Catholics asked to pray ‘for those who pray’ Nov. 21
Written by LAURIE STEVENS BERTKE, Chronicle Writer
Thursday, 15 November 2012 00:00
TOLEDO—Behind the walls of the Monastery of the Visitation on Parkside Boulevard, a small community of women religious devote their lives to praying for the people of the Diocese of Toledo.
To support and honor members of this and other contemplative orders around the world, Catholics are asked to offer specials prayers for cloistered women and men religious Nov. 21, which has been designated as Pro Orantibus Day (“For Those Who Pray”).
Sisters in the Contemplative Order of the Visitation in Toledo devote their lives to praying for people in the Diocese of Toledo and throughout the world. Click "play" to hear and see more about life within the enclosure of the monastery.
Pope John Paul II asked the ecclesial event be observed worldwide in 1997 to thank those in the cloistered and monastic life for serving as “a leaven of renewal and of the presence of the spirit of Christ in the world,” and to remind others of the need to provide spiritual and material support to these communities.
Visitation Sister Sharon Elizabeth Gworek, superior of the contemplative Visitation Order in Toledo, says it is “providence” that Pope John Paul designated the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Presentation in the Temple for this purpose, since that happens to be the same day all members of the Visitation Order worldwide renew their vows.
In Toledo, the community consists of 21 women — “22 if you count the dog,” Sr. Gworek jokes, referring to the Husky-Labrador mix that resides at the monastery. “She’s in formation.”
Three new members have made solemn professions in the last year, and three more are currently in formation.
The nuns range in age from 23 to 88 and come from diverse backgrounds. Some grew up in the Diocese of Toledo, while others come from neighboring dioceses and states as far away as California, Iowa and North Carolina.
The Visitation Sisters have the privilege of papal enclosure, meaning they spend most of their lives within the monastery, leaving only for business, medical needs and other duties.
They support themselves by distributing altar breads to parishes inside and outside the diocese, but largely rely on donations to support their apostolate of prayer.
Daily life revolves around Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, with silence observed by the sisters otherwise throughout most the day. Interspersed between the set times of prayer are periods for work, meals and recreation.
“The whole typical day really is the search for God,” says Sr. Gworek, who acknowledges contemplative life is not a vocation for everyone.
“It’s a call from God. The grace has to be there,” she says. “And it is a faith journey. You have to have incredible faith, because even within our prayer life, we may never see the results of the prayer. But what we really come here for is for the Lord.”
Each nun has her own unique story to share about the journey that led her to the monastery, many with surprising twists.
Sr. Gworek, originally from Connecticut, was a “fallen away Catholic” for a time before she experienced a renewal in her faith and began making regular weekend retreats at the Georgetown Visitation Monastery in Washington.
“I always had a reluctant vocation,” she says, recalling how she struggled initially to work up the courage to even call the monastery. “I’d pick up the phone and I would hang it up,” she laughs. “Then I remember dialing and praying so hard that no one would answer the phone.”
After entering the community at Georgetown in 1980, she transferred to Toledo in 1981.
She describes the monastery as “the trysting place — the place where God and I meet,” and compares it to the desert where the Lord “went off to a lonely place to pray.
“But it’s not lonely, because our spouse is here,” Sr. Gworek adds. “It’s that garden enclosed where we can be with the Beloved, and be attentive to Him.”
Enclosure is not something the church imposes on the community, Visitation Sister Marie de Sales Kaspar notes. “We choose it, because God draws us to it,” she explains. “It’s the place to seek Him.”
Before she entered the monastery, Sr. Kaspar says she also spent some years away from the church as a young adult.
A period of turmoil following the end of a brief marriage in her 20s brought her back to the church, but she continued to date and it was still not until years later that the stirrings of a call to a religious vocation became strong enough that “I knew I could only be His,” she says.
She ended up breaking off a second engagement in 1999, and entered the monastery Oct. 1, 2000.
Another member of the community, Visitation Sister Maria Consuelo Gonzales, joined in 2005 after 46 years as a vowed member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania. She entered the Sylvania Franciscans at the age of 14, and worked as a nurse for many years before “my heart just said it was time just to be with Him,” Sr. Gonzales relates.
Sr. Gworek says the sisters find fulfillment in “being here for the diocese” to offer prayers for all of the priests, religious and laypeople.
They have done so since 1915, when members from their Georgetown Monastery first arrived in Toledo at the invitation of Bishop Joseph Schrembs.
Now that the community has a website, the sisters not only field prayer requests from within the diocese, but also from around the world. Intentions sent from India, Hungary, the Philippines, Mexico, New Zealand and elsewhere are placed on the sisters’ prayer board and lifted up during morning and evening prayer.
Sr. Gworek says the Pro Orantibus observance is a reminder that while cloistered nuns are praying for everyone else, “they also need prayer.”
The day is intended to make the contemplative communities known to people in the church as well so they can offer support, financial or otherwise. Sr. Gworek notes many people share from their gardens, provide coffee or help in other ways. The sisters are also touched by the many smaller donations they receive — “the widow’s mite,” as she refers to it.
Sr. Gworek calls their dependence on donations “a beautiful sign of poverty and just trust that the Lord is going to take care of us.”