In time for Christmas, Benedictines move into priory
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
GOWER — Some people count their blessings before they fall asleep. The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, can count their miracles.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Bishop Robert W. Finn blesses the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus, new home for the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles.
As soon as they processed out of the first Mass ever celebrated in their new 35-bedroom home on Dec. 19, the 21 religious women, in full Benedictine habit, burst into laughter and hugs.
“We are so thrilled and delighted to have Our Lord with us,” said Mother Cecilia, prioress of the community. “Now, it is truly a home.”
It is indeed, and only one of a string of miracles, large and small, that has benefited the community since their arrival in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in March, 2006.
Take, for example, the move from the old convent next to St. Pius X High School.
The entire process of moving all 21 nuns some 35 miles to the new priory northeast of Gower took exactly one day, Friday, Dec. 17, two days before Bishop Finn’s arrival to bless the priory and celebrate the first Mass.
“Over 100 people came, people we didn’t even know. We had the entire St. Pius X football team,” Mother Cecilia said. “It was nothing short of a miracle.”
The nuns spent the next two days unpacking and praying, not necessarily in that order. By the bishop’s arrival for the 3 p.m. Mass on Dec. 19, everything was at least squared away if not in absolutely perfect order, and a lavish meal was prepared for the bishop and invited guests for a day of special celebration.
Ora et labora. Pray and work. That is at the heart of the Rule of St. Benedict, and that is what the sisters will now work on the 260 acres of rolling farmland that is another miracle gift from an anonymous benefactor.
The rich woodwork dominating the new priory is also appropriate. Benefactors from across the nation seemed to appear out of the woodwork to contribute both money and material goods toward the construction of the $2.2 million, 25,000 square-foot priory.
One of them was Felix Avalos, a sculptor who came from LaRue, Texas to deliver a huge, red cedar, hand-carved crucifix that will grace the front room.
Avalos told the Catholic Key that his only connection to the Benedictines was a friendship he struck with the father of one of the nuns. As he learned more, he was inspired to donate his art.
“I carved it and drove it up from Texas myself,” he said.
More miracles? Consider this: When they arrived from the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the nuns numbered 13. They now number 21, with inquiries constantly arriving from young women attracted to the cloistered, monastic life.
That’s why they built big, said Mother Cecilia. Of the 35 bedrooms, 10 can serve as double rooms, with quarters for up to 45 nuns.
And although they will allow God to work his miracles in his own time, they envision moving again into a full monastery on the property at some point in the future, converting their present home into a guest house, where people will come for prayer and retreat, and be welcomed, according to the Rule of St. Benedict, “as if they were Christ.”
It was appropriate that the celebration of the first Mass in their new home would occur on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Bishop Finn told the nuns and their guests in his homily.
“It is a fitting place and a grace-filled time when we can begin to see the hope and promise of Our Lord,” he said.
Bishop Finn invited the nuns to the diocese with the specific task of praying for the sanctification of priests. They have done that magnificently, and like the season of Advent, they continue to wait prayerfully for “the fulfillment of Isaiah and the prophets of that which is yet to come.”
“It is a time for preparation for the great feast that is to come, Christmas,” Bishop Finn said.
“We are aware that this place has a beauty of its own,” he said. “But it is not yet the monastery that it will become. And yet, we already begin to enjoy the presence of his life, his love, his gift in sharing his holiness.”
Bishop Finn noted that the Gospel of the day pointed to the example of the Holy Family, Mary, the mother of God, and Joseph, to whom God entrusted his son.
“There are three things we might take up as themes for this day,” he said.
“The first is thankfulness. Mary received the Lord and she proclaimed the Magnificat,” Bishop Finn said.
“We also can be genuinely thankful for the gifts that have already been bestowed upon us,” he said.
“Second is trust and hope,” Bishop Finn said.
“St. Joseph had to trust that the message of the angel and the unfolding plan of God would somehow work out. It was a tremendous act of the heart to have trust and hope in the promise of Christ,” he said.
“We must also have that trust in God that he will fulfill his promises, even in trials and troubles and difficulties and challenges,” Bishop Finn said.
“The third is generosity,” the bishop said.
“St. Joseph generously began to act on the direction of his angel. He took Mary into his home,” he said.
“It is so important that we go out as messengers of Jesus Christ and go out in generosity of others,” he said.
Speaking to the guests, Bishop Finn told them that the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, are deeply grateful for the support they have received.
“It is a new home for them, and it’s going to require great trust,” he said.
“They will trust that a new place will unfold and God will direct their steps,” Bishop Finn said.
“They will continue to be generous with prayer and sacrifice, which means so much ot our diocese and our priests,” he said.
“May God reward all of you for your kindness and give us all the joys of Christmas for the days to come,” Bishop Finn said.