When you noticed the title for this week’s article you may have wondered, “What is the Bishop writing about this week?” What is Pro Orantibus Day? Pro Orantibus means “for those who pray.” In 1997 Blessed John Paul II asked that November 21, the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Presentation in the Temple, be observed worldwide as a day of gratitude and support for men and woman in the cloistered and monastic life.
According to tradition, Saints Joachim and Anne were well advanced in age and childless. Their prayers for a child were answered with the birth of Mary. In thanksgiving Joachim and Anne presented their daughter, while still a youngster, to the temple where her life would be consecrated to God.
The temple was considered “God’s dwelling place.” Although God was everywhere, the chosen people looked upon the temple as the place par excellence where God was present. It was His home, His dwelling place among His people. The temple was the sacred place where God was encountered in a unique and special manner. Here Mary would live her early years. In the temple, she would hear the Lord’s word, learn its meaning and come to know and love the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a personal God who cared for His people.
The memorial of Mary’s Presentation in the Temple is a particularly apt time to remember those who devote their lives to prayer and sacrifice in contemplative communities. We remember in prayer all the cloistered religious who, like Mary in the temple, are totally dedicated to God in prayer, silence and concealment. To many this way of life may seem irrelevant or even a waste of precious talents that might serve society in a more active and direct manner. But cloistered religious are a vital part of the Church. “These brothers and sisters of ours are a silent witness to the fact that in the midst of the sometimes frenetic pace of daily events, the one support that never topples is God, the indestructible rock of faithfulness and love” (Benedict XVI, Angleus Message, November 16, 2006).
In our diocese, we are blessed with the presence of the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary, cloistered nuns who reside in a monastery on Court Street in Syracuse. The cloistered nuns owe their founding to the Reverend Damien Marie Saintourens. In 1878, while making a visit to Lourdes, he spent a night vigil with our Lady in the grotto where he was strengthened to begin the work of founding a group of cloistered Dominican nuns. The first Dominican Foundation of Nuns of the Perpetual Rosary occurred on May 20, 1880 in Calais, France.
In 1891 Father Saintourens brought a small number of cloistered nuns to the United States where they settled in West Hoboken, New Jersey. In the next ten years vocations increased and new foundations were established.
The first American foundation was at Union City, New Jersey on December 21, 1891. Another foundation followed in Camden, New Jersey in 1900. It was from this foundation that the sisters came to Syracuse at the request of Mother Mary Louis Bertrand, who was then Prioress of Camden. Bishop Daniel Curley welcomed the new community, which opened its doors on March 25, 1925.
The founding sisters of the Syracuse monastery lived in great poverty, having no heat in the cold months and very little furniture. With the help of the nursing sisters of St. Mary’s Hospital and also the Franciscan Sisters down the road from the monastery, they received generous help both spiritually and physically. The present monastery was completed in 1986.
The Second Vatican Council reminds us, “Communities which are entirely dedicated to contemplation, so that their members in solitude and silence, with constant prayer and penance, willingly undertaken, occupy themselves with God alone, retain at all times, no matter how pressing the needs of the active apostolate may be, an honorable place in the mystical body of Christ…. They offer to God a sacrifice of praise which is outstanding. Moreover they are the glory of the Church and a well-spring of heavenly graces” (Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, 7).
How fortunate we are to have a contemplative community in our diocese. This way of life is a vivid reminder that the Kingdom of Heaven is a “treasure” for which it is truly worth giving up everything (cf. Mt 13:14). Let us thank the Lord, who in his Providence has called men and women to this way of life. We are grateful especially for the gift of the Dominican Sisters. On the memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Presentation in the Temple, we pray for those who daily pray for us.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.