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Friday, April 11, 2008

Daughter Enters Carmel

As part of my daily routine I scan the internet for vocations articles and stories. This morning I came acros the post below. It took some doing to find the original source: the St. Thomas Aquinas College Alumni Website. In the process I have come to find out that at least 8 of the Benedictine Monks at Clear Creek Monastery in Tulsa, OK are graduates of St. Thomas Aquinas, and that at least two recent graduates have entered the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Valparaiso, Nebraska. Remarkable. Not only that but the school has had at least 25 graduates in the last 25 years go on to ordination to the Holy Priesthood.

What I post below is a letter from a graduates parents to her felow alumni about Kelly's entrance day. For those discerning cloistered religious life this may be a helpful read, for everyone else, I hope you will find it as fascinating as I did.

From the Thomas Aquinas College Alumni Internet Site:

On Ascension Thursday, May 17th, Kelly, Jeff and I and her aunt and uncle (Godparents) attended the Solemn High Tridentine Mass at the beautiful chapel of the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph Monastery in Valparaiso. The monastery is about 25 minutes north of Lincoln, Nebraska. During the Homily, the Monsignor gave special mention of Kelly’s forthcoming entrance. After Mass, 2 mothers of young postulant/novices who introduced themselves and offered to help us with the entrance process greeted us. These angel women were such a blessing! They gently guided us through the whole entrance and gave us much-needed pointers about where to stand and such for the best views. We were also told that we had only about 10 minutes to give hugs and say goodbye. (A short time, but I think it’s better than a prolonged goodbye—sort of analogous to ripping a band-aid off quickly to lessen the pain). We took a few final pictures, then went into the “Turn Room” to say goodbye. There were many hugs, kisses and tears from us and such a wide smile on Kelly’s face—she had been waiting so long for this day!

After our goodbyes, Monsignor rang the bell at the Turn and told the sister at the Turn that Kelly was ready. Then he and the Deacon gave Kelly a blessing and the door to the speakroom and cloister entrance was unlocked. Kelly went through the open door and waited at the closed Cloister door to enter. The first door was left open so that we could see Kelly being greeted by Mother Teresa. We were told that Mother Teresa, Mother Agnes (prioress of the novices) and the other 19 nuns would be lined up on both sides behind the door with lighted candles to greet Kelly. After what seemed like a very long time, Mother Teresa opened the door and Kelly knelt down and kissed the ground and the cross that Mother Teresa was holding. Kelly then walked through the door and into her new life.

She then went with the nuns into the Choir (the partitioned area on the right side of the Altar in the Chapel) and knelt at the Communion rail, while the nuns took their places in their Choir stalls. There are 10 stalls on the right and 10 stalls on the left side of the Choir and two stalls at the back—one for Mother Teresa and one for Mother Agnes. Since the Carmel is bursting at the seams, Kelly has the last stall in the Choir. We knelt at the Chapel Communion rail so as to get a good view of Kelly and the nuns in the Choir. Kelly then recited her Consecration and after that the nuns sang a beautiful hymn in Latin (or it could have been the Magnificat that they sang, I’m a bit fuzzy on those details right now, there was so much to absorb and we were very emotional). We saw Kelly cry during the recitation of the Consecration. When we asked her about it later, she said that they were tears of joy because she was so happy to be finally entering.

Then we went back to the speakroom to meet with all the nuns while Kelly got dressed in her postulant habit that the nuns had made for her. (She sent her measurements to them a few months back.) We were greeted by 21 of the happiest and most joy-filled women we have ever met. Some were very outspoken, some shy, but they all had on big smiles! There are currently 22 nuns (including Kelly), 10 of whom are either postulants or novices. Kelly is the “baby” right now, but not for long, because 2 more are set to enter in the next couple of months. A Carmel is generally limited to 21 nuns, so we think pretty soon a group of them will branch off and start a new Carmel somewhere else.

There was much good-natured ribbing, joking and laughing among the nuns and with us and that helped so much to dispel our tearfulness. I can’t remember all of their names, but I believe it is Sister Bridget who entered 6 months ago and graduated from TAC 2 years ago. She wanted to hear all about how the Chapel building at TAC was going and we promised we would send pictures of it when it was completed. One of the young Sisters came to the Carmel all the way from Australia, several are from small families like Kelly (2 are only children), and one even is a convert and her family is still non-Catholic. She said that the most her sister could say to her on the day of her entrance was “I’m sad that you are joining, but I’m happy for you that you are happy.” So, as hard as it was for us to let go of Kelly, we appreciate that for others it can be even more difficult, especially if they don’t understand or appreciate the cloistered contemplative vocation. Another older nun was so excited that we were from California, since that was where she was from. She was very quick-witted and many of the jokes and banter came from her (especially since she is from Southern California and Mother Agnes is from Northern California—the rumor that Northern California feels a rivalry toward and superior to Southern California is apparently alive and well). Sister Amy and Sister Juana Teresa were the two daughters of the mothers who came to the Mass to help us through the entrance process. We told them how friendly and helpful their mothers were to us.

After about 15 minutes our Kelly came in all dressed in her postulant habit. Her veil wasn’t tied tightly enough, so it kept trying to come off, but she looked so very beautiful and she was absolutely glowing! We honestly had never seen her as happy as she was at that moment. We visited with all of them for a few minutes longer, then they retreated for the Divine Office and we had Kelly to ourselves for a nice, long 1.5 hour visit before she joined her Sisters for lunch and picture taking (We had sent our camera through the Turn along with Kelly’s suitcase just before her entrance so that we could have a picture of Kelly in the Cloister.)

Lunch, which if you are curious, Kelly told us was veggie burgers, fruit, chips, punch and chocolate bars for dessert (Didn’t think nuns ate like that? Well, neither did we!). It was probably a bit different from their usual fare since they were celebrating a Feast Day and Kelly’s entrance. Then a nap for Kelly before we were due back for a final visit at 3p.m. By the time of our afternoon visit, everyone was exhausted and emotionally drained. Kelly told us that she actually slept after lunch, probably due to the fact that she had only been averaging 2 hours of sleep per night since graduation in an effort to get everything ready before her entrance. But she was still so very happy and grateful and full of love. She asked us to be sure to email you all and let you know that she sends you her love and prayers. Trust me on the prayers part—the prayer list she went in with was pages long!

It’s been very emotional for us since she entered—I’ve been used to talking to her every day and for the first few days I drove Jeff nuts because I kept looking at my cell phone—willing it to ring, I guess. We got our May letter in to her already, written 4 days after her entrance.

In closing, know that you have a serious prayer warrior on your side—she’s praying for each of you every day and probably all of the Sisters are as well. We know that they are praying for us and they have assured us that God is showering us with His graces. We’ve been feeling them, too; we both feel that we are enveloped in His sheltering arms as we go through this period of adjustment to a life without having our amazing, beautiful and loving daughter close by our sides.
In approximately 6-8 months, January or so, Kelly will have her Clothing. During Clothing she will receive the novice habit and be given her new name. As a postulant, she is called Sister Kelly, but that will change when she becomes a novice. We think that they take her suggestions for her new name into consideration, but Mother Teresa and Mother Agnes make the final decision. We’ll write to you all about it since we will be traveling to the Monastery for her Clothing.


Lee Gilbert said...

Since Kelly's mother wrote that piece, my daughter Stephanie entered August 5th and will be clothed June 2 as Sr. Lucia of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. One novice and one postulant have left- that I know of- but others have immediately filled their places. There are now about 26 nuns in the monastery.

This is especially intriguing they sing all seven offices in Latin, and the daily Mass is according to the Extraordinary Form, too. They have two levels of Latin instruction in the monastery to bring everyone up to speed.

Stephanie is a graduate of the Willows Academy in DesPlaines, IL and a graduate of the University of Dallas in 2001. After graduating, she returned to the Willows as a teacher of literature to middle school students. Over the past few years she was feeling gradually drawn to the cloister, but was given the definitive nudge at a retreat given by the priests of Miles Christi- a young order out of Argentina, very similar to the original Jesuits and dedicated to giving the Spiritual Exercises. "Have you ever thought of becoming a nun?" Fr. Patrick asked her. She had, and he pointed her to the Carmel of Valparaiso...where he has also pointed two other of their young sisters.

In her Easter letter she wrote, "And the Liturgy for the Triduum was so lovely, every bit of it. Wed., Thurs, and Friday nights we sang Tenebrae, which is a combination of Matins and Lauds....about two hours long. Matins each night began with a reading from Lamentations, chanted by one of the senior professed in such a haunting melody- I've never heard anything like it. Thursday night all night long we took turns keeping watch with Our Lord: He was in the tabernacle of the altar of repose, but that's just behind the main altar in the chapel, and we can see it from the choir. That made the Thursday night stages of Our Lord's passion seem very real and present to all of us, I think. But I felt as though the Easter Vigil was my event, made especially for me. March 23rd is the day I was baptized, so the renewal of the baptismal promises and the blessing of the holy water was doubly meaningful. But, also, the whole first part of the Vigil, with the fire and the Easter candle and the priest chanting "Lumen Christi" and finally all the lights in the chapel and the choir coming on...it's all about light- and that's going to be my new name, pretty soon. Sr. Lucia. Do you like it?"

Yes, we do :)

For a vocations blog, though, it seems worth mentioning that both she and the Carmelite nun after whom she is being named (Sr Lucia, one of the three children of Fatima) have something in common. Both grew up in a home without television, and each were read the lives of the saints from their earliest childhood.

Stephanie is amused when I say this kind of thing, but really I am convinced that early formation had everything to do with the way things have turned out.

Please keep her in your prayers, though, for every vocation depends absolutely on the grace of God to persist to the end.

Rachel Gray said...

I just want to say thank you very much to both of you for writing and posting your daughters' stories. I was most interested to read them!