Welcome once again to another post in our series for the Year of Consecrated Life. I have really enjoyed putting these posts together and getting the opportunity to communicate with a wide variety of women living in consecrated life. For the first time, with this post, we have an interview with a nun living in a cloistered convent. I think Sr. Joseph Marie is also our first Dominican. I enjoyed reading through her story and I hope you do too. Please keep reading to learn more about Sr. Joseph and the Dominican nuns of Menlo Park, CA.
What is your name?
Sister Joseph Marie of the Child Jesus, O.P.
What is the name of your order and what is your order’s particular charism?
We are a community of cloistered nuns of the Order of Preachers. The nuns of the Order of Preachers came into being 800 years ago when our Holy Father Dominic gathered women converts to the Catholic faith in the monastery of Blessed Mary of Prouille (France). These women, free for God alone, he associated with his “holy preaching” by their prayer and penance. St. Dominic entrusted the nuns, as part of the same Order, to the fraternal concern of his sons, and we remain so to this day.
Our community at Corpus Christi Monastery in Menlo Park, California was founded on May 29, 1921, when eight nuns from our founding monastery in Bronx, New York, left to begin a new foundation on the West Coast. Rev. A.L. McMahon, O.P., Provincial of the Western Dominican Province, desired to bring to the San Francisco area a contemplative monastery whose purpose would be to honor and promote devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
The friars, sisters and laity of the Dominican Order are “to preach the name of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout the world;” the nuns are to seek, ponder and call upon him in solitude so that the word proceeding from the mouth of God may not return to him empty, but may accomplish those things for which it was sent.
We live out this charism by remaining faithful to the Magisterium of the Church and observing Papal enclosure. The celebration of the Eucharist and Divine Office is central to our daily life, as well as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In addition to liturgical and private prayer, community and study round out the pillars of our life.
How did you know God was calling you to this life?
I had reached a point in my life when I realized I’d achieved so much and was truly living the American dream: a strong faith life, loving family, relationship and friends, education and a promising career, yet I still felt unfulfilled and yearned for something beyond my comprehension. I started looking at religious life and contacted a national vocations office that helped connect people to religious communities. They gave me the names of several communities in California and I was drawn to Corpus Christi Monastery by their horarium, the common life, the silence, study, government and adoration that is part of the daily life.
Over the next two years, I would visit and experience an indescribable peace, but then return to my life in the world and my discernment would be pushed to the back burner. But Jesus kept calling me back and finally I couldn’t resist Him any longer. Discerning a religious vocation is a lot like dating is to marriage – you may not have all the answers and you may have some nervousness and questions but you finally reached a point when you and the community know enough and you both just have to take that step of faith and follow your heart.
Tell us a bit about what your day-to-day life is like.
Our life is ordered to preserving the continual remembrance of God for His greater glory and the salvation of souls. A cloistered nun’s spouse is none other than Christ himself; her children are the downtrodden and the afflicted throughout the world she carries in her heart and prayers throughout the day. Our day begins before sunrise. In Dominican tradition, we have already spent some time in personal vigil prayer, each sister choosing to either pray after Compline the night before or to rise and pray before the Office. By 5:30 a.m., the entire community has gathered in the choir to pray Matins and Lauds.
As Dominicans, we also set aside a portion of our day for study. We study not to simply acquire knowledge, but to know better the One we love; Dominican study is a form of prayer. The celebration of the liturgy – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the seven hours of the Divine Office – is the heart of our whole life and the primary source of our unity. The summit of our day is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is followed by a time of thanksgiving and Terce (Midmorning prayer).
The remainder of the day is filled with the ebb and flow of the Divine Office, personal prayer and various work assignments and classes for the novitiate. Work tasks around the monastery vary greatly and it’s beautiful to see how each sister is able to put their talents, knowledge, and strengths at the service of the community, sometimes in unique and unexpected ways! Each sister also keeps at least one hour of adoration during the day.
The bell for Vespers (Evening prayer) rings at 5:00 p.m., followed by lectio divina, supper and recreation. The day draws to a close with Compline, the favorite hour for many Dominicans; there are many miracles and graces associated with it in our history and the processions while chanting the Salve Regina (in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of our Order) and the O Lumen (in honor of Our Holy Father Dominic) are very special to us.
What advice would you give to someone considering a consecrated religious life?
First, it’s not as complicated as you might think. All vocations start with an invitation by God, rooted in our baptism, to grow in holiness in a particular way of life and to live the mission of the Church – that is, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to others. So whether you ultimately discern God is calling you to married life, religious life, or some other life of service, such as dedicated single life, your first steps should be the same and aimed at growing to be the person God created you to be in Him.
Pray daily to Jesus and our Blessed Mother. Receive the Sacraments frequently. Avoid sin and grow in virtue. Consult a good, well-informed spiritual director. Consider and pray to God about the reasons you feel drawn to one particular vocation or another. Do not wait for heaven to dispatch an angel to reveal to you God’s will! He is answering your prayers by the movements of your heart. As Bl. Hyacinthe-Marie Cormier, O.P., advised a postulant: Tell yourself very seriously: What would I wish I had done at the hour of my death, on the day of my judgment? Right now, do what you need to do so that later you will have accomplished it. It is a question of a happy or an unhappy eternity…
About Contemplative Vocations: Just as God calls whom He wills, there is no particular type of person He calls to the contemplative life. The cloisters of monasteries are filled with introverts and extroverts, artists and accountants, those who never went to college and those who hold Ph.D.’s. If you find yourself wanting to spend more and more time with God in silence, have increasing feeling of something missing from your life despite success and relationships you have, or wanting to “do more” in love for others, you may have a calling to monastic life.
It’s already been such a grace-filled year! Building a culture of vocations really is the work of the entire Church. Sadly, many young men and women are not asked, or even actively discouraged from discerning a vocation to consecrated life. And those who are in consecrated life are often not supported in their vocations, or there’s simply a lack of awareness of how important these vocations are for the Church. We need each other and so to have this time to learn more about and support consecrated life in the Body of Christ is tremendous.
What is your favorite thing to do during your down time/recreation time?
Depending on the day, I might be found reading, walking, gardening, playing sports, playing the piano or guitar, or in our art studio working on a project.