Newsletter Fall 2018: “Beauty attracts”

This past July 25 marked the one-year anniversary of the re-foundation of the Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph and St. Anne in downtown Philadelphia. Founded in 1902, the monastery was a thriving community and an important hub of Catholic life in Philadephia before going into decline starting in the late 1960s. By 2017, the Philadelphia Carmel was down to just five members. The story of its renewal is a source of great hope. It also illustrates the ripple effect of support to the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations. One of the 10 nuns sent to Philadelphia to help renew that community is Sister Mary Magdalene, née Channing Dale, a 2013 grant recipient who was able to enter formation at the Carmel of Elysburg (Pennsylvania) thanks to the MEFV’s supporters’ generosity.

One of the five sisters who remained with the Philadelphia Carmel and helped incorporate the 10 new members into that community offered these reflections in September 2018. In keeping with the Carmelite charism, she does not wish to be named.

We knew of course that we had to do something. Our community had dwindled to five members, none of us particularly young. I myself am 78 years old now, and I entered the Philadelphia Carmel 55 years ago. I can truly say that my vocation has been a gift from Heaven. But beginning with the (Second Vatican) council, vocations declined, and you cannot run this place with just five people. 

The good news is, the Carmelite order in general has been thriving. We’re building a new monastery in Fairfield (Pennsylvania) and some of the sisters with responsibility for founding that new location came to our Carmel, initially just to see the architecture, for inspiration. We feel it’s important for monastic architecture to respect tradition, and the Philadelphia Carmel is a beautiful example. The visiting sisters were very gracious, and the idea just naturally came up: What if some of you came here, to renew this existing community? I went with one of the other nuns to Elysburg, to meet with the prioress of that community and start exploring the idea seriously. The upshot was, provided that the Valparaiso (Nebraska) Carmelites were also willing, Elysburg was in! (The Elysburg Carmel was itself founded by nuns from Valparaiso.) It was such a hopeful turn of events. So then I went out to Valparaiso to explore the idea with them, too, and it all just kind of came together.

There is no question that the renewal of our community has been the work of the Holy Spirit. You could feel that presence on the evening of the Solemn High Mass (July 26, 2017) to celebrate the re-foundation of our community. It was a boiling hot summer night, but more than 400 people turned up—the overflow had to sit outside and watch the Mass on monitors. We were of course behind the grille, but after Mass the bishop requested that we go to the speak room and receive everyone. It was just glorious. But the Holy Spirit was at work in other ways too. For example, the Valparaiso sisters booked their travel from Nebraska to Philadelphia for July 25 without realizing that the date of our founding had been . . . July 25. So the new sisters for the re-foundation arrived 115 years to the day from the date of our original founding. Some “coincidence!”

Father Scott W. Allen, F.S.S.P., distributes holy Communion to faithful at the altar rail in the chapel of the Carmelite Monastery July 26, 2017.

The local people regularly come now to Mass at the monastery and sometimes also for the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours. Most of them cannot follow along; they don’t necessarily understand the Latin well enough, or own a Latin breviary. But you know, beauty attracts. Even if they cannot fully participate or follow along, their souls respond to the power and the beauty of the Latin Mass and daily offices. 

The Latin Mass was in fact one of the adjustments of merging our communities. It was very important to the nuns from Valparaiso and Elysburg. (Of the 10 new nuns, six were from Valparaiso and four, including MEFV grantee Sister Mary Magdalene, were from Elysburg. Ed.) The younger sisters are passionately committed to traditional Carmelite customs: wearing the habit, cloistered contemplation, studying the great saints of our Order, ancient chant modes, and the Latin Mass. They are not opposed to the ordinary form, if a particular celebrant wants to offer the Mass that way, but the Latin Mass is deeply important to them. That was an adjustment for the original five of us, but not the only one. Every Carmel, like any and every other family, has its own little ways and idiosyncrasies. So in some ways, on the natural level, the re-foundation of our monastery involved the merging of three families.

Faithful who could not fit inside the chapel worshiped instead in a courtyard outside, aided by the video on a large television screen.

The new sisters are much younger too, of course, in their 20s and 30s. That is another truly beautiful thing, to see such a renewal of strong Catholic family life in this generation. For the generations who came of age starting in the 1970s, the idea of consecrated life, especially as a cloistered contemplative, was something completely bizarre. But for these girls, who grew up with their parents reading things like The Story of a Soul to them, it’s completely normal. They are from big Catholic families. Most of them were home-schooled; many of them also have at least one other sibling in formation for the priesthood or consecrated life. Their parents deliberately chose places like Omaha or Kansas where they could live out unapologetically authentic Catholic lives and it shows so clearly in the way they raised their children. The new sisters here are very, very intelligent, well educated, and talented. They play the violin, read and write poetry, put on plays, read and study seriously. They are a joy to us, and a blessing to Philadelphia and beyond. 

I am the only one left now of the original five of us who were here when the Elysburg and Valparaiso sisters arrived last year. We have suffered some deaths and one sister, who had been here “on loan” from a different Carmel, received permission to go back home. God willing, more and more new vocations will continue to join the 10 who came to our Carmel last year. 

Please know how grateful all of us are for the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations—for its role in making it possible for Sister Mary Magdalene to accept her own call, for the many Carmelite vocations you have supported over the years, and for everything your work does to support the constant renewal of Christ’s church. May God continue to bless your work and ours!

Newsletter Fall 2018: President’s Message

Dear Friends,

These are trying times for us Catholics. But as a careful student of Church history could tell you, the times have always been trying.

The advice of the Apostle Paul remains as useful to us as it was to the Philippians: “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.” We cannot allow the moral or doctrinal failings of the princes of the Church to slacken our steadfast pursuit of heaven.

However, we can, and must, storm heaven with our prayers. Prayers that those good priests and bishops who are obedient to God and faithful to their vows of consecration may find strength in these evil times to continue to strive for holiness. Prayers that God will raise up more men like them as our future pastors. Prayers that these men will work to purify the Church from within. Prayers for graces for them and for us. Prayers that we, too, will persevere in striving toward holiness.

In addition to our prayers, we should each be offering some portion of our daily works and sufferings as acts of reparation for the damage done to souls and to the Church. As these sins cry to heaven, so too, our offerings will rise to heaven and may yet be the trigger for a great renewal.

Frankly, as donors to the MEFV you have already begun that work. Because of your financial sacrifice of donations to the MEFV, more men and women are in religious life, daily praying for the sanctity of men in the priesthood.

I thank you and encourage you to persevere in your giving to the MEFV. Not only for the good of our individual grant recipients, but for the good of the whole Church.


JOIN THE SUSTAINERS CIRCLE AND THE LEGACY SOCIETY

One of the most powerful ways you can support the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations is by joining The Sustainers Circle. Members pledge an amount of their choosing to give each month, and those monthly donations are charged automatically against a credit card or bank account they authorize. You can change your recurring monthly gift at any time. By joining The Sustainers Circle, you create a reliable source of income that helps us make the boldest and most responsible funding decisions. 

Membership in The Legacy Society ensures that your commitment to vocations will survive your own lifetime. Legacy Society members have designated the MEFV in their wills or as beneficiaries of life insurance or other accounts of their estates. Our legal name is Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations, Inc. and our tax ID is 51-0612966.


The Grim Reality

MEFV keeps our focus on our own apostolate: getting more men and women with vocations into formation as quickly as possible. But we also think it’s important for our supporters to understand the big picture—that the soaring costs of college have made it almost impossible for any but the wealthiest families to send their children to college without loans. MEFV grantees are not uniquely debt-burdened or financially naïve, and they are the future of our beloved Church.

$31,231 average cost in 2017 for one year at a private, non-profit college

$1,832 comparable figure in the early 1970s, adjusted to 2017 constant dollars

129 percent rate of increase for average private four-year college between 1988-2017 (22 percentage points higher than general rate of inflation)

213 percent comparable figure for public institutions

$39,400 average student loan debt for the class of 2017

$1.48 trillion national total of student debt ($620 billion more than the entire credit card debt of the nation)


MEVF at a Glance

$5,094,000 Total value of all grants made to date

$300K Average annual operating budget

$23,000 Average grant size

221 Total number of grants made to date

102 Number of MEFV grantees currently in formation

2 Average number of applicants MEFV must turn down for every grant made


A super-simple but powerful way to increase your support to the MEFV

May we have your email address? We promise not to sell it—just as we have never sold our supporters’ street addresses.

MEFV already operates lean: our founders still run the organization out of their home and we don’t have full-time staff. But the more we can shift from paper to digital, the more money that currently goes to printing and postage can go to grants for vocations instead. We’re in the midst of a major push to modernize and digitize our communications; we hope you will be inspired to be part of that effort. 

Send us email to info@fundforvocations.org and put “Shift me to digital!” in the subject line.

Thanks!

Newsletter Fall 2018: “It turns out I was born into my true home.”

MEFV grant recipient Brother Joseph Paul Albin, OP made his solemn profession this summer with the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Martin de Porres. He spoke with us in late August about his journey back to the faith of his upbringing, about life in formation, and about what MEFV’s support has meant. 

What was your early faith formation like?

I was raised in a Catholic family, so I grew up knowing Jesus Christ and I knew priests and the sacraments from a young age. Then in my high school years, my faith grew lukewarm. I would still go to Mass, but it was mostly to keep the peace with my mom. And I would usually go to Mass on Ash Wednesday. But then once I went away to college (University of Missouri, class of 2008), I really even stopped going to Mass. It wasn’t so much that I became some sort of committed atheist. I was much more your typical noncommittal “none.”

So what brought about your reversion?

One of the requirements for my religious studies program at college involved attending worship services of a variety of faiths, so I went to Hillel, and the Muslim Student Association . . . and the Newman Center.  The Newman Center sponsored a weekend “awakening retreat” and I went and forged connections with people who were in the same place I was: fallen away but still feeling what Dorothy Day called “haunted by God.” That retreat was a turning point. And then I began one-on-one religious instruction in the theology of the Eucharist with Jill Raitt, who founded the University’s religious studies program, and I began studying more and more about Catholicism and was genuinely stunned to discover how completely wrong most of my assumptions had been.

Such as?

For example, I was very interested in Buddhism and other Eastern religious traditions. I was deeply drawn to the contemplative aspects of those religions, and I just assumed Catholicism had no such thing! Of course, the fact is that Christian mysticism and contemplative life date back to the earliest days of the faith. My own order, the Dominicans, was first founded as a community of contemplatives, more than 800 years ago. And I thought Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular was intellectually lazy and required mindless blind faith that you were not allowed to question. And then I discovered the Summa Theologiae which systematically presents and responds to every question I had ever had about the faith and then some. In hindsight, it’s actually comical, how completely misplaced all my misgivings were. Or it would be comical—except that so many young people are so similarly poorly catechized and wandering around oblivious to the richness of their own inheritance. I feel very at home now, and it turns out I was born into my true home.

Why the priesthood, and why the Dominicans?

Part of my studies involved an internship which meant moving into living quarters attached to the church. I started going to daily Mass because there was no excuse not to, when it’s literally in your home. And there’s also the power of dwelling in the same space where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. I had thought I was called to do campus ministry, and I moved to New Orleans to graduate work at Loyola in that field. But ultimately, the Dominican order just felt like home. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said that “joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God” and I just felt that joy when I went on a Dominican “come and see” vocation discernment retreat.

With which apostolates have you worked so far?

I work one day a week in a L’Arche house (a group home for people with intellectual disabilities). The residents of that house are completely without guile, and they draw out your gifts in a way that it’s hard to imagine happening any other way. One of them said to me “How would you like it if I came over to your house wearing a white dress and made dinner for you?” and I realized, OK, that is how I appear to them! Another powerful experience was working in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, during the summer of 2015. I worked on kitchen duty at an orphanage for girls who are physically and intellectually disabled. I had been out of the country before, but only for vacation, which doesn’t really take you outside your “own kind.” I had never actually lived and worked before in a place where I was the minority culture, and preparing food every day for 40 to 50 people has a way of grounding you in reality.

What has been the biggest surprise about formation?

Probably just how transformational the vows are. People hear “poverty, chastity, and obedience” and it just sounds like deprivation and misery. It is undeniably true that there is an ascetic nature to the vows, but it is also really deeply true that they orient you to a freedom in Christ that is so hard to achieve for so many of us. There are many holy lay people who maybe do not need the help of the vows to stay focused. But what has truly surprised me, and continues to, is just how freeing this vocation has been. The things that the vows supposedly deprive you of, they are actually freeing you from.

Are there particular saints or biblical characters with whom you most identify, or on whose intercessions you most rely?

I probably identify most with St Peter, just because he was so completely human in both his weakness and his love. He loved Jesus so much, and yet so consistently and publicly failed Him. The fact that Jesus so loved Peter, too, and entrusted this flawed man with the keys to the kingdom—it’s all very reassuring. It means that I can still be in friendship with Our Lord despite my own failures and weaknesses. I rely a lot on the intercessions of St. Dominic, of course, and also of Dorothy Day to whom I pray especially when I am struggling with community life. And I have a great devotion to Our Lady. There is one image particularly, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where she is holding the Christ Child who has seen a vision of the instruments of His crucifixion and has run so fast to her that one of His shoes has come off. That image of her as someone to whom you can run for comfort, who will hold you and draw you into that same place where she held Christ Himself—that is an image I keep in my mind.

Is there anything you would like to say to the lay faithful about this particular moment of crisis in our Church’s history?

Just that it is OK to be angry and confused. I certainly am, and I am also very aware that my feelings are small and meaningless compared to those of the victims of such awful sin. The thing to remember is that we are not the ones who make the Church holy or unholy. Christ makes the Church holy. It’s not about us, or about the priests or bishops. It’s about Christ who alone makes the Church holy and makes life worth living. I also really hope that people can avoid taking sides or choosing teams. This is not a liberal versus conservative issue. Satan is very good at dividing and conquering. Don’t do it. Let the truth be the truth. Let Christ be Christ. Be on His side.

Can you tell us what the grant from the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations has meant to you?

Very simply, it has meant that I had the opportunity to follow Christ’s call for my life. This life has already been so fulfilling and so rich. And I constantly come to love it more and more: Christ, his people, our life together, our hope for heaven. Just having this opportunity, this life, means absolutely everything. When Christ opens up a door for you, you have to step through it. Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations knocked down that barrier. You were Christ’s instrument in opening up that door. I am just so grateful.