Homily from Sr. Frances Marie’s Mass of Religious Profession

The bride-to-be awaits the Bridegroom in prayer.

Our celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was made especially magnificent this year as Sr. Frances Marie of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus made her first profession of the five holy Passionist vows. There are many pictures yet to come, but first we’ll share with you the homily preached by Fr. Brad Milunski, OFM, Conv. at the Mass of Religious Profession.

Fr. Brad Milunski, OFM, Conv. preaching the homily

Sr. Frances Marie of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, CP
First Profession of Vows

 August 15, 2017
Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary

Almost twenty-two years ago Matt and Mary and little Manny Wenke braved the colder temperatures of Western New York as they brought their new daughter and sister to church for Baptism and heard the questions put to them: “What name have you given your child?” And, “What do you ask of God’s Church for Nora Kathleen?” Who would have imagined that almost twenty-two years later, Matt and Mary would be at this altar surrounded by their family, friends, and a new Passionist family–not to mention some of their Franciscan family!–as Nora Kathleen is now Sister Frances Marie of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus?!

Enabled by divine grace, Sister Frances Marie now responds with her heart and soul to a beautiful vocation and in her own voice to similar questions whose answers are meant to lead to a profound deepening of her baptismal rebirth through the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, enclosure, and the Passionist vow to be steeped in and offer her own unique and powerful contemplative witness to the Passion of Jesus Christ.

The most life-changing responses of the graced human person are perhaps the shortest: I am… I do… Behold, I come… Fiat–let it be done to me…. The answers you offer today, Sister Frances Marie, will now be woven together into the rich tapestry of a vowed life lived in union with Jesus Christ. These responses, which must be given again every morning, will expand into your own living Magnificat as our merciful Lord takes hold of you more and more, until one day you share with your sisters and brothers, body and soul, in the glory of heaven.

Sometimes the shortest prayers we offer may also be the most life-altering ones. When I was a friar-priest beginning parish ministry, I was fortunate to have been stationed near a monastery of Poor Clare nuns in New Jersey who had known me since I entered the Conventual Franciscans as a postulant. At the time of my new assignment, the abbess became my spiritual director and shared with me one day that as of late her one prayer to God had become simply this: “Make me yours.” I must confess that I went back to the friary a bit frightened by that prayer. I was also a bit upset with myself that I couldn’t yet offer that same prayer without offering God my own list of footnotes. “Make me yours,” I could say, “but here are my suggestions, Lord, as to how you might go about that.” Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I suspect not. The abbess, I’m sure, knew well that those three words would keep echoing in my own heart for the rest of my life and keep slowly bringing to light any ideas, sins, and weaknesses that work to make me not his. To belong totally to Jesus, to be totally his–“make me yours”–is the powerful antidote, the daily medicine, that conquers the forces of sin and death upon which Our Lady places her feet in triumph.

To share in that triumph with our Blessed Mother, it is of course necessary to carry and to stand beneath the Cross. One of my favorite spiritual writers, an old and wise Discalced Carmelite nun named Ruth Burrows, has this to say about the Cross: “The Cross is the mysterious design of God for our glorification. We must not identify it with pain as such. Its significance lies, not in the physical and mental torment of him who hung upon it, but in his obedience, his passionate surrender to God; and it is these we must make our own.” (Essence of Prayer)

What is our gracious Lord, his Church, your Passionist community asking of you today, Sr. Frances Marie, but this obedience to the Father’s ever-merciful and loving will for you, and your passionate surrender to the One Who you know and believe has loved you from even before you were born?!

A large part of this standing beneath the Cross will involve being gathered there in that difficult place with your suffering brothers and sisters, many of whom will visit this monastery or write with their intentions and prayers. You know them well already: ask the Lord to give me work so I can support my family; help my son who is addicted to drugs and pornography; pray that my daughter will be healed of her cancer; pray for my family so they return to the practice of the faith; pray for peace and an end to terror and all forms of hatred; pray for my daughter who is thinking about a vocation to religious life. These sisters and brothers in Christ are hungering for you to share with them the fruits of your own intimacy with our Crucified and Risen Lord. They long to share in a world in which God’s mercy is tangible, the lowly are lifted up, and the hungry filled with good things. The Lord Jesus and his Blessed Mother give you bigger shoulders today to help carry your brothers and sisters to Him and so enable them to experience God’s promises and find healing and salvation.

Of course, Sr. Frances Marie, you do not respond to your call alone but always in the company of your Passionist brothers and sisters throughout the world, and most especially here in this Monastery of St. Joseph in the beautiful rolling hills of Kentucky. It is certainly true that community life can bring you into the mystery of the Cross. St. Francis of Assisi, in his Spirit-filled way of looking at life and the world, used to say–if we could paraphrase him for today–that our true friends are all those who push our buttons. Why? Because when these friends of ours push our buttons, our reactions reveal to us how we still need God and His mercy. We will have eternal life because of such friends, St. Francis says. (I’m sure he had his brother friars in mind when he said that.) But we also know that in the rich monastic tradition we share as the Church, the cloister is also meant to be paradise. Why? Because here you have a group of sisters united, focused in the Lord. Even with all their shortcomings and weaknesses, you all are willing one thing–passionate surrender of yourselves to God.

The Eucharistic Heart of Jesus gathers us today around the altar of his ultimate sacrifice. And yet the way we celebrate Jesus Christ sacramentally is done in hidden, humble, ordinary signs that are filled with extraordinary power and grace because of Jesus’ total response to the Father’s will and His passionate surrender for the salvation of the world.

Sr. Frances Marie, may you always draw your daily strength from the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus and the remembrance of all of us, your sisters and brothers gathered here with you in praise and worship. May you carry and hold this memory until we are all one day taken up to be where the Mother of God is–sharing body and soul in the glory of heaven.


Holy Mary watching over the cross and crown to be received by Sr. Frances Marie.

Stay tuned for more photos from the glorious day…including everyone’s favorite, the moment of the Great Veil Swap!

***Photos by Larena Lawson – thank you!

Dominican Invasion!

Okay, so six priests is not quite an invasion, but our Passionist monastery has seen a smattering of white habited friars this summer.

Sr. Cecilia Maria and Fr. Vincent Ferrer, OP

Fr. Vincent Ferrer Bagan, OP stopped in for an afternoon in June while on an assignment in Kentucky. He and our Sr. Cecilia Maria were friends and classmates at St. Olaf College. They had not seen each other in over seven years, since before entering the Dominicans and Passionists, respectively, so it was a welcome reunion.

Sr. Mary Veronica and Fr. Louis Bertrand Lemoine, OP

Fr. Louis Bertrand was recently began ministering at the Louisville parish which shares his name, and he made a week’s retreat in our guest house – if you are interested in making your own solitude retreat, click here

Fr. Austin Litke, OP with Mother John Mary and Sr. Catherine Marie in Rome

If you’re thinking that doesn’t look like Kentucky, you’re right…This picture is from when Mother John Mary and Sr. Catherine Marie caught up with our home-grown Dominican at San Clemente in Rome. But a few weeks later, Fr. Austin Litke, OP was in the Whitesville area visiting Mom, Dad, and Granny, and graciously stopped in to offer Mass for us here at St. Joseph Monastery.

Fr. Ezra Sullivan, OP and Fr. Basil Cole, OP

Fr. Ezra Sullivan, OP, who helped Sr. Maria Faustina connect with our community, was passing through the area with his confrere, Fr. Basil Cole, OP. We were delighted to see Fr. Ezra again, and to meet Fr. Basil whose work, Christian Totality, we use in our formation program. Fr. Basil shared some beautiful thought from his studies of St. Joseph, especially about the role of “The Guardian of the Redeemer” in preparing Jesus for His Passion.

Fr. Lou Caporiccio, CPM (our chaplain), Fr. David Wilton, CPM, Fr. Emmerich Vogt, OP, with Mother John Mary and Sister Catherine Marie

On the way to preach the annual retreat of the Fathers of Mercy, Fr. Emmerich Vogt, OP took some time out to meet our community and give us a conference on growth in prayer and the Christian life. Many of the nuns have listened to his various conference recordings, but it was wonderful to meet Father and hear his wisdom in person – he is an excellent storyteller, with an anecdote to support every point. He had us in stitches over some of his jokes, but we’ll refrain from propagating the punchlines so as not to spoil the experience if you are blessed to hear Fr. Vogt’s talks, live or recorded. A sampling can be found at his 12-Step Review apostolate online.

Be on the look-out for photos from Sr. Frances Marie’s Profession day!

Glory Glory Halleluia

Perhaps the title for this post should read: Better Late Than Never!  Enjoy this post about our Independence Day celebrations…

Perhaps some of our long-time blog followers will recall the rather wet day we had on the 4th of July last year, complete with damp charcoal briquettes that delayed our grilling efforts, and a rain-drenched hike in the afternoon. This year was not quite so drizzly, though we did have a misty rain all morning which drove Sr. Cecilia Maria and Christie under the carport to grill our traditional hotdogs and hamburgers. Sister Mary Andrea and Sr. Frances Marie, however, braved the weather to make a spectacular harvest of homegrown blackberries – over 5 cups from our little plot of brambles!

At noon, we were treated to a homemade peppermint ice cream cake, a real collaborative affair. One nun made the crust from chocolate mint cookies, another filled it up with vanilla ice cream, patriotic sprinkles, and crushed peppermints, and finally a third sister added the finishing touch – a peppermint rendition of Old Glory.

A refreshing, festive treat: peppermint ice cream cake!

After such a cloudy morning, we were delighted to find the sky clear and the air breezy in the afternoon, perfect for some outdoor recreation.

Nothing brings people together like marshmallows and fire

We started with toasting some s’mores over the last embers of the morning’s grilling endeavors.

Sr. Maria Faustina and Sr. Mary Veronica hone their serving skills

Then we dug out an ancient badminton net a tried very hard to keep the birdie bouncing back and forth, with mixed success.

Sr. Cecilia Maria keeping cool

After a while, Sr. Cecilia Maria decided it would be easier to conquer a giant slice of watermelon than to overcome our lackluster lawn game skills, and the rest of us gladly followed suit.

As we concluded our day of joy and of prayer for our nation, all the nuns joined in singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, with its rousing chorus of “glory, glory, hallelujah.” May God’s truth indeed march on in America, and may He continue to bless our country from His bountiful goodness!

Sr. Maria Faustina shows off her patriotism

Priests – First-rate Vocation Promoters!

This summer is bringing us a number of visitors looking to discover just what it means to be a Passionist Nun.

In June, we welcomed three young women – Rosa, Emily, and Jessica – for a very graced weekend Vocation Retreat.


Jessica, Rosa, and Emily with some of the nuns.

All three of them were encouraged to contact our community by priests who have been to the monastery on retreats. We are so grateful for Fr. Vincent Ferrer Bagan, OP, Fr. Eugene Batungbacal, CSSR, and the Dominican Friars at Indiana University for helping to spread the word of our Passionist life, near and far!

In July, we were honored to be among the many stops of a cross-country Nun Run from Holy Family Parish in St. Paul, MN.

The Minnesota Nun Run: So many young women open to God’s will!

Mother John Mary’s NET Alumni friend, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, sent the Nun Run our way. Many thanks to Bishop Cozzens, and to the priests (Fr. Johnson and Fr. Tyson) and chaperones who brought these young women all the way to the “Holy Land” of Kentucky to see us

Thank God for our priests and all they do as His ministers!

Please join in our prayers that many young women will hear and respond to the call to follow the Lord as brides of Jesus Crucified.

Interested in making your own visit to discover Passionist contemplative life? Click here to sign up for an upcoming Vocation Retreat.

Birds of a Feather

Our ever-resourceful Sr. Mary Andrea recently decided to give an old wooden pallet a new lease on life. With the help of some power tools, nails, and a novice, she transformed the slats into a birdhouse! Once it’s hung up by the garden, we hope it will invite some good neighbors – robins – to help control the resident insect rabble-rousers.

Sr. Mary Andrea and Sr. Frances Marie with the new robin residence

Of course, with birds’ nests come baby birds, and we are excited at the prospect of watching the little ones grow and fledge next spring. In the meantime, there’s plenty of fledging to anticipate inside the monastery. Yes, take a good long look at that photo, because on August 15, Sr. Frances Marie will “molt” her white novice veil and receive the black veil, Passion Sign, and wedding ring of a professed Passionist Nun!

Please keep this beloved “Dove of the Crucified” in your prayers as she begins her retreat on August 10th in preparation for her first profession of vows. We will certainly be asking the Lord to touch each of you with the incredible graces that surround the consecration of a new Bride of Christ!

The Language Barrier

One of you left a comment in an earlier blog post asking how we overcame the language barrier (that Tower of Babel!) while we were in Rome. I certainly wish Sr. Catherine Marie and I spoke good “broken” Italian but, alas, we are dependent upon others to assist – and Google Translate can only go so far!  🙂

With us during our time of work in Rome was a dear friend and canonist who speaks fluent Italian, having lived in Italy about 10 years.  Special thanks to Msgr. Michael Palud for assisting us during the days of work. We had many questions about our juridical structure of communion and Msgr. was unflagging in translating our conversations with our representatives in Rome.

During our visit with the Nuns in Campagnano, Italy

Msgr. is a member of the Congregation of the Oratory and a missionary in Jamaica. He and all the brethren there have a special place in our prayers!

Grazie mille Msgr. Palud!

Arrivederci Roma

We leave you with a few more Italian pics!

While walking to their car parked near St. Peter’s, Mother John Mary and Sister Catherine Marie encountered these stately fellows. Fr. Floriano, C.P. jokingly told them that two cloistered nuns needed two guards for protection. Anyway, they posed with our sisters for a photo, and rarity of rarities, the Swiss Guards are almost smiling!

Here you can see the indomitable Fr. Floriano, C.P. – he seems to have boundless energy, and has climbed the mountain in the background, Gran Sasso (the highest peak of the Apennine Mountains), over 20 times, even offering Holy Mass at the summit! This photo was taken on the way to our Passionist St. Gabriel’s Shrine at Isola Gran Sasso.

This is the spectacular view from Our Holy founder’s cell at St. Joseph Novitiate on Monte Argentario. You can see why the lagoon below the mountain is a resort area nowadays.

Beyond this statue of St. Paul of the Cross, found at SS. John & Paul, you can glimpse the Colosseum. It is extremely near the Passionist Generalate – so near, in fact, Mother and Sister Catherine Marie were kept up at night by a rock opera performance in the historic entertainment center!

Arrivederci amici!


Visitando le monache passioniste d’Italia

Translation – Visiting the Passionist Nuns of Italy

During Mother John Mary and Sr. Catherine Marie’s trip to Rome in June, they also had the chance to visit three of our Passionist monasteries. Here are some highlights of their time with the Italian nuns.

The first monastery they visited was in Tarquinia, which is also the very first home of the Passionist Nuns! They enjoyed a walk in the various small cloister courtyards where gorgeous flowers are cultivated along with kiwi and other fruits. In Tarquinia, they only have a little grass which grows along a very high section of the city wall which belongs to them, very different from the rolling green hills of our Kentucky community, but still full of Passionist spirit. They posed for some pictures on the wall, and Mother John Mary valiantly walked along it.

They were able to meet at long last Sr. Daniela from one of the Brazilian communities. She has been in contact with us for many years, and is currently in Tarquinia for a time of study and formation.

You can learn more about Tarquinia here: http://www.passioniste-tarquinia.it/index.html

 Mother John Mary and Sr. Catherine Marie also saw the nuns in Vignanello. Their monastery is located in a medieval city built on the sides of hills. The Vignanello nuns sang three-part hymns for their American guests, and would have sung all afternoon if we’d let them! They have beautiful voices and harmonies, and about 50 local people join them regularly for the Divine Office.

The Vignanello community does all kinds of farming as well as vestment making. They regularly supply fruit for Sts. John and Paul, the Passionist Generalate in Rome, and we got to sample their pears and plums which were in season during our visit.

Finally, our travelers stopped at the monastery in Campagnano, where Sr. Catherine Marie was delighted to see Sr. Margaret Corona whom she had met during the Passionist Nuns Assembly back in 2015. They shared a delicious cena (supper) with pizza from Sr. Margaret’s own recipe. Then followed recreation which consisted of the beautiful singing of Panis Angelicus by the Indonesian nuns in the community, and several very peppy dances (one looked like our Virginia Reel).

Campagnano has been blessed with many vocations, including these two young women. The postulant on the left is from China; she was going to the university in Rome when she met Sr. Margaret and learned of the Passionist Nuns and entered their monastery.

What a joy it was to have a taste of how our Italian sisters live the Passionist life. We are so grateful for the warm and generous hospitality of the monasteries at Tarquinia, Vignanello, and Campagnano!

Passionist Holy Places

Mother John Mary and Sister Catherine Marie were recently in Rome for a week of meetings about strengthening communion between the Passionist Nuns throughout the world, and they took advantage of their time in the “Eternal City” to visit some of the holy sites of our Passionist history. Here are a few pictures and stories from their pilgrim adventures, adapted from their delightful diary of the travels.

On one of their first days in Rome, they visited the Church of Santa Maria in Domnica, also called the Navicella because of the boat-shaped fountain in front of the church entrance. This church is just down the street from SS. John and Paul, the generalate of the male Passionists where Mother and Sister stayed. This fountain marks the place where our holy founder, St. Paul of the Cross, and his brother, Ven. John Baptist Danei received the Pope’s verbal permission to start gathering companions.

One day, our friend and community canonist Msgr. Michael Palud, CO, offered holy Mass at the tomb of St. Paul of the Cross in his side chapel in the Basilica of SS. John and Paul. Then they took a tour of the basilica.

Another day, they drove to Monte Argentario to visit the first Passionist Retreat – dedicated to the Presentation of Mary – and St. Joseph’s Novitiate, a bit further up the mountain. Here they are on the drive up, with the Presentation Retreat in the background!

At the Retreat of the Presentation, they saw a 300-year old+ tree under which our holy founder had prayed when he and Fr. John Baptist first lived on the site. It was already a tall tree when Paul prayed there in the 1730’s and 1740’s. There was an air of holiness surrounding this prayer nook, and our pilgrim nuns stayed awhile there.

A couple of days later, they were blessed to travel to the Apennines to see the shrine of St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (Possenti). They had Mass in the room in which St. Gabriel died. It had been the room of his spiritual director, Fr. Norbert, which the priest gave up so that Gabriel would be more comfortable as he lay dying.

At St. Gabriel’s time, the bodies of the Passionists were buried one on top of another under the floor of the basilica. Fr. Norbert had the inkling that St. Gabriel’s remains should be marked in some way, so he placed a crown of flowers on his body which identified the saint when he was exhumed for the process of his beatification. That wreath of flowers has been preserved, as has the leather belt he wore around his habit.

This is the original shrine of St. Gabriel, an ancient monastery, founded by St. Francis of Assisi, which was given to the Passionists three years before Gabriel arrived and they had to flee from it three years after he died. With such a narrow window of Passionist residence during Gabriel’s lifetime, it really seems that God wanted Gabriel’s shrine to be in this place! The people of the Abruzzi region, where St. Gabriel’s shrine is, have an uncanny ability to recognize sanctity. Even while he was alive they knew he was a saint. They would come to Mass just to see him go to Holy Communion.

Finally, here are Mother John Mary and Sr. Catherine Marie inside the new shrine of St. Gabriel, beside the lifelike reliquary of our holy brother in the Passion. You can see more photos of the shrine here.

What a blessing to walk in these places trod by so many saintly followers of Christ Crucified!

P.S.  Although San Clemente is not a Passionist Holy Site, surely our Founder prayed there since it is just down the hill from Ss. John and Paul. While in Rome we had a delightful visit with our fellow-Kentuckian, Fr. Austin Litke, who gave us a tour of the ancient basilica and the excavations beneath the present basilica.


Gardens Enclosed

Throughout the spring we were busy (“fun” busy!) planting flowerpots to spruce up the nuns’ courtyard and the areas around our Retreat House.

With the arrival of summer’s heat, we aren’t planting too much anymore; the time has come to weed and water gardens, mow lawns and water flowerpots, trim mint and water…did we already mention watering? Thankfully, we have a well from what to draw water because we would not be able to afford to pay for all the water to keep the plants alive! Kentucky’s heat and clay soil makes for a lot of watering to be done!

We would also like to give special thanks to our special donors who gave us A LOT of year-old mulch this year and many of the plants you see in these photos.

But the results are well worth it. Here’s a sampling of the gardens (and gardeners) around St. Joseph Monastery this year.


One of Sr. Mary Therese’s garden arrangements on the Retreat House dining room patio.

Christie is expert at tucking flowers into every nook and cranny of her little garden space.

Daylilies and creeping thyme put on a display for the Blessed Virgin.

Mountains of purple salvia behind the Immaculate Heart statute.


Watch out dandelions! Sr. Frances Marie mows the cloister lawns.

Sr. Mary Veronica planting her famous vincas around the courtyard.

Anyone know what kind of bird made this nest? The nest is covered in lichen from a tree and it is very tiny! Found abandoned, now it is part of Mother John Mary’s rock garden.

Mother John Mary hard at work on her garden during her 8-day retreat in late May.

More of the rock garden. The joe pye weed behind the angel statue is twice as tall now and this bed has a lot more color now!

Sr. Cecilia Maria’s Mint-Henge recently welcomed some new herbs, and a tiny bay sapling in the pot on the pedestal.

By the end of the season, these pots will be overflowing with color!

Sr. Frances Marie digging trenches for asparagus – a gift from a relative of one of our deceased sisters.