My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This past March 22, I had the privilege of presiding at a special election. This was not the typical political election to which we have become accustomed in the United States. The election began with the chanting of the hymn, Come O Creator Spirit, and a prayer asking for the Spirit to guide the electors “to desire only what is good.” After the Holy Spirit was invoked, two “tellers” were elected. The “tellers” are the people who count the ballots. After taking an oath to faithfully discharge their duties, they distributed ballots to the electors, who then wrote their ballots in secret. The ballots were then collected and counted in my presence. After everything was found to be in order and a winner was certified, it was my privilege as the one presiding at the election to announce the winner. We then closed the election process by singing a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God.
So what office was being filled in this election and who was elected?
The office was the prioress of the Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of Mary the Queen and the person elected was Sister Anna Marie Pierre, OP. She replaced Sister Miriam Scheel, OP, who was the prioress, or head of the monastery, for nine years, having completed three 3-year terms. There were 11 nuns who were eligible to vote in this election, which took place at Siena Hall, where these nuns live, located next to Sacred Heart Convent, the Motherhouse of the Springfield Dominican Sisters, behind Sacred Heart-Griffin High School here in Springfield. These cloistered nuns moved to their current residence in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois in late 2014 after relocating their Dominican Monastery of Mary the Queen from Elmira, N.Y.
Because these nuns are cloistered or enclosed in their monastery, they do not have a high profile and hence their presence in our diocese is not well-known. Nevertheless, their vocation is very important and we are blessed to have them in our diocese, so I would like to tell you more about them.
The first thing to note about them is that they are real nuns. I do not mean that in a disparaging way towards religious sisters, but the fact is that most people, including most Catholics, do not know that there is a technical difference between “nuns” and “religious sisters,” although religious sisters are also often commonly called “nuns” in the generic or colloquial sense of the word.
I first learned this distinction when I was in sixth grade in my home parish’s Catholic grade school, which was staffed by the Sisters of the Congregation of the Resurrection. One day in class someone referred to the sisters who taught in our school as “nuns.” My sixth grade teacher corrected us, noting that she was a “sister,” not a “nun.” This was quite baffling to us, since she wore a full religious habit with a veil, fully looking like what we always understood to be a nun. She clarified for us that nuns lead lives of prayer within the cloister or enclosure of their monastery, while religious sisters have apostolic activities, such as teaching in a school or working as a nurse in a hospital.
While we have several communities of religious sisters in our diocese, such as the Springfield Dominican Sisters, the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, the Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of Mary the Queen are the only cloistered community of nuns in our diocese. They moved here because they felt they were isolated from the rest of the Dominican family at their monastery in Elmira, in central New York state. Here in our diocese they are within close proximity to the religious sisters and friars within the Dominican family, formally known as the Order of Preachers (OP).
Sister Anna Marie explains that the Eucharist and the Divine Office are at the heart of the nuns’ monastic life of study, contemplation, work and the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience). Their main focus is prayer. They chant the full Divine Office seven times daily in their chapel. The nuns attend daily Mass with their Springfield Dominican Sisters at their motherhouse chapel.
Normally the nuns remain at Siena Hall, although they do go out into the community to shop and also for doctor and dental appointments. In order to live a more secluded life devoted to prayer, they have purchased a parcel of property in Girard, where they plan to build a new monastery. While they are hoping to build their monastery in two or three years, Sister Anna Marie notes that their dream of a new monastery “can only materialize if or when we are able to raise enough funds for the project.” Contributions to help the nuns build their new monastery can be sent to: Monastery of Mary the Queen, 1237 West Monroe St., Springfield, IL 62704.
The fact that two young women will soon be joining their monastic community as postulants is a positive sign that bodes well for the future of Dominican contemplative life in our diocese.
May God give us this grace. Amen.