By Fr. George Welzbacher
May 13, 2007
In the May 7th edition of The St. Paul Pioneer Press a front page report by David Hanners provided a forum for opinions pro and con with respect to the ecclesiology of our newly appointed Coadjutor Archbishop, John Nienstedt. Let me state at the outset that Archbishop Nienstedt's ecciesiology and my own ecclesiology are precisely the same, namely that "the truth ... revealed by Christ" is a truth with which you and I are not free to tamper. It is not for our "economy-model" minds to sit in judgment on what the Supreme and Eternal Word has revealed, "in Whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). Rather what is called for is the humble "obedience of faith" that St. Paul, speaking in the Holy Spirit, enjoins upon all true disciples of Christ (Romans 1:5). Which is why a bishop "must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also be able to confute those who contradict it. For there are many insubordinate men, many empty talkers and deceivers.... rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.... ' (Titus 1: 9, 10 and 13).
In the same vein he gave instruction to Timothy: "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me .. guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us" (2 Timothy l:13 & 14), "and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others in their turn. " (2 Timothy 2:2).
Archbishop Nienstedt summed up his ecclesiology in an interview published recently in The Catholic Spirit, an ecclesiology that accords perfectly with St. Paul's instructions to Timothy and Titus. Archbishop Nienstedt declared: "I believe what the Church believes. And unfortunately, in this day and age where there is such pluralism and individualism in our society, a person who believes in a creed, as we do as Catholics, is somehow considered hard-line or a fanatic-a zealot, if you will- because they believe what they believe, they believe what the Church believes."
Today as in St. Paul's day the insubordinate are in no very short supply. For example, in recent public challenges to Archbishop Nienstedt's authority as well as to the authority of Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict, a priest of this archdiocese, the chronic malcontent Michael Tegeder, has assumed the role of roadside bomber. Or maybe sucide bomber would be the metaphor more apt? As quoted in David Hanners' report, Father Tegeder shared with the readers of The Pioneer Press his appraisal of our newly appointed Coadjudutor Archbishop: "He's so self-righteous.... It's what [Popes] John Paul and Benedict want to see- [Well, at least the new Archbishop is in good company there!]- a smaller church, a more militant church, a less open church, a church of followers, 'Just march in step and we'll lead you to the Promised Land ..... This man is a bully, he's a spiritual bully. It's going to be that constant hectoring, and we're going to have so many demoralized people, and we're going to have so many people leaving."
(My own judgment would be that those who hold to Michael Tegeder's views have already left).
* * * * *In the meantime, as the echo chambers of the media thrill again to the same old songs, may I share with you some really good news. After, so to speak, the raging forest fires of decades past, kindled by arsonists supposedly driven by something that called itself "the spirit of Vatican II"--well there are spirits and, and yes! there are spirits!-new life is springing up. At least in America vocations to the priesthood are on the rise again. (St. John Vianney Seminary on the campus of our own University of St. Thomas is bursting at the seams, with a consequent need to lodge a number of seminarians in, I believe, four separate houses). And most of the younger priests across this land are proud to call themselves "John Paul priests", unembarrassed by their allegiance right down the line to the teaching of Christ's Church. And new orders and congregations of nuns, (and older contemplative orders as well, like the Carmelites at Lake Demontreville), living in prayerful community and wearing religious habits, are attracting young candidates in encouraging numbers. Two wonderful young nuns, teaching in the St. Agnes Grade School for the past two years under the guidance of an elderly resident Mother Superior, have come to our Archdiocese from their motherhouse in Baltic, Connecticut: the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady, Mother of the Church. And from St. Agnes Parish two mature candidates have already been accepted as postulants by these Sisters of Charity. The Louisville Dominicans who now teach in Stillwater and the Sisters of St. George who staff a school in our neighboring diocese of Lacrosse are likewise experiencing very rapid growth. And just this past week I received a letter that I would like to share with you here. It is from a new institute founded ten years ago under the patronage of John Cardinal O'Connor. (You may recall their presence in their white religious habits at Cardinal O'Connor's televised ftmeral Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral, when, at the homilist's mention of the inviolability of innocent human life from conception to natural death, the young nuns rose spontaneously to their feet in silent but public affirmation of what had just been said, followed quickly by the rest of the congregation and finally with stony-faced reluctance, even by President and Mrs. Clinton and sundry pro-abortion politicians who had been seated in the front pews.) These youthful new witnesses to Christ are known as the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. For your encouragement I reprint here, somewhat abridged, the letter I received from their Prioress General, Mother Assurnpta Long. For those who would like to make a modest donation, I include their address. Happy reading!
* * * * *Dear Faithful Catholic,
If you have ever prayed to see young Catholic women once again flocking to the religious life in a spirit of total fidelity to Holy Mother Church, then I have wonderful news for you.
Your prayers have been answered. That day is here!
My name is Mother Assumpta Long, Mother Superior of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. In the ten years since our founding, our numbers have increased more than 1,700% - from four sisters to 69 (and counting!).
And consider this: at a time when the average American sister is in her sixties, most of our sisters are in their twenties.
All of which has created a rather different sort of "vocations crisis" for us-one stemming from the costs of housing and forming "too many" young sisters, and training them to be school-teachers (our primary apostolate).
Which is why I am coming to you for help. The story I have to tell will not only amaze and uplift you, but (I hope and pray) inspire you to tell others about us-perhaps resulting in more vocations to our community.
(Imagine a holy sister finding her vocation thanks to you!)
In 1996, the late Pope John Pau lII issued an urgent summons. Observing, in his exhortation Vita Consecrata, that widespread loss of faith had left the world "one great mission land, even in countries of long-standing tradition," he called on consecrated religious to lead a "new evangelization."
But to do that, wrote the Holy Father, it would be necessary to revitalize the consecrated life itself. How? By, among other things, founding religious communities that were "new in ardor" and capable of "responding to the challenges of our times."
It so happened that I and three of my Dominican sisters had long desired to found a new community that would combine the traditional Dominican charism of "teaching and preaching" with a spirituality firmly grounded in Eucharistic adoration and Marian devotion. Realizing that this would wonderfully fulfill the Pope's dual mandate - evangelization and renewal-we decided that the time was at hand to act on our desires....
But the question remained: Though we knew what we wanted to do, exactly how- and where-would we do it?
Our answer came quickly: from New York's John Cardinal O'Connor. On February 9, 1997, in the private chapel of St. Patrick's Cathedral, His Eminence received, in the name of Holy Mother Church, our vows as the four founding members of a new religious institute. To signal our unique devotional emphasis, we took the name, "The Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist."
Soon after our canonical establishment, God found work for as....
In April, 1997 Bishop Carl F. Mengeling welcomed us into the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan. With the Cardinal's permission, we moved to Ann Arbor, where we built our Motherhouse.
At the time, of course, you could still count us on one hand. So a motherhouse built to house 23 sisters seemed quite sufficient.
Little did we know what God had in storefor us...
Vocations came quickly - and, like the "miraculous draught of fishes" in the Gospels, kept on coming!
By August 1999, we had already welcomed eight postulants (new members). In the Jubilee year 2000, we accepted another dozen, doubling our numbers in a single year. Since then, more than four dozen young women have joined us!
But even more amazing than the sheer number of vocations to our community has been their caliber, and marvelous diversity.
Many of our sisters come to us from the colleges that have been leading a revival of orthodoxy in Catholic higher education-such as Thomas Aquinas College, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Magdalen College, and Christendom College.
They come, too, from every region of America, as well as from Canada-and from as far away as Taiwan.
While most of our sisters are "cradle Catholics," several are converts. Sister Philip John, for instance, is a former Baptist. Sister Immaculata converted from Lutheranism. And Sister Incamata, our Taiwanese sister, had been an atheist (in a predominantly Buddhist culture that is very hostile to the Faith).
Their life-experiences and talents are no less diverse. Sister Maria Guadalupe, for example, worked as a Catholic missionary in Belize. Sister Thomas Aquinas was headed for a career in the Air Force-she's a licensed pilot! Sister Annunciata spent time helping Mother Teresa's sisters in Calcutta. Sister Thomas Augustine was a Park Avenue lawyer when she found us.
But in the end, all had one thing in common: they heard God's call to the religious life with the Dominican Sisters of Mary!...
It is God alone, of course, who has blessed our new community with so many vocations. But may we not discern in some things we have done-and, perhaps just as important not done-some reasons for His overwhelming beneficence?
I believe we can. None, I hasten to add, are in any way original with us. Quite the opposite: they mark a return to some neglected or discarded aspects of the religious life that nourished the great religious orders for centuries. To mention just a few:
Unwavering orthodoxy: As Dominicans, the motto of our order is Veritas-Truth. Accordingly, we believe it is our duty to receive God's truth from the Magisterium of His church-and then carry itforth, unaltered and undiluted, to others.
Rigorous study, therefore, is intearal to our long formation--eight years from postulancy to final vows. Throughout these years, postulants and novices study the fundamentals of the Faith as presented in scripture, the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Cathechism of the Catholic Church, papal writings, and other source documents. They also study Mariology, Church history, spiritual classics, liturgy, and more.
Then, of course, we take these treasures out into the world through our teaching and evangelizing!
Constant prayer: Prayer is as necessary to the religious life as water is to a plant. Without it, we die.
Therefore, our prayer life comes first, so that our apostolate overflows from a contemplation nourished before the Eucharist. Daily, our Sisters join in Community to pray:
• The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
• The Liturgy of the Hours (The Divine Office)
• A Eucharistic Holy Hour
• The Rosary
• Renewal of Consecration to Mary
• A Prayer for Vocations
Plus, every Friday, we have Eucharistic Adoration with confessions; and, on First Fridays, all-night Eucharistic Adoration.
The traditional habit: As denoted in Canon Law, the religious habit is a sign of consecration and a witness to poverty. It speaks instantly and eloquently, yet wordlessly, of who we are and what we believe.
As a symbol of one "given to Christ," the habit "claims" us to be His Spouses in much the same way that a wedding ring announces to the world-and reminds oneself-that one is "taken." It is a sign of hope in a world that needs to be reminded of the possibility of living joyfully in the freely chosen consecration of chastity, poverty, and obedience.
I and my fellow sisters could tell you countless stories of how the mere sight of our Dominican habits has sparked reactions in Catholics-and non-Catholies--that prove the tremendous power of its witness.
JOY! When you get a moment, take a look at some of the enclosed photos of our sisters. Notice how they're always smiling? There's a reason: they love being sisters. To the Dominican Sisters of Mary, a life of service isn't a burden, but a high privilege--and a thrilling adventure. Even our hardships bring us joy, by uniting us with Our Lord in His Passion.
The past three decades have seen the virtual disappearance of the teaching sisters that made Catholic schools educationally superior, genuinely Catholic-and widely affordable. The loss to the Church, and to generations of Catholic children, has been incalculable. But it is not irreversible, and the Dominican Sisters of Mary are dedicated to reviving this tradition.
All of our sisters, once they reach the fourth year of formation, receive training and certification as schoolteachers. Then, they teach in the K-8 schools we administer or in other schools, including mission schools ....
This is just the beginning. As our community continues to grow, with the help of people like you, we hope to expand our teaching apostolate to all other regions of America-including yours!
In fact, this "nationwide expansion" of our teaching apostolate has already begun. Last Fall, our community answered the gracious invitations of Bishops Thomas J. Olmsted and Robert J. Baker to expand our teaching apostolate to two new dioceses- Phoenix, Arizona, and Charleston, South Carolina. Seven of our Sisters are now teaching in their schools!
Though teaching is our primary apostolate, we also engage in other forma of evangelization, including apologetics (defending the Faith) on college campuses; spiritual retreats for single and married women; and apostolic endeavors (each year, for instance, we lend our presence to the annual March for Life in Washington).
Severe shortage of space and funds: Your help is needed URGENTLY
As I said at the outset, there is a severe financial "downside" to being a young and growing religious community.
First, with most of our sisters still in formation, or in training as teachers, only a handful of us-14 of 69 presently receive stipends (very modest ones at that, which is as we believe it should be). As time passes, this will change; butfor now we are almost entirely dependent on outside support.
Second, we are suffering a continuing crisis of living space. Our Motherhouse, you see, was built for only 23 sisters, so we recently embarked on a three-phase expansion that will allow it to accommodate almost 100 sisters. Yet, even with Phase II of our expansion completed, we now have cells (rooms) for only 70 sisters-with 69 to house right now, and perhaps a dozen or so more when we accept postulants next fall.
Unfortunately, our finances are such that we've had to delay the third and final phase of our Motherhouse expansion-just when we most desperately need the space ...
You might say that, like St. Peter, we have stepped out in faith onto difficult economic waters. But what else could we do? Christ Himself beckoned us to follow. We asked Him for a congregation bursting with young women burning with a love of the Master-and He gave them to us, more than we can adequately provide for without help from our fellow Catholics....
So please if you can, would you ... make a tax-deductible donation.... to help support the vocations He is sending us in such staggering abundance?
In Our Lord and His Blessed Mother,
Mother Assumpta Long, O.P.
Co-foundress and Prioress General
Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist
4597 Warren Road, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105
P.S. We pray often and especially for the intentions of all our benefactors. But if you have some particularly urgent need, please let us know ... praying-for those in need is what we love to do!