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Thursday, 30 August 2012

Vocation Story: A Life of Loving Service: Mother Margarita Maria, O.C.D.

A Life of Loving Service:  Mother Margarita Maria, O.C.D.

Strolling through the campuses of Little Flower Missionary House, Santa Teresita and Sacred Heart Retreat House, all located in southern California, reveals a common feature of these first foundations of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles.  A beautiful chapel occupies the place of prominence in all three locations and leaves no doubt that God is the enter of everything that happens.  Mother Margarita Maria, O.C.D., envisioned and brought to completion each one of these chapels, overseeing every detail of their construction and sparing no expense in providing “the best” for God’s House.  Throughout her life, Mother would often say, “We must give our best to God.” Inevitably, she would always add, “If we do our best, God will do the rest.”

Mother Margarita Maria discovered God within the stunning edifices which she built for His honor and glory and within every person she encountered and served.  These beautiful chapels stand as a silent witness to the driving force of her life -- the conviction that God is worthy of, and deserves, the best that we can offer.  Placing our lives totally and unreservedly in His hands is the greatest gift anyone can give Him.

Maria de la Concepcion Hernandez was born on February 25, 1903, in the city of Ameca, Jalisco, Mexico, the first of three surviving children of Nestor and Maria Concepcion Hernandez.  Nestor, a widower with three children, was twenty-four years older than his second wife, Maria Concepcion.  An artisan and jeweler, Nestor created beautiful silver and gold chalices, ciboria and other vessels for use in the church.  Perhaps, Maria learned her attention to detail and desire to use her gifts and talents in the service of God from her father.  When she was only nine years old, she remained at her father’s side for the last twelve hours of his life and always remembered his final words to her to “get a chair for your older brother.”  She understood this as a legacy left to her by her father -- to be forgetful of self and to be aware of and serve the needs of others.

She was named after her mother, a homemaker who lovingly cared for her growing family.  During the religious persecution in Mexico, at the risk of her own life, Mrs. Hernandez often sheltered Mother Luisita and her religious in her own home, again providing Maria with a legacy of courage in the service of God that endured throughout her life.  When Mother Margarita wrote her vocation story many years later, she said, “We were an ordinary family. I learned to love Christ from the example of my parents.”

The following is her written account of her application to enter Carmel:
“When I met Mother Luisita, I applied in the third
person. I remember that, on the way to the meeting, I saw a sick man with his head all bandaged, and I looked at him and thought, “I don’t like to be with sick people.” I told Mother that my friend was a teacher (Maria already had her teaching credentials), and she would like to know if she would be assured never to be sent to work in a hospital.

Mother Luisita replied, “When a woman enters religious life, she gives herself to God. It is not a loan; it is a gift, and God does with that gift whatever He pleases.” Then Mother added, “Of course, you tell your friend that the superiors usually use the qualities of the candidates when they come already prepared for a specific work.” I thanked Mother and told her that I would let her know what my friend decided. Later, when I told Mother Luisita that I was the one applying, she told me that she had known it all along.”
    – from the writings of Mother Margarita Maria of the Sacred Heart, O.C.D.

Maria entered Carmel on September 30, 1923, and received the name Sister Margarita Maria of the Sacred Heart when she became a novice.  At the completion of her novitiate, she pronounced her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  In 1927, one year after she made her first profession of vows, God asked another gift from Sister Margarita Maria.  He asked her to leave her family and her beloved homeland in Mexico to accompany Mother Luisita as she journeyed into an unknown future in the United States seeking refuge for her young Congregation from the fierce religious persecution raging in Mexico.  The words of Mother Luisita that “God does with the gift whatever he pleases” echoed in her heart and she joyfully assented.
During those early days in her adopted country, she taught catechism, ran a secondhand store, helped with the parish census, gave Spanish and piano lessons, and worked among other Mexican refugees at Holy Innocents parish in Long Beach, California.  When Santa Teresita Sanatorium opened in Duarte, California, in 1930, Sister Margarita Maria was appointed the first administrator and served in that capacity for the next 55 years as Santa Teresita continued to meet the needs of the people through their healthcare services.  She learned to love the sick and the elderly and spared no effort to provide the best in care and service. 

When Mother Luisita returned to Mexico, she left Sister Margarita Maria – now called Mother Margarita Maria - in her place as the regional superior.  In 1983, when the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles became an independent congregation from that in Mexico, she was named co-foundress.
A great trust in God characterized Mother Margarita Maria’s life. Her extraordinary ability to envision the outcome of projects enabled her to see the great things that follow the humble beginnings of projects.  She accomplished much during her lifetime. She was equally at home among cardinals, bishops, businessmen, doctors and lawyers, workers, the poor, the sick and the elderly.  Mother loved her Congregation and each one of her Carmelite sisters.  She nourished and protected the charism of Mother Luisita so that it might be passed on intact to future generations.
Her first priority was always the spiritual welfare of those who were served.  She would remind the nursing sisters that they were serving Christ in each person they encountered in the hospital room.  To those who taught, she would repeat that they must bring those they educated to love Christ by their own Christ-like example.  Mother was gifted with a great sense of humor and when she appeared lost in thought with the characteristic twinkle in her eyes and her stocky hands moving excitedly, either a prank or a new building project was in the making.
On September 21, 1988, at the age of 85, God called His faithful servant home to Himself and she surrendered her noble soul to Him as her final gift.   A few short pages cannot enumerate the many gifts with which God blessed Mother Margarita Maria and, through her, all those who came across her path.  We can only respond gratefully– Thank you, Mother, for your unconditional gift of self – words that perhaps she herself heard as she came before Him, Whom she had served so faithfully in religious life for sixty-four years.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Vocation Story: Continuing the Gift: Sister Madonna Joseph, O.C.D.

Continuing the Gift:  Sister Madonna Joseph, O.C.D.

Sister Madonna Joseph was born in Los Angeles, California. At age nine, her family moved to the San Fernando Valley where she lived until entering Carmel.  She is the second of four children born to Marlen and Margaret Seltzer, and her home resounded with deep faith, abiding joy and laughter.  By their example, both parents taught their children about the love of God – often using nature’s beauty to illustrate His goodness.  The family prayed the rosary and attended Mass together, and the children learned to pray morning and night prayers at an early age.

Sister Madonna Joseph’s father, a mechanic, was also an amateur ventriloquist with a fantastic sense of humor, often entertaining friends and family.  Hearts lightened when the two entered the room to entertain. Her mother, a teacher, filled the family home with the beauty of music through the many piano pieces she played – all the way  from classical to gospel.   Margaret Seltzer also served as a docent for the Santa Clarita Historical Society as well as for the Archives of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  Through these activities, she imparted her magnificent love of history to her children.  It is not surprising that the seeds of a religious vocation flourished in such a family.

During a school career day during junior high school years, the students were each asked what career they felt less inclined to choose. When it was her turn, Sister Madonna Joseph responded that her least preference would be careers in healthcare – indeed, not to work with any type of medical equipment. God must have been smiling knowing what the future held in store for her. A graduate of Immaculate Heart College located  in Hollywood, California, she subsequently met some of the same sister-teachers who had taught her mother there as worked towards her degree in mathematics.  

Sister thought about religious life during the years after her graduation from college. However with the instability in so many religious communities during the 1970s, she decided to go into the civil service at a Veteran’s Hospital. She learned much about compassion as she observed Vietnam veterans returning home with great physical and emotional wounds from an unpopular war. Even though she enjoyed working at the Veteran’s Hospital, she felt drawn toward a deeper dimension in service to the Church, and the gentle call of God to serve Him in a religious vocation persisted. Sister Madonna Joseph remembers vividly the first time she came to Santa Teresita Hospital to ask Mother Margarita Maria for admittance into the community. She saw the sisters working together and witnessed the special presence they brought to the hospital. She knew that this was the dimension that was missing in her life.  She relates, “Mother Margarita Maria asked if I thought I was called to the religious life. When I responded affirmatively, she said, ‘Are you willing to sacrifice for Christ?’  This challenge resonated in my heart.”

On September 21, 1980, Sister Madonna Joseph took up the challenge and entered Carmel. Growing up in a close-knit family where three generations had lived in the same household, respecting, appreciating and learning from another, made her transition to Carmel an easy one. She felt at home right away in Carmel where she lived with her Carmelite sisters from various generations.
After making her first profession of vows, she was assigned to Santa Teresita. For the next five years, she worked closely with, and learned from, Mother Margarita Maria.  Sister Madonna Joseph recalls that Mother Margarita resembled Saint Teresa of Avila with her “holy impatience” when it came to the construction of new buildings. She remembered when she accompanied Mother Margarita Maria to one of the new building sites where the men were digging the basement. She asked them excitedly, “When can we move in?”  Sister Madonna Joseph learned from Mother Margarita Maria the intricacies of administering a healthcare facility while at the same time being interested in, and concerned for, the needs of each person.  Continuing her education, she obtained her degree in Health Care Administration.  Eight years to the day of Sister Madonna Joseph’s entrance into Carmel, God called Mother Margarita Maria home to Himself.
In June 2005, Sister Madonna Joseph became the Chief Executive Officer of Santa Teresita. The third Carmelite Sister to follow in the footsteps of Mother Margarita Maria, she continues today the legacy of care which has always characterized Santa Teresita.  In April 2006, Sister Madonna Joseph became the Vicar General, the assistant to Mother Regina Marie, Superior General of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. Because our original sisters, now advanced in age, live at Santa Teresita, Sister Madonna Joseph relates that one of her greatest blessings is to talk to them. They tell story after story of the early days when they worked alongside our Mother Foundress and Mother Margarita Maria. She says how appreciative she is of being able to listen and learn from them about the beginnings of our community, especially the high cost of the birth of our Congregation.

When asked about her vision for Santa Teresita,
Sister Madonna Joseph answered:
“Our mission at Santa Teresita is to be ‘At the Service of the Family For Life.’ This is part of the legacy given to us by Mother Margarita Maria who, like our Mother Foundress, was completely at the service of her sisters, the patients, their families, our co-workers, the volunteers and the physicians. Cardinal Timothy Manning referred to Mother Margarita Maria as the woman who found the treasure in a field and sold all that she had to purchase it.  It is with this same zeal that we carry this mission into new fields of healthcare, dedicating ourselves completely to it and passing it on to future generations.”
The name “Madonna” means “my gift” in Italian.  For Sister Madonna Joseph, it serves as a reminder that her vocation is a gift in which she gives herself and her talents to the Lord to use as He wishes in the vineyards of Carmel.  For those of us who are privileged to know Sister Madonna Joseph, it is a reminder of the gift that she is to our Community and to those she serves. Her name is also a remembrance of the gift of a cherished legacy of loving Carmelite care at the service of the family for life ~ a gift to be passed on to generations yet to come.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Vocation Story: Sister Marie Rachel of the Sacred Wounds, O.C.D.

Sister Marie Rachel of the Sacred Wounds, O.C.D.

J.M. + J.T.
God’s ways are certainly mysterious. Never would I have imagined to be where I am today. All the years that I was growing up I had a definite plan for my life and religious life was not included. In my mind, I was going to be a wife and mother with many children, all of them home schooled. “God will surely send me a good catholic man to marry,” I thought; so I left it in His hands and bided my time. In the mean time, I attended religious talks with my mother. Never did I imagine how one would change my life.

It was just a normal talk on prayer. I am sure I heard similar words before, probably many times before. This time it was different. The words he spoke penetrated my heart. “Prayer is a conversation with God. That means two things: one, we need to talk to Him; secondly, and most importantly, we need to be QUIET and listen.” He said. God will speak to your heart if only you stop to listen. Going home, I felt quite uneasy, convicted. Most of my prayer was simply rattling off memorized formulas with names. I figured that pretty much covered everything I needed to do. As I lay down in bed that night, I did the riskiest thing in my life.

“So God, You speak. Okay. Well, now’s Your chance. I will be quiet and listen.” Not expecting much, I uneasily prayed these words then settled down to wait for whatever was going to happen. He did not lose one moment. Very quickly after I settled down to listen, these words formed in my mind: “You shall be My bride.” Deep down I knew Who spoke this because I had never thought anything like this before. Stunned and in disbelief, my only response was, “What?!?” Again, the same words came back to me. Even more uneasy, as this disrupted all my carefully laid out plans for my life, I tried to wiggle out of it. “Well, the Church is the Bride of Christ and as a married woman with a family, I would be part of the Church. Therefore, You must be calling me to be a bride in the sense that I am united to the Church.” Yet, this thought did not comfort me in the least. I knew He was calling for more.

Then the search began. St. Pio, speaking of Our Lord’s relationship with the soul has a saying that “all is a continual game on the part of your Lover.” And so the game began. Slowly, He wooed my heart and helped me to conform my desires to His. Soon, I found myself seeking out which Community He might want me to enter. With all the vast choices, I simply told Him, “This was Your idea, not mine. You better show me where to go because I have no clue where to start.” Within a few months, two separate people referred me to a Carmelite community in Alhambra California. At first, I dreaded the idea of returning to a crowed city. Nevertheless, I could not shake the feeling that it was no coincidence that two completely unrelated sources were pointing me here.

Taking a deep breath, I mustered up the courage to call Sister Marina and signed up for the Come and See retreat that summer. A little relieved, I thought to myself, “Well, I did my part. I will see what God will do.” He probably laughed when He heard my thoughts. No less than a month later, I was at a local Catholic Teen Day gathering. In the back, there were several vocation booths in the back. One caught my eye. There were a couple of sisters there in an ankle length brown habit. The habit looked like something I had seen before, like on one of the brochures for the Carmelites. Gathering up my courage (I did not have much to gather), I casually made my way to the back where the booths were. As I picked up a brochure to see if these sisters could really be the same ones I had called just a few weeks earlier, I looked up just in time to catch the eye of the sister standing there. Extending her hand, she said, “Hello, I am Sister Marina. Do you happen to know a young woman named Kim? She called me a few weeks ago to sign up for a retreat.” Stunned, I managed to tell her that the person she was looking for was me. I could hardly believe that the Vocation Directress was standing before me. I do not remember much else about that day, but I know I kept my eyes on EVERYTHING the sisters did.

That summer, I made my first trip to the retreat house. As I stepped out of the car, I knew that this was the place Our Lord was calling me. By the end of the retreat, I wanted to enter as soon as possible. Nevertheless, I was asked to stay at home for two more years. It was a difficult decision, but I remained at home for the two years and tried to grow closer to Christ throughout the time I had to wait. What a blessing it has been to have those two years of longing to enter! Much of the natural difficulties I have encountered within the Formation process have been lessened because I had to wait so long to even be here. Truly, God’s ways are mysterious and I praise Him for it.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Saint's Corner: Clare of Montefalco

Name: Clare of Montefalco or Clare of the Cross
Birth & Death: 1268 - 18 August 1308
Feast Day: 17 August
Country of Origin: Italy
History: She became a Franciscan tertiary under the Secular Third Order of St. Francis at the age of sic, joining her sister and some others in a hermitage built by their father. The group later wished to move to a more monastic way of life and after appealing to their Bishop he established them in a new monastery under the Rule of St. Augustine. Her sister was the first abbess and after her death Clare was named abbess, though she was reluctant to accept the position until the Bishop insisted on it.

After her death, her heart was removed from her body and a crucifix and scourge were found within it. Her body has remained incorrupt.

She is claimed by both Franciscans and Augustinians, although she is officially canonised as a Augustinian.


Catholic Encyclopaedia

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Community Spotlight: Carmel of St. Teresa, Alhambra, CA

Order: Carmelite
Gender: Women
Charism: Contemplative
Eligibility: 20-35 years of age and at least 2 years of college or work experience.
Formation: One year postulancy, two year novitiate, three years simple profession before solemn profession
Vows: Poverty, chastity and obedience
Practices: Liturgy of the Hours, Marian devotion,
History: The monastery in Alhambra was founded in 1913 by five nuns from the community in St. Louis. They lived in Los Angeles for ten years in rented accommodation before the present monastery was built.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Saint's Corner: Maximilian Kolbe

Name: Maximilian Maria Kolbe, born Raymund Kolbe
Birth & Death: 8 January 1894 - 14 August 1941
Feast Day: 14 August
Country of Origin: Poland
History: Conventual Franciscan friar and priest. He had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin, influenced by a vision of her that he had as a child:

I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said I would accept them both. 
During the second World War he and his brothers housed Polish refugees, including many Jews. He was arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he ministered to the other prisoners and held Mass. After an escape at the camp and as punishment ten men were selected to be starved to death. One of the men who was selected cried out for his wife and children, "My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?" and though his exact words have been lost, Maximilian Kolbe offered himself in place of the man. In the starvation cell he led the other prisoners in prayer and sang hymns with them. After two weeks he was the only prisoner left alive in the cell and was executed by lethal injection. 


A Rule of Life for Those Consecrated to the Immaculate Virgin - written by St. Maximilian Kolbe
Militia of the Immaculata

Update: Emily

I just wanted to let you all know that I've written two posts on my own blog about my live-in experience. It's in two parts and includes part of the journal I kept whilst I was there: Part 1  Part 2

Community Spotlight: Pluscarden Abbey, Scotland

Order: Benedictine
Gender: Men
Charism: Contemplative
Eligibility: 20-35 years of age (can be flexible), free from debt and family obligations
Formation: Approx. six months postulancy, two year novitiate, min. three years temporary profession before solemn profession
Vows: Stability, obedience, conversion of life
Practices: Latin Gregorian Chant,
History: Click here for the history of the community.


Here at the bottom of the page is an explanation of why the monks wear white as opposed to black like most Benedictines.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Visits to a few religious orders...

Apologies again for the lack of activity from both Emily and I these past few weeks. We have both scheduled a number of posts and I am currently doing the final touches to a few more posts with the help of sisters from a few different orders. I will let you all know once I have finalised and published them, so please watch this space.

I went to visit the Salesian Sisters on a number of occasions while I was in London. Just by being in the house and talking to the sisters and seeing what they do and meeting them, I am beginning to realise what is "for me" and what not. To be honest, I haven't had a good enough look to completely make too many judgements at present, but something inside me is slightly drawing me away from it and asking me to look elsewhere. So I've discovered that perhaps, at this moment in time, God wants me elsewhere and only patience will find out where...

I also went to see Mother Matthias OSB at Tyburn Convent. Although I have been in touch with the Tyburn nuns for a number of years now, I had never actually been there before, so this was a first time experience. I went to adoration, had a talk with Mother Matthias, had some supper and then went to compline. Somehow it felt like home to me. I wonder whether that was because I know they know me well and I've always been very open and honest with them about everything since I was quite young, or whether it was Our Lord and Our Lady trying to hint something at me. For now, I can only say that time will tell, but my thoughts of Tyburn remain the same.

I will keep you all updated as I make a few more visits over time. I think it's important to remember that the only way to really discern properly is to be patient. We are all called to different things and I truly believe that my moving around, even within London over the last month has all been for some reason - I've discovered things I never thought possible, and I have met people who I have been able to help a bit, which has hopefully made a little impact on their lives for the better. I want to be out there for a bit longer to try and make this world a better place - my only wish is to be there for those in need - what on earth that is supposed to mean as far as my vocation is concerned, I still don't know, but I hope that one day I will know.

God Bless, and I will keep you all in my prayer,
Kim Lee

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Community Spotlight: Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight

Order: Benedictine
Gender: Men
Charism: Contemplative
Eligibility: Must be a Catholic of at least two years,
Formation: Unknown
Vows: Obedience, stability, conversation of life
Practices: Gregorian Chant, Divine Office, Lectio Divina
History: The community was founded when the exiled monks of Solesmes came to England. When they were able to return to France, a group of monks remained at Quarr as a new foundation.


The monks have a tea garden and farm shop - look at the "Visitors and Guests" section of their website for more details. Under "Monastic Life" you can find more information about becoming an oblate.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Saints Corner: Clare of Assisi

Name: Clare of Assisi
Birth & Death: 16 July 1194 - 11 August 1253
Feast Day: 11 August
Country of Origin: Italy
History: Clare was born to a wealthy noble family, her father was Count of Sasso-Rossa. Her parents wanted her to get married when she was 15 but she decided to wait until she was 18. At 18 she heard the preachings of St. Francis, also a native of Assisi, and decided to follow him. She ran away from her family and was given the habit by St. Francis and placed in a Benedictine community. Her father tried to make her leave, as he still wanted her to marry. Clare and her sister later moved to the church of San Damiano, rebuilt by St. Francis. The order was originally known as the Poor Ladies, but after Clare's death it was renamed the Poor Clares.


Catholic Encyclopaedia 

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Saint's Corner: Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Name: Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, birth name Edith Stein
Birth & Death: 12 October 1891 - 9 August 1942
Feast Day: 9 August
Country of Origin: Germany
History: Edith Stein was born to a Jewish family but by her teenage years she had lost faith. She gained a doctorate in philosophy in 1916. She became interested in Catholicism and after reading the works of St. Teresa of Avila she converted and was baptised in 1922. In 1933 she entered a Discalced Carmelite community in Cologne and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, although the threat of the Nazi regime compelled her community to transfer her to the Netherlands. The transfer did not, however, spare her and she was arrested along with her sister who had also converted and taken to Auschwitz concentration camp and was gassed there.


Teresa Benedict of the Cross

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Saint's Corner: Saint Mary of the Cross

Name: Mary of the Cross, more commonly known as Mary MacKillop
Birth & Death: 15 January 1984 - 8 August 1909
Feast Day: 8 August
Country of Origin: Australia
History: As a young woman she worked as a teacher and a governess to provide for her family. In 1864 she founded her own boarding school for girls. A local priest, Father Woods, had become concerned with the lack of Catholic education in southern Australia and so invited Mary and two of her sisters to open a Catholic school. The Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart was thus founded, and in 1867 she was appointed as the first superior and took the name Sr Mary of the Cross.


Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart - Catholic Encyclopaedia, scroll to bottom of page
Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart

Blog Updates


I'm back from my live-in. I'll post properly on it later, but for now I can tell you it went very well. I'll work on some new posts as well - I apologise for the lack of activity recently but both Kim and I have been very busy.

God Bless