Passionist Nuns Elect First "Mother President" of New Congregation
In the past three years, the Holy See has issued both an Apostolic Constitution, Vultum Dei Quaerere, and an Instruction, Cor Orans, which give updated regulations for women’s cloistered monasteries. One of the things most clearly emphasized in these documents is the need for individual monasteries to support each other and grow in communion. Unlike convents of active sisters, cloistered monasteries are often autonomous. In order to receive the support they need, many monasteries have historically grouped together in federations. Drawing on this tradition, the Church’s newest regulations require all monasteries to join federations unless they petition for an exemption from the Holy See.
The Institute of Passionist Nuns had a real need for this change. With the help of the Passionist Fathers, a delegate from Rome was brought in to help them discern how to connect their 32 cloistered monasteries throughout the world, many of which were struggling due to lack of resources and vocations. Though the journey toward a solution was difficult at times, three years of dialogue brought new insight and hope.
In studying their situation, the Holy See realized that a monastic congregation would be the best federative juridical form of communion for them, with one Mother President who would serve the needs of the individual monasteries. On January 29, 2019, Mother Catherine Marie, CP, a Passionist Nun from St. Joseph’s Monastery in Whitesville, Kentucky, was named the first Mother President of the Congregation of Passionist Nuns! Mother Catherine Marie wrote the following reflection for her friends and family back in the United States, describing the Holy Spirit’s work at the General Chapter in which she was elected.
By now, many of you know the news from here in Rome! The work of the Holy See on behalf of the Passionist Nuns throughout the world which was initiated in 2015 and continued with much work and travail, finally came to birth during the past year. Then in these last two weeks, the infant Congregation took its first “baby” steps during the meeting held in Rome at SS. John and Paul’s monastery (the generalate of the male branch of the Passionists).
On June 29, 2018, the Holy See officially erected the new Congregation of the Nuns of the Passion of Jesus Christ. There is a world of history and meaning contained in that sentence which I don’t need to explain. But it’s important to note that this juridical structuring is taking place in all female monastic groups throughout the world. From long experience, the Church knows we will be stronger if we are united, rather than continuing in isolation (each monastery “on its own.”)
With the official erection of our monastic congregation, the Holy See also approved the statutes (which were written with input from all the CP Nuns throughout the world), and finally, authorized Mother Fernanda Barbiero, SMSD, to convene and preside over our first General Chapter.
Our first General Chapter (Jan 21—Feb 3, 2019) was an historic moment. It set in motion the general government and service of communion we had worked on for years. A Trappistine abbess gave us two days of retreat at the beginning. The Cistercian/Trappist family has 900 years of experience in combining isolated monasteries into monastic congregations! So, rather than being some new and novel idea, our new juridical structure is actually a return to an ancient practice. These retreat days were followed by a full report of the Holy See’s work with the Passionist Nuns during the past three and a half years; and then by our own hard work of reading through and then approving the revised text of our constitutions, so it can be presented to the Holy See for final approval.
On Sunday, Jan 27, we took a break and went on pilgrimage to Monte Argentario (the first monastery built by St. Paul of the Cross), and to the first monastery of Passionist Nuns founded by St. Paul of the Cross in Tarquinia.
Two days later, Jan 29, a Cistercian monk (who had for years worked with cloistered nuns all over the world) came to conduct our elections. The schedule had set aside the entire day and even a time in the evening, for the elections, but we accomplished the work before lunch, which surprised everyone. I myself was perhaps the most surprised. I had arrived at the Chapter with a mind made up that at my age (75) God was not calling me to this service of authority and I was returning to Whitesville in the spring. But powerful graces were released upon all the capitulars, myself included. By the time Sunday Jan 27 arrived, I had Mary’s open heart, and a clear awareness that I would not be alone if I were elected. These Nuns would be walking forward with me, supporting me with their own gifts of nature and grace. I saw clearly that during the three and a half years of difficult work we had all been through, the Holy Spirit had been doing a hidden work in our hearts, knitting us together in a strong spirit of “communion” which would only surface and be in clear view of everyone during the General Chapter. That experience set me free to devote to our Congregation whatever my age and health allows.
We are all so pleased that in electing my council members, the capitulars drew from each major linguistic area of our Congregation: Italian, French, Spanish, Indonesian, and Portuguese. In short, it was a miracle. Especially considering that up until now, Passionist Nuns did not really know one another – outside of one’s linguistic group.
As you can imagine, as soon as I was elected on Tuesday, there was an avalanche of Nuns wanting to let me know about their monasteries etc. This juridical structure is 30 years late!
By the way, only one week before I came to the General Chapter was I able to get my “sojourn” card (residency permit). They only gave it for one year, and it has to be renewed annually if my home base is to remain in Italy. I think I need a couple more Guardian Angels to help me remember things….
Ever in JXP,
Mother Catherine Marie