beach, we have that poignant encounter between Jesus and Peter when Peter three times reiterates his love for Jesus.

On the mountaintop, Peter witnessed the glory of the Lord in his Transfiguration, a foreshadowing of the glory in which we are all invited to share. Peter's heart, like all of our hearts, needed to be transformed before he could share in this glory. His heart burned with love for the Lord and it was strengthened and purified by the grace of God after he suffered the agony of denying Jesus -- for Peter three times reclaimed what he three times denied. Let us ask for the grace of hearts which are open to the Lord's transforming work; let us ask Him to make our hearts like his own -- on fire with love.

"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed."
1 Peter 4:12-13

04 August 2006

Prophets and Experts

It is often said that experts are "people from outside." In a way, this is true. Often, we have a difficult time listening to those who are close to us: at home, at work, in our family, among our friends, etc. Jesus experienced this phenomenon in today's Gospel. The patrons of the synagogue were astonished at his wisdom and yet they did not manifest faith in his authority. Their reaction, "Is he not the carpenter's son?" demonstrates the timelessness of the adage about experts (and in Jesus' case prophets, too) being welcome only when they are not indigenous to the group.

Most of us have at least one "prophet" in our circle of friends, family, or co-workers. If we are really honest we may acknowledge that our resident "prophet" usually has some accurate observations to make (even if they are unwelcome). And if we are really honest, we will admit that these "accurate observations" usually provoke feelings of discomfort in us.

Not everybody who makes us uncomfortable is a "prophet." We need to discern the reason why we feel uncomfortable in the presence certain people; sometimes it is simply a matter of having more common ground with some folks than with others. Other times, however, it is the case that a resident "prophet" speaks some uncomfortable truths. Prophets aren't perfect; sometimes their observations are spoken uncharitably or at an inopportune time. It can be hard to be responsive amid challenging circumstances. Irrespective of such circumstances, however, let us beg for the grace to be open to the "resident prophets" in our own lives. The Lord can use many different means to get our attention and speak to our hearts. Let us not miss His message even if it is delivered by someone whom we know well.

"I have no doubt there will be aversions and repugnances in your spirit. . . . there are so many occasions to exercise the true virtue of sweetness; for we must do well and in a holy and loving way what we owe to everyone, although it may be against the grain and without relish."
St. Francis de Sales

02 August 2006

Dog Days of Summer

Yes, even the dog has a dog. This is a shot of our noble guard dog, Nicholas, trying to stay cool in these "dog days" of summer. In this picture, he is "protecting" Buddy, his toy dog, whom he treats like a real dog. (We're not sure exactly why he hasn't shredded Buddy, as labs tend to do with toys, but we're grateful and we enjoy watching him nurture the stuffed doggie.)

The temperature is supposed to reach a record 103 degrees today -- even Nick and Buddy will have to take their cuddling inside for most of the day.

No profound spiritual message here -- just a loving reminder to stay cool, hydrated, and out of the sun. St. Francis de Sales said that "We pray best before beauty." True indeed. It is also true that it is difficult to pray when one is hot, sticky, fatigued and dehydrated -- so, if you are experiencing a heat wave, take care of yourself!