Hidden Within the Mystical Body: An Interview with the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles; Part II
An interview with the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles
This month, I have had the immense blessing of interviewing Sr. Mary Josefa, OSB, the local superior of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles’ daughterhouse in Ava, Missouri. In the first part of this interview, found here, Sr. Mary Josefa shared the beauty of the cloistered life as lived by her order in rural Missouri. In the second part of this interview, found below, Sister shares more about the daughterhouse of which she is the superior and the projects they are undertaking there for the glory of God. Sister also shares more about Sr. Wilhelmina and the recent exhumation of the foundress that has revealed her body in a remarkable state of preservation.
For more information on the remarkable preservation of Sr. Wilhelmina’s body, please see the fact sheet in this footnote.1 Special thanks to Sr. Mary Josefa and the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, for providing me with this fact sheet.
A very special thank you to Sr. Mary Josefa for doing this interview with me, as well as to my friend Margaret Pinkerton who provided photos from her visit to the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus for use in these articles.
CL: What does the discovery of Sr. Wilhelmina’s remarkably preserved body mean for your order?
Sr. Mary Josefa: The discovery of Sr. Wilhelmina’s body in such a remarkable state of preservation is a great sign of hope for us. Our heavenly Father gives us this marvel to reassure us that a very hidden and humble life of prayer is indeed precious in His eyes. For us, it is particularly significant that the traditional signs of religious life - her habit, profession candle, crucifix and rosary - are all intact, since Sr. Wilhelmina sacrificed and suffered so generously in order not to abandon these during her life.
This remarkable occurrence is also a sign of hope for everyone. We read about marvels like incorruptibility in the lives of the saints, but we too easily think of these [occurrences] as legends. Here we have a tangible witness in our own time that miracles actually happen. This is a testimony to our skeptical era that God is real and that He is faithful to His promises, that the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body are real, that Heaven, Hell and Purgatory are all real. This a reminder to all, as our Mother Abbess so beautifully commented, that life does not end with death, but begins.
CL: Once five years have passed since Sr. Wilhelmina's death, do you think your order will open her Cause for Beatification and Canonization?
Sr. Mary Josefa: A popular cultus would have to be well established before introducing Sr. Wilhelmina’s cause for Beatification and Canonization. It is difficult to estimate how soon that would be. There have been hundreds of pilgrims who have visited already, many if not all making particular requests for spiritual or physical healing, and some have already reported graces received. It will take time to investigate these matters thoroughly, so we place the matter of introducing Sr. Wilhelmina’s cause in the providence of God, who will surely make His Will clear in this regard.
CL: Are there any particular intentions that were important to Sr. Wilhelmina during her life for which the faithful should especially seek her intercession, while still praying for the repose of her soul as always?
Sr. Mary Josefa: Sr. Wilhelmina was devoted to our Mother, the Holy Catholic Church, and so prayed and sacrificed zealously for the Pope and all belonging to the Church’s hierarchy. She treasured the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and prayed for the restoration of traditional liturgy and for holy and zealous priests. She fought courageously for traditional religious life. She loved the Blessed Virgin Mary with a strong and tender devotion and prayed that a fifth dogma would be proclaimed regarding our Lady that would declare her as Mediatrix of All Grace. Sr. Wilhelmina also prayed assiduously for the current needs of our times, such as an end to the culture of death, an end to communism, and for the conversion of world leaders.
CL: Regarding the Ava daughterhouse, what was it like to be a part of your order’s first daughterhouse in 2019? What unique challenges did you encounter when your sisters first moved to Ava?
Sr. Mary Josefa: It was a leap of faith! When we left our motherhouse to begin the new foundation, I marveled at the power of our Holy Rule: just six nuns in a little farmhouse in Ozarks immediately settled into the beautiful rhythm of monastic prayer and work, transforming the farmhouse into a monastery overnight. But that first night was not without its challenges, too. A tornado passed about a half-mile up the road, leaping over the hollow in which our farmhouse was situated, and leaving a sizable branch stuck in our roof! To our astonishment, a small waterfall started gushing into the house. So one of the first items on our foundation’s agenda was a new roof!
Another challenge, not so easily dealt with, was the homesickness that we experienced for our motherhouse and the close-knit community in which we had received our religious formation. Going on foundation was very much like leaving home again - bittersweet, since we would no longer live with our dear Sisters who had become our second family, but also peaceful in the knowledge that we were following God’s Will. We loved our life at the motherhouse so much that we were willing to leave it to establish it somewhere else.
CL: What will your new monastery in Ava be like? How many sisters will it be able to hold? Will priests and/or laypeople be able to visit the Ava monastery for retreats?
Sr. Mary Josefa: Our new monastery will be set in the rolling wooded hills of the Ozarks. It is being built into the side of a knoll, with a sweeping view of the surrounding hills. It follows a traditional monastic plan: a large quadrangle built around a courtyard. The church forms the north side of the quadrangle, while the cloistered areas form the other three sides. Our monastic church will be similar to the one at our motherhouse, the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus in Gower. It will be cruciform with the sanctuary at the heart, overshadowed by a high baldacchino. The nave will have choir stalls for 48 nuns, and there will be areas for guests in both wings of the transept.
The other three sides of the monastery’s quadrangle will have large rooms to serve for the nuns’ chapter room, refectory (dining room), sewing room, library and recreation room, and individual cells for 48 nuns. There will be a large kitchen and pantry with a room for processing the vegetables and dairy products from the nuns’ small farm. The monastery will also have two parlors for the nuns to meet with visitors. At this point, we are not building separate retreat houses for priests and for laity, although we hope to do so in the future. Until that is possible, our current housing will serve for visiting retreatants after we have moved to the permanent monastery. A number of the Catholic families who bought property next to the permanent monastery are eager to host visitors as well!
CL: What is the Fathers' Shrine? Once completed, will the shrine be your sisters' main chapel in Ava or will you have a separate private chapel that you will use for the Divine Office and Holy Mass? In other words, when people visit the Fathers' Shrine, will they be able to attend the Divine Office and Mass with you like at your motherhouse in Gower?
Sr. Mary Josefa: The Fathers’ Shrine is a complement to the already-existing shrine for Mothers in Laurie, Missouri; we were approached years ago with the suggestion that we make a similar memorial for fathers, and when we began building the Monastery of St. Joseph, patron of fathers, we realized that this would certainly be an appropriate place for such a shrine. The shrine will be an open-air structure, situated on a hill overlooking the monastery. It will have an altar with a statue of St. Joseph and the Christ Child where outdoor Masses may be occasionally offered. The free-standing walls and benches around the shrine will have granite plaques engraved with the names of fathers, and the courtyard and path leading to the shrine will be paved with bricks, also engraved with the names of fathers. So far we have been given the names of many fathers to memorialize in this shrine: natural fathers, but also spiritual fathers such as priests. One of our Sisters painted a few watercolor pictures of our vision for the shrine; these watercolors may be seen on our website.
The Fathers’ Shrine will have occasional Masses, but our daily Mass and recitation of the Divine Office will take place in our monastery church, to which we will welcome visitors.
CL: How much work has begun on the Ava construction projects? When is it estimated to be completed?
Sr. Mary Josefa: We broke ground on the feast of the Assumption, Aug. 15, 2022, and the work is progressing well. Currently the second story is being framed, and we hope that the framing for the third story will begin soon. Our plan is to build the entire structure at once since it is more cost-effective to do all the structural work together, but we will finish only part of the interior at this stage, enough for about 15-20 Sisters. We hope that this stage will be completed so that we can move in by the fall of 2024, since our temporary monastery is already full with 12 of us!
The church and some of the monastery will be left unfinished until further funds can be raised. We also intend to do some of this finishing work ourselves, like drywall and painting, with the help of our local friends.
CL: How can we help your sisters with this great project for the glory of God?
Sr. Mary Josefa: We are very grateful for the prayers of so many friends for our Monastery - please pray that we will build a beautiful house for God in the Ozarks, but also in each of our hearts! We also appreciate any donations, great or small, toward our building fund. Spreading the word about our building project is also extremely helpful. When we were building our motherhouse, we never had a millionaire step in and cover all the expenses - rather, each building was always the result of thousands of small gifts given by faithful friends from all over the country. This is how so many great cathedrals and churches have been built in our country, which is a testimony to the faith and sacrifice of countless believers. We remember our benefactors in our prayers several times every day, trusting that God will reward abundantly all those who support this undertaking for His glory.
Please click HERE to help build the Monastery of St. Joseph and to enroll someone in the Father’s Shrine!
I would like to once again thank Sr. Mary Josefa, OSB, for so kindly and thoroughly answering all my questions for this interview. It was a true blessing and an honour getting to conduct this interview. Thank you also to Margaret Pinkerton for allowing me to use her beautiful photographs from the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus. Lastly, thank you to Phillip Hadden and Jonathon Fessenden of Missio Dei for allowing me to interview the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, and to publish these interviews.