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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Former ‘globe-trotter’ plans to spend life as cloistered nun"

Leaving the world behind

By Maria Wiering
The Catholic Spirit

Mary Gibson plans to join the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles in Kansas City, Mo., June 11. The Cathedral of St. Paul’s Sacred Heart Chapel holds a special place in her heart. “It in particular is my home, and the part [of the Cathedral] I will miss the most,” she said. -Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Mary Gibson's childhood dream was to see the world.

She pursued global studies at the University of Minnesota for a year because she wanted a job that would take her abroad. In 2005, she moved to Italy for a year and visited Austria, France and Germany.

However, at age 26, her globe-trotting days are done.

Gibson, a self-described "information junkie" with two blogs, may never again have Internet access. She loves food, but will only eat one meal a day for much of the year. A gregarious talker, she'll spend most of her days in silence.

And, judging by the way her eyes sparkle, she couldn't be happier.

"I feel like an engaged person," she said. "I'm really awaiting my beloved."

On June 11, this Minnesota wo­man will join the cloistered life of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles in Kansas City, Mo.

Although the degree of strictness differs from one community to another, typically cloistered nuns and monks rarely leave the grounds of their cloister and limit their contact with the rest of the world.

The cloistered life

Gibson has been discerning God's will for her life since she started taking her Catholic faith more seriously in her early 20s. She was open to a religious vocation, but didn't expect to be called to cloistered life, she said.

However, during a 10-day discernment retreat with the nuns in November, she said she felt Jesus ask her to be with him there.

Before a year ago, she didn't know the community existed. She first heard of it from parishioners at St. John the Baptist in Excelsior, where she directs religious education. Some parishioners knew Sister Crystal Wirth, who joined the community last year.

Gibson stumbled across the community's Web site advertising the priestly vestments that members sew. After reading about the nuns, she said, she couldn't get the community out of her mind.

Following the rule St. Benedict wrote in the 6th century, the community's life revolves around liturgical prayer. They pray especially for priests.

Claire Roufs, religious life liaison for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said young women joining cloistered communities is more common than most people think.

About one-third of women she's worked with who have joined religious life have joined cloistered communities, she said. That totals about five women in the last few years.

"Almost always they are very young and talented," she said. "It is such a mysterious vocation."

Discerning a call

Gibson grew up Catholic in Vesper, Wis. After she left home to become a paramedic, however, she stopped going to Mass. She still considered herself Christian, but faith didn't play a central role in her life.

She moved to St. Paul to work and take classes at the University of Minnesota. Within months, she was dissatisfied with her job, and her classes were forcing her to re-evaluate her beliefs, she said.

Her apartment was two blocks from the Cathedral of St. Paul, and the dome's golden cross was a constant reminder of what she had left, she said.

Gibson returned to Mass on a Sunday in February 2003 and spoke afterward with Father Joseph Williams, the associate pastor at the time.

A few weeks later, she called him to hear her confession. She wanted to come back to the church. For her penance, Father Williams asked her to say the Divine Mercy chaplet, which he prayed with her in the Cathedral's Sacred Heart Chapel.

Gibson helped to start the Cathedral's young adults group, attended daily Mass and transferred to the University of St. Thomas because of its Catholic studies program.

She also started asking God how she could serve him.

"Once I realized that he was truly there, I started realizing what I had to do is give back," she said. In October 2003 Gibson went on pilgrimage to Rome, where she "first encountered the fullness of the Catholic faith," she said.

She returned to Rome to study from fall 2005 to spring 2006 and ended her stay with a four-day retreat with cloistered American Benedictine monks in Norcia, Italy.

That's when she first thought about cloistered life, she said.

She realized she had many misconceptions of cloistered life. "You choose to be limited; you're not disconnected from the world," she said.

Cloistered men and women still receive and write letters to friends and family, and many receive visitors at least once a year. However, in choosing the cloistered life, they seek to detach themselves from worldly things. And that, for her, is true freedom, she said.

The invitation

Right now, the Benedictines of Mary live in a convent in Kansas City built for another order who had once taught at the adjacent Pius X High School. The community plans to build a priory on 120 acres of donated land in northwest Missouri. The sisters hope to be as self-sustaining as possible, raising bees, dairy cows and grain.

Peace engulfed Gibson during her 10-day stay with the nuns in November, she said.

"People think that people enter the convent because they're escaping something," Gibson said. That's not the case at all for her, she added. It was while she was thanking the Lord for all of the blessings in her life - her family, friends, travel, work, passions - that she felt the Lord ask her to give it back to him.

"He gave me the choice," she said - she could choose not to be a cloistered sister, but the Lord was inviting her to serve him in that way.

There, in the chapel, she said aloud, "Yes."

At 26, Gibson is at the average age of the community's 14 sisters, which doesn't surprise her. She's the oldest of the four aspirants who are expected to join the community in June.

Cloistered orders are gaining vocations, said Sister Therese, the community's prioress. "The young ladies of this world have had it. They're throwing away their lipstick and high heels and joining."

God also supplies the needs of the world at each age, she added.

"I think that's why the young ladies are finding us from all over the country - because the Lord wants this," she said. "What it's all about is that we have to get to heaven, and we have to take as many people as we can with us."

For more please check out Mary's blog - Veritatis Splendor, and consider helping her out by reducing her college debt through the Laboure Society.

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