December 12, 2017

Advent is a time to prepare, to await and to pray. But in the hustle and bustle of this season, the quietness often falls by the wayside.  

But take a moment to think again about silence. It’s free. Available to all. Essential for our well-being. But in our noisy world, it’s elusive.

When we don’t take time for silence, not only do we minimize our chances for peacefulness and clear thinking, but we also miss an opportunity to communicate with God.

Sister Aude Renard, mother superior of the Sisters of Mary Morning Star, believes that God speaks in silence. “In our hectic days, filled with worries and concerns, if we have no quietness, we do not hear God.”

The sisters recently renovated an old classroom in Ghent, Minnesota, with Catholic Extension support, to be a place of silence.

A life of contemplation

The congregation of the Sisters of Mary Morning Star, rooted in a previous congregation, was established in Spain in 2014. Now it has 225 sisters worldwide in 10 countries. They are contemplative and dedicated to a life of joyful prayer but not cloistered because they want to be part of the fabric of society. The order was looking for a home in the United States, and the Diocese of New Ulm was looking for contemplative sisters. A match was made.

Ten sisters, coming from six countries and ranging in age from 24 to 50, moved into an old rectory next to St. Eloi Church in the heart of Ghent, a town of 370 residents, primarily farmers, in western Minnesota.

They established the site as their U.S. novitiate and have already attracted a couple of novices. They recently opened a second convent in Wisconsin. 

The sisters’ daily schedule centers around prayerful solitude. They attend Mass, meditate, study Scriptures, complete household tasks and do artisanal work. 

Their main source of income is the sales of their crafts. Each sister has a specialty: candles, soaps, rosaries, leather items, ceramics, calligraphy and sewing.

Adoration chapel

When the sisters arrived, they set up an adoration chapel in the former living room of the old rectory of St. Eloi. But it was small and cramped. They envisioned a simple, reverent place where everyone could join in prayer.

They raised funds for a new chapel by hosting concerts of monastic chanting and through direct mail, but they were short of their goal. Deacon Mike McKeown of the Diocese of New Ulm requested a grant from Catholic Extension to complete the renovation. Funds helped with new wood flooring, electricity, windows and a stone altar. Volunteers contributed labor to reduce costs. The chapel was completed in August 2016 and named Our Lady of Mercy.

The community has wholeheartedly embraced the adoration chapel. Parishioners, residents, students and people who live outside the town come to pray.

Lila Schmidt, a parishioner of St. Eloi for 38 years who raises sheep for a living, comes daily to the chapel for Mass and adoration and to hear the sisters sing and visit with them. “They are a spiritual presence,” she said. “They remind us of Christ’s prayerfulness, humility and service.”

“The chapel is a place of mercy, a place of refuge for those who suffer and struggle and a place of prayer for all,” said Father Craig Timmerman, pastor of St. Eloi.

On Sunday nights, teens gather at the chapel, some coming from as far as 30 miles away. A group of 25 comes regularly just to be in silence with the sisters.

“The chapel’s greatest qualities are its simplicity and openness,” said Cole Bot, one of the teens. “My ability to pray frequently in the chapel has been a precious jewel in my spiritual growth.”

Learning silence

In today’s world, silence is hard to come by. We live with constant distractions, access to huge amounts of information and increasing ways to connect.

The sisters are showing the residents of Ghent, and all of us, an alternative way of life. They have no television and only one computer and one telephone.

They believe we need time to reflect, to go deeper and think about who we are and who we want to be. They believe in prayer. They believe that God is waiting for us. Even though our daily lives can present a lot of competition for our time with Him, He wants to talk to us.

God is in the quiet. We can rush through life and never stop to listen. Or we can be silent and understand the mystery of His work in us.

And on Christmas eve, when we sing Silent Night, let’s remember that Jesus was born in the quiet. 

We are so grateful for the donors of Catholic Extension who helped us to build this adoration chapel, which has such a wide-reaching impact in the small town of Ghent. Your continued support will give voice and presence to the Catholic Church across rural America.

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