28 September 2011

Did you say this is a fixer-upper?

The monastery bell tower, which dates to the early 19th century, is swaddled in scaffolding and drop cloths as it receives a fresh coat of paint and some routine maintenance. Some say it's the oldest original structure on the 23-acre school and Monastery campus. The picture was taken September 14 by Billie McSeveney.  The scaffolding and work should continue into the middle of October.

23 September 2011

Mother Jacqueline Says...

We're starting a new series of sayings that Mother Jacqueline particularly likes, or things she sometimes says. Here is a quote she often shares from Holy Father St. Francis de Sales: "Keep your heart full of courage and your courage full of confidence in God... in Jesus!"

22 September 2011

Sarah Richardson of Warrenton, Virginia, became a postulant on September 21, 2011. We pray for her perseverance in her call to follow Our Lord closely. God be praised!

13 September 2011

Part II of the Biography of Susan Mary Margaret Wightt

Susan Mary Margaret Wightt, PART II. I'm touched as I post this with how young some of the sisters of the past were when they died. Mary Margaret was only 20.


The companion spoken of in the last installment, to whom Mary Margaret Wightt had been so attached in the school and who later became a religious, was made the head of the Novices about three months after Mary Margaret entered the novitiate, bringing Mary Margaret much joy. She demonstrated the sincerity of her love for her dear companion and now Mistress. For the Mistress’s part, she took every opportunity to instruct her pupil, particularly in points of humility and obedience. One day she sent Mary Margaret to the wardrobe to bring her an old garment. Mary Margaret didn’t hear the word old, however, so she brought the very best one she could find, for she felt nothing was too good for her dear Mistress. The Novice Director took this opportunity to humble her Novice, telling her she was still far from having the true spirit of poverty, and that vanity yet reigned in her heart. She instructed Mary Margaret to go straight back and bring her the very worst she could find. The humble Novice did this without offering the smallest excuse to justify what she had done.

She was a true example of obedience, humility, and charity, and she took greater pleasure from obliging than from being obliged. She showed much deference toward her superiors, viewing God in them, particularly in our beloved spiritual Father.

She was made Mistress of Novices in December, 1820, a task for which she was well qualified because of her piety, zeal for regular observance, and other amiable qualities. Alas, however, she developed consumption in early May, 1821. The last sacraments were administered to her by our worthy spiritual Father, “but God, who delights in purifying his elect, was pleased to keep this his spouse on her bed of suffering still some time.” During this interval she showed both meekness and good humor. In fact, she was so gay and cheerful that some thought she might recover. Her Director, one of the sisters, observed that she coughed with much difficulty. This sister even she wished that she could cough for her—a remark that made Mary Margaret smile, and to which she replied, “My dear Sister, do you not know that the brides in former times were accustomed to wear no other garlands on the day of their nuptials than those which they themselves had previously gathered and arranged in due order?” She was full of such spiritual thoughts, and with these fervent comments she continued to inspire the sisters around her. She made many pleasant observations and she laughed heartily with everyone, but she always spoke of the country to which she was going. She had received enough relief from the Last Rites to give her sisters time to observe many proofs of her true and lively faith, piety, and holy liberty of spirit. Because of this delay they felt the loss even more when she died on July 18, 1821, about mid-day. She was 20 years old, and had been four years in her profession, with the rank of choir sister.

02 September 2011

Back to the archives: Susan Mary Margaret Wightt

Last academic year we began a series focusing on the lives of Visitation sisters from the past, beginning with the first sisters who arrived in the late 1700s. That series continues now, at the pace of approximately one installment per week. Each biography is typed from the handwritten account in the monastery archives that was generally written after the sister's death by one who knew her well. Language is modernized and entries are edited to delete repetitions, but some of the flavor of the original remains in the music of the English language from two centuries ago...


Mary Margaret was born in Prince George’s County, Maryland, on February 13, 1801. When she was one year old her father died. Her mother was pious, and also attentive to her children’s educations, so when Mary Margaret was five she and her elder sister Ann (who also became a religious among us) were enrolled in our Visitation academy, where they were received with much love and kindness. It was evident that Mary Margaret was a chosen soul, for her understanding far surpassed her age. She was lively, and she advanced quickly in her studies, but also proportionately in the paths of virtue. She applied herself seriously to observe all of the school’s rules. However, the enemy (who is ever watchful and seeks to draw souls into his nets) tempted “this innocent dove” when she became very close friends with one of the boarding students. This student was “full of the world” and instilled frivolous thoughts into her mind. Instead of studying, the friends spent their time in conversation, but Mary Margaret was so quick that she still managed to know her lessons well enough that at first no one caught on. Their tutor knew what a good student Mary Margaret could be, however, and she soon discerned the difference. The tutor reported this change to Leonard Neale, and he spoke to Mary Margaret about it. This was in vain, however, for no sooner had she left him than she recounted the conversation to her friend, who said “Oh Mary Margaret, don’t mind the old man, he only wishes to make you a nun. For my part, I wouldn’t mind him were he to talk to me.” Although Mary Margaret felt deeply attached to her companion, she also wanted to follow the advice of Bishop Neale, of whom she was remarkably fond. This left her undecided about what step to take.

About this time her sister Ann obtained leave from Bishop Neale, although not without much difficulty, for both of them to visit their friends in the country; he considered them innocent lambs going out to be devoured by wolves. They went during August vacation, and when it was time to return Mary Margaret didn’t want to leave her friends, “and her heart cleaved still more closely to the world than ever.”

On December 1, 1811, Bishop Neale received one of the boarding students to the habit. This student was a close friend of one of the girls whom Mary Margaret had visited in the country. When the country girl saw her friend in religious habit, she promised never to return to the world, and she kept that promise. Just as before she had done all in her power to draw our dear sister Mary Margaret into vanity, now she made as great if not greater an exertion to help her find her way back to the place from where she had been led. She became a religious just one year after, and became the 12th sister in this new establishment. Our dear sister Mary Margaret now strived to imitate the examples of her friends, and she advanced daily in virtue and became once more an example of piety and regularity to her friends. She was also a comfort and support to her teachers, who rejoiced at this happy change, and with Bishop Neale’s permission they made her responsible for the care of the little chapel. In this task, so necessary because duties were numerous and there were not enough sisters to do it all. Mary Margaret’s piety and zeal became even more evident through her diligence and fervor. She so advanced in virtue that at age fifteen she prevailed on Leonard Neale to admit her to the habit of religion. He did this without difficulty, however, for he had always known her real merit.

(To be continued in a second part next week)