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Nun-run

College students, campus minister, spend a week visiting convents in East Coast



A visit with the Poor Clares
Shy and antisocial? Not these basketball-playing contemplative nuns

Charlotte, N.C. | Cloistered nuns are anything but boring.

One thing we learned on our visit is that cloistered sisters are not the quiet, introverted and somber individuals many people believe them to be.

The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration are a Franciscan order whose spirituality is devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. They live a contemplative life in order to pray on behalf of all people. For that reason, Poor Clares set themselves apart from the world.

The community we visited was originally based in Ohio, but moved to North Carolina a couple of years ago after an invitation from the Diocese of Charlotte. The sisters found that their new location was more conducive to contemplative life.

“It’s such a beautiful and vibrant diocese,” said Sister Immaculata, who found her vocation after moving from Haiti to Fort Lauderdale, adding that the annual eucharisitic congress, in which the Blessed Sacrament processes through downtown Charlotte, also attracted them to the diocese.

“We’ve met so many beautiful families and young people open to vocation. Families here are serious about their spiritual lives and are earnestly seeking holiness,” said Mother Dolores, the community’s superior.

The order receives its visitors behind the grills or bars that symbolically and physically separate the sisters from the world. Even the sisters’ families cannot be in the same room with them.

Normally, the sisters receive visitors in the parlor outside of the cloister, but we were given the rare opportunity to step behind the closed doors of the convent and experience a glimpse into the mysterious lives of contemplatives.  

We shared meals with them in their refectory and prayed with them in their small chapel. Upon entering their convent, the conversation took off and we learned how much we had in common with them. Like most of us on the nun-run, the sisters love chocolate, pizza, musicals and Lord of the Rings.

Despite the image of contemplatives as shy and antisocial, they were anything but.

“It’s actually the more extroverted and sanguine temperaments that enter the contemplative orders,” said Sister Mary Therese with a telling smile. She grew up in a theatrical family and once considered becoming an actress.

Though the sisters do spend ample time praying and doing chores, they also enjoy recreational activities like sports. Often, they “sneak off” to play basketball on church grounds and even had to create the rule of “no pulling on a sister’s veil while playing.”  

We all could not help but notice how radiantly beautiful the sisters are. Their clear, porcelain-like skin glowed when speaking about their call to religious life, and they were all smiles when speaking of their divine spouse.  

Their indescribable grace, we concluded, comes from the love they have for Christ and their joy in living out their vocation.
- Blanca Morales

MIAMI | New York was on many of our bucket lists. So was seeing a final profession.

When we received the invitation to attend the final vows of Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal in New York City, the journey to the northeast seemed a bit ambitious. But we were determined to go.

“Seeing a final vow is not an everyday thing,” said Michelle Ducker, campus minister at St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center, located across from the University of Miami in Coral Gables. “How often is one invited to go?”

The decision was made. Ducker and six others — myself (a recent graduate of Florida International University), two UM students (a freshman and a junior), another freshman who attends Miami-Dade College, one medical student from FIU, and a University of Florida graduate — would leave for New York City at the end of May and spend the week-long trip visiting several religious orders along the way, turning this road trip into a “nun-run.”

I had never done a nun-run but apparently they are pretty popular among some Catholic young adults — alternately, guys do friar-runs. The road trip consists of visits to different convents throughout the East Coast so that the young women can learn about different orders and the sisters can showcase religious life.

Along the way we visited with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Charlotte, N.C.; attended the final profession ceremony in New York City; spent time with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in Connecticut; and stopped in at the Servants of the Lord in New York City. 

As we approached New York City and caught that first glimpse of the skyline, cell phones were flipped out and pictures began to snap. We could hardly believe we were in the Big Apple. It was the first visit there for most of us. Just as we drove into the city, every rumor about New York surfaced and made the experience all the more authentic. 

“The movies weren’t exaggerating,” said Andrea Morales, my sister and a freshman at Miami-Dade, as she observed the heavy traffic, jaywalkers, and audacious cab drivers. After seeing the hectic scene before her, she was better able to appreciate Miami traffic. We all did, actually. 

It wasn’t long into our drive when we spotted a statue of Mother Mary, arms extended, in front of a church. It was a reminder that despite the chaos, God is still present in the city. 

Nothing was a greater reminder of God’s presence than seeing Franciscan friars and sisters saunter down sidewalks or cross busy streets as they made a beeline to Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Manhattan where five Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal were to make their final vows.

This was an exciting day for us. Not only was this our first time at a final profession, but there was also the fact that Cardinal Timothy Dolan would celebrate the Mass, and we were looking forward to seeing him in person, even if it was from a distance. 

As we lingered in front of the church, a car pulled up to the sidewalk and a man dressed in black stepped out to remove the cones that were reserving the parking spot. He then processed to greet everyone who was outside.

“Hi, I’m Cardinal Dolan, I’m so glad you are here.”

We all exchanged glances. This was the man whom we had read about, whose forthright voice in support of religious freedom gave us hope, and whose sense of humor made him all the more approachable and relatable.

“Even though he said the same thing to everyone, I felt he really was glad we are here,” said Mary Hart, the University of Florida graduate.

Upon hearing that we came from Miami, Cardinal Dolan turned to us, saying, “I knew I smelled sunscreen!” He then welcomed each of us with a hug.

Like the rest of us, Ducker had dreamed of giving Cardinal Dolan a hug.  When she told him, he put his arm around her and walked with her as he greeted other guests.

“I’m not crazy about celebrities or anything, but I really admire Cardinal Dolan,” she said.
We were now able to cross another item off our bucket list.

BRIDES
Before Mass began, Cardinal Dolan looked out at the church, packed with friends and family of the sisters, and exclaimed, “It looks like Yankee Stadium in here!”  

As the brides that they were, the sisters remained hidden before Mass. A couple of us, while looking for the restroom, accidently walked into the wrong hall and heard the excited giggling of the sisters from behind a wall. 

Sister Francesca, whom we had met when she came to Miami to lead an Easter mission at UM, peeked out and waved at us before hiding again. 

The ceremony, which took place during Mass, seemed to us a wedding of epic proportions. 

Cardinal Dolan called it a reflection of the greatest love affair, because the sisters were “going to mirror the intimate love that Jesus has with his spouse, the Church.”

During his homily, Cardinal Dolan emphasized the significance of such a union. “Our five sisters today, do you know what they’re going to do? Do you realize the profound vocation they have in the Church?
“Now they’re going to call Jesus not just their Lord, not just the son of God, not just one in being with the Father — excuse me ‘consubstantial’ with the Father — now they are going to call Jesus their husband, their bridegroom.”

Cardinal Dolan went on to communicate the importance of vocation, while commending the sisters for their “yes” to God.

“What a noble vocation you have, sisters. How much we need to see this.  Sisters, do we ever need you. Do we ever need someone to reflect a supernatural, infinite love. Do we ever need someone to remind us that Jesus and his Church are one, intimately bound together as a husband and wife in marriage.”

As the sisters professed their final vows, it was as if we had been given a glimpse of the heavenly marriage that awaits us all, regardless of vocation, when we are to meet Christ in person.

As each sister approached the cardinal, it was obvious he was acting “in persona Christi” — it was not just Cardinal Dolan receiving the vows, nor the Church, but Christ himself holding the hands of each sister as she said: 

“Inspired by the Holy Spirit to become a spouse of Christ and desiring to live the Gospel in the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare… I …vow and promise to almighty God, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to our holy father St. Francis, to our holy mother St. Clare…to observe in my entire life the rule of St. Francis of Assisi…living in obedience without property, in poverty and in chastity.”

Cardinal Dolan was all smiles and proudly beamed at the sisters throughout Mass.

“He is such a fatherly figure,” said Christina Gauthreaux, the FIU medical student. “He looked at them and hugged them as if they were his daughters getting married, and he was the one giving them away.”

A reception followed Mass and the dress code appeared to be habits, for there were religious men and women of different orders, along with lay people, chatting and congratulating the “newlyweds.”

It made for a beautiful scene. All the different vocations painted a picture of the body of Christ; each one through their own apostolate was Christ’s hands, feet and heart.

As she beheld the rainbow of habits and veils in the room, Gauthreaux could not help but shake her head in awe. “Where else would you see this?”

APPLE TREES
After the profession we stayed with another order, the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in Meriden, Conn. From the moment we pulled into their driveway, I was mesmerized. It looked heavenly. The next morning it still looked Utopian. As we toured their house and grounds, I thought this surely must be paradise: a quaint, homey place surrounded by beautiful gardens and farms nestled in the mountains. 

We were eating breakfast at a little terrace in their convent when they found out that all of us Florida natives had never seen an apple tree. The bridal-veiled sisters all jumped up in shock, and exclaimed, “You have to see our farm!”

The Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist have many ministries and apostolic endeavors which allow them all to use the talents and gifts they each have. One such endeavor is the Land Program — a community service program in which young adults learn to work with the land and animals while receiving teachings on the Church.

Nestled among mountains, the farm consisted of a chicken coop, goats, vegetables and an orchard. Being the city girls that we are, we stopped to look at everything: We stood under a weeping willow tree, stepped into the chicken coup, petted the goats, looked at the fruit trees, and even petted their behemoth bunny with the triple chin.

Our nun-run let us see that not all religious sisters forego their careers. The sisters still work as teachers, counselors, or whatever they studied, and all their wages go to the community in keeping with the Franciscan vows of poverty and obedience.

Many of the sisters we visited throughout our trip were college graduates and professionals, such as Mother Dolores of the Poor Clares, who was a career woman, or Sister Catherine of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, who was an Olympic skater.

Other sisters express their unique personalities through the charisms and apostolates of their order, such as the adventurous Servants of the Lord who go to the far corners of the world to preach the Gospel. This order of religious women has both active and contemplative branches and is part of a religious community that includes priests known as the Institute of the Incarnate Word.

The order has communities all over the globe, even in places as far away as Papua and Greenland, where they are “called to a missionary adventure to bring Christ to the whole world.”

The joyful and fun-loving sisters we visited in East Harlem, N.Y. also personify this sense of adventure. They do not shy away from “adventure, vertigo, and danger” as they reach out to the Hispanic community of the New York neighborhood where they minister. Their order is present in over 14 cities in the U.S. and Canada, and they have recently been invited to start a community in central Florida where they will reach out to the immigrant population.

Our nun-run was indeed a fruitful trip in which we discovered all the Church has to offer as well as meet beautiful, talented and selfless women — role models — who are not afraid to sell everything in order to get “the pearl of great price.”

Comments from readers

Maria Gongora - 07/23/2012 11:35 PM
What a trip! A vacation viewing spectacular spiritual marvels. These selfless lives are worth admiring and thanking them for their prayers on behalf of humanity.

Olga - 07/23/2012 09:30 PM
Gracias Blanca Morales por el regalo de trasmitir estos testimonios visuales de lo que significa la felicidad de seguir a Cristo. Con ello nos muestras otro rostro de la vida Contemplativa en Nuestra Comunidad tan sedienta de esta pureza.

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