With new French convent, nuns hope for eucharistic adoration, 24/7
Catholic News Service photo
Maria Santoro walks through the gardens with Mother Marilla Aw, an Australian nun of Chinese descent, outside the convent of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre in Saint-Loup-sur-Aujon, France, Sept. 29. It was the day of the installa tion of the new community of Tyburn Nuns and Mother Marilla is one of the eight-member community established at the request of Bishop Philippe Gueneley of Langres.
Catholic News Service
SAINT-LOUP-SUR-AUJON, France — The moment a monstrance bearing the Blessed Sacrament was fixed high over an altar in a convent church in a remote French valley, a nun stepped forward to start the process of eucharistic adoration — one the sisters hope will continue day and night, week after week and year after year.
Mother Marie Xavier McMonagle thus began the perpetual adoration of the "Tyburn Nuns," an order of enclosed contemplative Benedictine nuns established to worship the "eucharistic heart of Jesus."
In so doing, she also closed a day of ceremonies to install the order's newest community, situated near Dijon, France.
This community, the 12th to be established in less than a century, has eight members, each of whom will spend a minimum one hour a day in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes they will be assisted by lay Catholics.
A founding charism of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre is the unceasing eucharistic adoration, which continues round-the-clock when the community is large enough for its members to physically and mentally sustain such prayer.
At present there seems to be no shortage of women expressing an interest in such devotion because the opening of the convent Sept. 29 represents the latest expansion of a female religious order which -- like the Nashville Dominicans in the U.S. -- is growing rapidly while others decline.
Mother Marie Adele Garnier founded the order in Paris in 1898, and it had a rocky start. Initially, its members were struck by unseen blows and showered with altar breads, among a range of terrifying supernatural attacks they attributed to the devil.
France's Law of Associations, which forbade the existence of religious groups unregistered by the state, eventually caused they to move to London. In 1903 the nuns established a convent close to the site of the Tyburn gallows, where at least 105 Catholics were martyred during the Reformation.
After World War II, the Tyburn Nuns, as they were known, expanded to Ireland, Australia and Peru and, since 1993, have opened communities in Scotland, Ecuador, Colombia, Italy and New Zealand.
The French convent opened less than a year after the nuns began building a religious house in Nigeria, their first in Africa, which is expected to be fully completed, with a novitiate, by 2015.
Of more than 90 professed sisters and some 30 novices, about half are from Australia and New Zealand, including the mother general, but new houses in Latin America are creating increased interest in vocations.
The rate of growth has not gone unnoticed in Rome, and last year, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, agreed to preside over the launch of a spiritual biography of Mother Adele.
Blessed John Paul II had earlier invited the nuns to Rome to open a convent there to pray for the popes, and Pope Francis was so pleased with the French convent that he sent the nuns a golden chalice that had belonged to Pope Gregory XVI. Pope Gregory was pontiff in 1838, the year when Mother Adele was born just 25 miles away from Saint-Loup.
Pope Francis "wanted us to have it, and he himself has celebrated Mass with it," Mother McMonagle told Catholic News Service in a Sept. 29 interview at the Saint-Loup convent. "We will be remembering the pope every time we use it."
The nuns see a deeper significance in their new convent than simply sustained growth. For them, it heralds a sort of homecoming more than a century after they were driven from the land of their foundress.
The eight nuns forming the new community come from around the world: Ireland, France, Peru, Ecuador, Australia and New Zealand.
In welcoming the nuns, Bishop Philippe Gueneley of Langres, who had written to the mother general requesting their presence in his diocese last November, paid tribute to their openness to the will of God.
"You are building a community that is shining forth in charity," he said.
In her address, Mother McMonagle explained that the bishop invited the nuns to France after Pope Benedict XVI told the French bishops, on their last "ad limina" visit to Rome last November, that they should treasure such monastic communities because they enriched not only the church but the whole of society.
The convent at Saint-Loup was providential, she said, because the writings of Mother Adele, a mystic, revealed that she believed she had been followed several times by a "loup" (French for wolf) after her nightly adoration of the Eucharist when she worked in the region as a governess. Because the wolf did not attack her, Mother Adele came to believe it was protecting her.
"On our arrival, one of the first pieces of news we heard was that there was a wolf wandering around this and neighboring villages," Mother McMonagle said.
"And so I see in this a sign that our mother foundress wants us to be here -- in Saint-Loup -- and nowhere else," she told the audience.
The local French community has welcomed the Tyburn nuns, perhaps none more than the family of 12-year-old Anais Wagner, who became critically ill with a congenital heart disease the same month that Bishop Gueneley asked the nuns to come to his diocese.
Doctors said that without a heart transplant she would die, but thought that finding a match for a child of her age would be practically impossible.
Anais was fitted with a temporary mechanical heart, and the Sisters of La Sagesse, who were vacating the Saint-Loup convent building because of declining numbers, organized prayers for Mother Adele's intercession.
In July, a donor heart was found and successfully transplanted.
Anais has made a full recovery, and she attended the inauguration of the Saint-Loup community.