Nuns build foundation on the power of prayer

A small but growing order of cloistered contemplative Poor Clare sisters in Charlotte, North Carolina, is laying a foundation for spiritual growth and vocations in their diocese and beyond through their life dedicated to Eucharistic adoration and prayer for the world.

“The Church itself recognizes that those prayers are the powerhouse that supplies the grace and the strength and everything for those who are out in the world in the active orders in the Church,” said Mother Dolores Marie, superior of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration of St. Joseph Adoration Monastery in Charlotte. “We’re the hidden foundation of others who are the face of the Church.”

Since coming to the diocese from Portsmouth, Ohio, at the invitation of Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis four years ago, the six sisters have witnessed to the Church and community through their life and prayer, supported priestly vocations and drawn young women interested in their life. Faced with the blessing of growth, the sisters hope to break ground soon on a new, larger monastery that will accommodate more nuns and enable them to live cloistered.

Living temporarily in an old convent next to St. Ann’s Parish in Charlotte, the sisters are members of an order founded in 1854 in Paris, part of the Second Order of St. Francis. St. Joseph Adoration Monastery is one of the order’s 34 autonomous monasteries in the United States and around the world, which includes the monastery in Hanceville, Alabama, of which Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) founder Mother Angelica is a member.

The sisters are grateful for their temporary home, but it doesn’t allow them to live out their charism of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament because there isn’t room for new sisters who are needed to pray the adoration hours. “We’re looking forward to being fully enclosed again, because it’s our hearts’ desire, and that’s our vocation,” said Mother Dolores Marie, who has been a PCPA sister since 1991.

The sisters hope to break ground on the new monastery as soon as they receive enough financial support. Through donations, they’ve acquired 300 acres of land west of Charlotte, developed an architectural plan and received furnishings for the chapel, which will be partially open to the public.

Focus on prayer

Though not yet cloistered in their new monastery, the sisters live out their charism in a life that is full, varied and always guided by prayer.

Two sisters tend to the gardens. They depend on the generosity of lay people for most of their groceries. Courtesy photo

Their day begins with the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer at 6 a.m., the first of five times during the day they will pray the prayer of the Church — the Liturgy of the Hours. The Blessed Sacrament remains exposed until 10 p.m. except when the sisters have a lesson or community time, Mother Dolores Marie said. Each sister is assigned a Holy Hour during the day.

According to Sister Marie Thérèse, who has been with the order for 11 years, “One of the biggest gifts is to be able to live under the same roof as our Lord. The way our schedule is set up, we’re continually going back to him in prayer. ... We’re always reminded that any other work is secondary.”

After Mass and Rosary, the sisters have time for personal prayer. “Some people think our vocation is just fleeing the world, running away from it and just forgetting it but that’s not it at all,” Sister Marie Thérèse said. “We have that privilege, because most people don’t have time for extended hours of prayer in their daily life. The Lord knows that — he doesn’t expect that — but he’s called a few apart to be able to pray on behalf of all those who are longing to pray more, whose hearts are aching for all the sufferings of the world, and it’s kind of like we’re doing it for you and for others.”

A sister prays in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Each sister is assigned a Holy Hour during the day. Courtesy photo

They prepare to pray for the world by keeping up with the news through several publications and the Internet, she said.

The sisters seek to make everything a constant prayer, Mother Dolores Marie said. “So no matter if we’re doing the laundry or cooking or doing bookkeeping, or answering mail or the door, we’re supposed to be doing it in union with our Lord in that contemplative spirit and taking him with us in all that we do.”

After breakfast, the sisters do their own work, returning several times to the chapel during the morning to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. They do not observe an absolute vow of silence but rather an atmosphere of silence, speaking only when necessary and during free time, Mother Dolores Marie said.

Growth coming

Despite the call to silence, the sisters’ life is not solitary, Sister Marie Thérèse said. “It’s not just you and Our Lord, but it’s you and your sisters together [who] have all chosen this particular calling, and you’re all working toward the same goal,” she said. “You’re finding Christ in all of them.”

One of their tasks — and a source of income for the sisters — is to package and ship unconsecrated Communion hosts for parishes, seminaries, religious communities, Catholic schools and hospitals, nursing homes and prison chaplains, Mother Dolores Marie said.

A group prepares to package and ship pamphlets containing information about the Poor Clares’ order. Courtesy photo

During her work time on any morning, Sister Marie Thérèse may be doing bookkeeping or serving as the community’s vocation director. “That to me is a great gift, because it keeps my vocation fresh,” she said. “Each time I talk about the life it kind of gets your heart on fire again. It’s so beautiful to see these young women who are so longing to know God’s will for their life.”

She is in contact with four women who are seriously interested in joining, though not all are yet prepared. The interested young women are ages 16 to their early 20s. Though women can enter up until age 35, most who come are 18 to 24, she said.

Because of space limitations, the order is reluctant to accept most of them until construction of the new monastery is underway, Mother Dolores Marie said. But while she wants the women to wait to have the fullness of the sisters’ life in the new monastery, she doesn’t want to discourage anyone who thinks it is the right time.

“The beautiful thing about our situation is I don’t have any concern about lack of vocations, because we’ve met so many wonderful young women and families,” she said. “They’re very open to discerning vocations and are very interested in our life.”

“Each time I talk about the life it kind of gets your heart on fire again.” — Sister Marie Thérèse

Keeping busy

Also in the morning, Sister Marie Thérèse and a helper prepare the midday meal — the sisters’ largest of the day. Each sister is assigned to cook for the community for six months or a year. The sisters depend entirely on food donations, largely provided through the local parish.

While not fully cloistered because of the limitations of their current monastery, the Poor Clares spend much of their day in prayer and contemplation. Courtesy photo

“People here provide our groceries,” Mother Dolores Marie said. “They’re very generous, so we just cook with whatever they bring us. We try to keep it simple.”

As the cook, Sister Marie Thérèse said she’s learned to be creative. “Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to come, or you may not have something you think you need for a while, or you may have all kinds of treats and things people think of to bring us,” she said. “It’s been so special to live off his divine providence. ... It keeps you very thankful.”

During free time after lunch, the sisters will read, do crafts, walk or even play basketball.

“Believe it or not, we’ll play basketball if we have the chance,” Mother Dolores Marie said. “The sisters love basketball. And we’re in the full habit in whatever we do, including basketball and gardening.”

Aside from their work, during the day the sisters may have guests, including seminarians, in their small parlor. Priests and seminarians “find such strength in knowing that we’re here and our whole life is dedicated to prayer,” Mother Dolores Marie said.

The six sisters of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration pose by a statue of the Blessed Mother. Courtesy photo

At 3 p.m., the community returns to the chapel for the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and personal prayer. One sister is assigned each week to pray and sacrifice especially for priests, dedicating the 3 p.m. hour of mercy to praying for their causes. Prayer on Thursdays is dedicated to the bishop.

The order’s devotion to the priesthood dates back to its foundress but has more recently become a calling within a calling for the Charlotte sisters since they studied the Congregation for the Clergy’s 2007 document addressing the priestly scandals, “Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of the Priesthood and Spiritual Maternity.”

“We’re the hidden foundation of others who are the face of the Church.”— Mother Dolores Marie

Giving God thanks

After an hour of study and reading, followed by Evening Prayer and dinner, the sisters may have more free time or a lesson. “Grand silence” begins after 8 p.m. Night Prayer and the day ends at about 10 p.m.

Structure in their day keeps the sisters focused on Christ, Sister Marie Thérèse said. “When the bell rings, we know it’s time to go, and we’re doing it all together,” she said. “It kind of keeps everything ordered and reminds you of what’s most important. Even in the cloister, you’re tempted to get caught up in what you’re doing, get distracted. The schedule is there to remind us, always pulling us back: Christ is first; he’s the center.”

The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Charlotte, N.C., pray outside. Courtesy photo

Living away from the world, sometimes the sisters receive the consolation of knowing their prayers were answered, but the emphasis is always on the Lord, Sister Marie Thérèse said.

“He’ll always plant a seed right in the moment when it’s perfect timing, and you realize it day-to-day.

“It’s a huge thing that he can do with prayer. Your own faithfulness, your own devotion, living your life to the full with integrity — that does make a difference,” she said. “It happens in all different ways.”

From their hidden foundation of prayer, the sisters hope to soon lay the groundwork for their new monastery, which will enable them live their life of solitude, as they also welcome the laity and clergy to pray and participate in the liturgy with them from behind the grille.

In all they do, the sisters offer thanksgiving to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, Mother Dolores Marie said, as the order’s motto states: Deo Gratias per Jesum in Sanctissimum Sacramentum! (“Thanks be to God through Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament!”)

“It’s just a natural part of trying to be very aware of everything coming from God and giving thanks to him.”

Susan Klemond writes from Minnesota.

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