"Sisters in spirit"
Separation hasn't dimmed the sibling relationship
By Judy Bastien
The daughters of Joseph John and Margaret Seelaus have all been in the same place at the same time on only a few occasions during the past 60 years. That's because three of them are also Daughters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Srs. Anne, Miriam and Vilma all belong to the community known as the Discalced Carmelites - meaning without shoes - a cloistered order.
Sr. Anne resides at the Carmelite monastery on Carmel Drive, Sister Miriam at the monastery in Covington and Sister Vilma, in Rhode Island.
Members of their order spend their time behind the walls of the cloister, with almost no direct contact with the outside world. On the rare occasions when visitors are permitted beyond the front office, they nuns speak to them from through the iron grille of the gate that encloses the cloister.
The Discalced Carmelites' mission is to spend each day in contemplation, praying for the well-being of others. The nuns offer their prayers in response to countless e-mails, letters and phone calls requesting their help.
For the first time in years, all three sisters have been reunited, if only for a few days to celebrate Sr. Miriam's 50th anniversary as a Carmelite, her golden jubilee. With special permission, they shared their story in a face-to-face interview.
Although they have had minimal contact with each other over the decades, the sisters still finish each others' sentences and talk over each other, as sisters do, the smiles rarely leaving their faces.
How do siblings whose lives are devoted to quiet contemplation of the spiritual spend their time together?
"Mostly gabbing," Sr. Anne said.
"Recalling memories," said Sr. Vilma, finishing the thought, "things like that. Looking at pictures of some of our growing-up years."
"And sharing community experiences," Sr. Anne concluded, "things that are going on in the (religious) community."
The three are part of a family of eight children born to a father of Austrian descent who spoke German to his children as they were growing up in Philadelphia, and a mother who came to this country as a child from Budapest, Hungary.
Sr. Anne, the eldest of the three, professed her vows in 1945.
Sr. Vilma, the youngest of the three, entered the order next, a few years later. She was perhaps the least likely of the sisters to become a nun.
"They told me I'd never make it," she said, laughing.
"When she was a little girl," Sr. Miriam said, "I remember one of our cousins - we were toddlers - Sr. Vilma talked a lot, and he used to call her 'sprech' machine,' which is German for ..." She hesitated a moment.
"Talk machine," Sr. Vilma said.
Sr. Miriam, between the two in age, entered the order last.
"She was a slow poke," said Sr. Anne, triggering another round of the sisters' frequent laughter.
"I said I'd never be a nun," Sr. Miriam said, " and then, God came along and he called me and I couldn't say no. And I'm so happy."
Apart from the sense of peace that seems to surround the women, they are all far from the stereotype of the cloistered nun who shuns the world. All three have outgoing personalities, firm, friendly handshakes and a shared sense of humor behind their serene gazes.
It may be unusual, especially today, for so many siblings to enter the religious life, it seemed just a natural outcome of their upbringing to the Seelaus sisters.
"First of all, it was God's call," said Sister Miriam.
"It was a very happy Christian home," said Sister Anne. "They encouraged our piety, you might say. Our father said his night prayers with us, took us to night benediction on Sunday afternoons and things like that. We had religious pictures at home, as usual.
"I think they were just good parents."
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