The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles (www.benedictinesofmary.org) of the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus were established under the auspices of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1995. They later became independent of the Fraternity and re-located to Gower, Missouri—near St. Joseph, in northwestern Missouri and Kansas City—at the invitation of the then-bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Robert Finn.
The sisters, who wear the full habit and live the monastic life, spend their day in prayer and work on their small farm and in other enterprises to fund their community. They chant many of their prayers and celebrate Mass according to the Extraordinary Form. Silence is important to their spiritual development so they speak only when necessary outside of their afternoon social hour, and they live a life of penance fasting much of the day.
Catholic World Report recently spoke with Sister Scholastica Radel, one of the first sisters to join the community 16 years ago.
CWR: Who first had the idea to found your community?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: Our founding sister, Sr. Wilhelmina, was an Oblate Sister of Providence in Baltimore. She’s African American, and is today 92 years old and living as part of our community. She petitioned to form a more traditional branch of her community, but permission was not granted. The superior of the Fraternity of St. Peter contacted her and invited her to begin a new community in conjunction with the Fraternity.
CWR: Like the Fraternity, you celebrate the Mass in Latin?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: Yes. The Fraternity gave us our start, but we became a monastic group. It was determined early on that we should be a community independent of the Fraternity. However, we remain close friends.
CWR: Who is part of the Benedictines of Mary today?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: We have 32 members. Seven are postulants, four novices, three first professed and the remainder solemnly professed. Up until last year we were all Americans. But, in this last group of seven postulants, we have one who was born in Kenya, another Germany, another Netherlands and another a Canadian born in Algeria. We joke that we’ve become an IHOP, an International House of Postulants.
The other three came from Wisconsin, Texas and South Dakota.
CWR: What is some of the work of your community?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: We are monastic, so much of our work is internal. However, we keep a small farm with five cows, and we have a sewing department that makes vestments for priests throughout the world. But our primary work is prayer.
CWR: And where is your monastery is located?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: We’re in a remote, rural setting. It is important for us to be somewhat removed from the busy city life. We have a large priory, which was built in 2010.
We’ve put on additions to host guests and provide additional space for our community. We’re also ready to start on building our church. Our superior, Mother Cecilia, has been involved in meetings for construction. The planning stage is finished, and we’re ready to start construction.
Those living around us are mostly farmers, the majority of whom are not Catholic. They’ve been very supportive of our presence, constantly looking to lend us a hand. They might drop off a gift of a truckload of watermelons or hay. They appreciate that we are working just like they are. We stay close to them and the community, which is typical for Benedictines.
CWR: The homepage of your website indicates that you are raising $5 million for your church.
Sr. Scholastica Radel: Yes. We have over $1.5 million raised already, and with another $500,000, we will be able to start construction.
CWR: How do you raise money?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: Mostly through our newsletter, which goes out five times a year. We also sell music CDs, featuring the singing of our sisters at the monastery. Our most recent two offer Eucharistic hymns and Christmas music. Mother does our arrangements. Singing is easy for us, as we get a lot of practice. We sing the Divine Office eight times a day.
We also make and sell our own greeting cards.
CWR: What is your typical day like?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: We get up at 5 a.m. and have matins. After a short break, we chant lauds. After another short break, we chant prime. We have chapter, read about the saints for the day and pray for the dead. Mother reads our prayer intentions, which we take into our hearts. That is the end of our grand silence.
We then begin working silence. We only are allowed to speak if we need to for work. No “chit chat” is allowed.
At 9:30 a.m. we have mental prayer, Lectio Divina, which is a prayerful reading of Scripture, and Mass at 10:45 a.m. The Latin Mass incorporates the old chants which can get pretty intricate.
After Mass we have free time, during which time we can do such things as writing letters or painting pictures for greeting cards. We then go back to work.
We don’t eat a full meal until after 3 p.m.; we keep the ancient fast. At breakfast, we take just what we need. It is not regulated, as sisters doing harder physical labor on the farm need more food.
We grow much of our own food. It is very nourishing. We are spoiled in that we have our own milk cows.
In the afternoon we have classes for those in formation, and other sisters return to work. We have recreation at 4:15 p.m.; we have to hold our tongues until then. People ask me if it is hard to keep silent. I tell them no, as it is a full silence, in which we wait for Our Lord. But even during our social time, which lasts one hour, we keep working while talking. People who overhear us notice all the laughter. We’re happy to be together.
We then have vespers, and spend the evening milking the cows and doing chores. We have compline, during which time Mother Cecilia will read spiritual reading to us. And, throughout the night, we take turns praying for priests.
Overall, we spend about 3 ½ to 5 hours a day praying, and we’re working constantly. Young women who visit us say, “Boy, you work hard.” We do work hard. We don’t have any employees or volunteers who work for us. We do our own upkeep. You’ll see us working on the farm, sewing or cooking and cleaning.
CWR: What is your normal attire?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: We wear the full black habit, which we make ourselves. I’m still wearing the one I received 16 years ago. We also wear the scapular and a wimple. Our solemnly professed wear a longer veil, and our novices wear the white veil.
When working outside we wear a blue habit, which is easier to clean.
CWR: Tell us more about the church you wish to build.
Sr. Scholastica Radel: It will connect to our priory building, and have a cloister, garden and fountain, like the monasteries of Europe. It will not be large or elaborate, but a sturdy and worthy structure. God willing, it will be stone-face, with some stone on the interior. It will have a marble altar which we acquired from a convent that closed back east. It will have choir stalls, which is how we sit while chanting the office, to imitate the choirs of angels.
We will sit in the main part of the church, with seating behind us for visitors. Even though we’re in a remote area, lots of people come to visit and pray with us.
The church will seat 200, which will take care of our needs and give us a place for our ceremonies. We still have the ceremonies that people like to watch, like sisters entering in wedding dresses and getting their hair cut.
We’re working on the stained glass windows and frescoes.
CWR: Who is your bishop?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: We’re under the authority of the bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, James Johnston. He has been most kind and supportive. We welcome a lot of diocesan retreats, and regularly have diocesan priests stay in our retreat house. The deanery meets here once a month. Sometimes we see priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter. I think they appreciate the silence.
CWR: What kind of woman would be a good fit for your community?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: I’m pleased to say that we have a really remarkable group of postulants. They have a diverse background, but there is a common thread among them. They have a bit of a disconnect from the world; they believe there’s more to life than Facebook. They are looking for a deeper reality in life, and are striving for holiness. They are serious about their spiritual life.
We’re looking for young women with a strong sense of community, which they might have experienced at their parish or homeschool community. Many of our sisters have a homeschool background, or come from a Latin Mass community. I myself, however, did not come from a Latin Mass background!
CWR: What are the biggest challenges your community has?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: Right now, our biggest struggle is space, trying to figure out where to put people. We have many young women asking to come and see.
CWR: How does a young woman come visit your community?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: It starts with correspondence. I am the novice mistress, so I’m their point of contact.
We ask if they have good health, and about their family background. We don’t have “come and see” weekends; we have them come spend a week with us to see what we do. That’s usually very telling. After a retreat with us, they can discern whether or not they have a vocation. Sometimes they discern they do, but with another community. Seven women who have come to us in the past three years, for example, discerned they had a vocation elsewhere.
We have about 50 who visit each year, who come three at a time every other week. As I said, seven entered this past year, with another three asking to join next year.
CWR: Do your sisters ever leave the monastery?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: Occasionally. We might, for example, attend the ordination of priests.
We don’t have a lot of contact with the outside world. We don’t read newspapers, watch television or listen to the radio. We have to have permission to use the internet. But Mother Cecilia keeps us updated. She recently told us, for example, about the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
We do get a lot of personal news from people, however, through their prayer requests.
CWR: Do families visit?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: They can come up to three times a year, and stay two days at a time, or three days if they’re coming from a longer distance.
CWR: Do you have a grille?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: No, we’re Benedictines, so we do not. It helps us to exercise Benedictine hospitality without the grille, and makes farming life easier.
CWR: How did you join the Benedictines of Mary?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: I was one of the first novices. I’m from the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. I first heard the story of Sr. Wilhelmina when I was in high school. We had to study Latin, and took a field trip to attend a Latin Mass. It was in conjunction with that trip that I learned that a new community was starting.
I had discerned that I had a religious vocation. I attended a Mass with Pope John Paul II in New York City. He brought up the topic of young people and religious vocations, and I thought he was talking to me. I had also read St. Therese’s Story of a Soul, which had an impact on me.
I didn’t know that I wanted to be a Benedictine. However, when I saw the community’s liturgical life, still in seed form then, I thought it was beautiful to be so deeply connected to a tradition going back 1,500 years. When you read the Rule of St. Benedict, he describes how the Divine Office should be said. I’m proud to be carrying on his work. And, he would have been chanting in Latin. We’re centered around the liturgical life, the Mass. We draw our strength from that.
CWR: How has it changed you?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: I loved the monastic life when I joined, but I love it even more now. I think Mother Angelica said it well: it is a hard life, but a beautiful life. I think it is more beautiful to me now than 16 years ago. It is a rich treasure that I continue to appreciate.
CWR: Why do you think religious life has suffered such a dramatic decline over the past 50 years?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: Well, I can say one thing about the young women who are coming to us. They are looking for the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They will settle for nothing less.
CWR: Family life has suffered in recent decades, leading to many people coming from broken homes and dysfunctional families. How has that affected recruitment to your community?
As Pope Pius XII said, going into religious life is going from one family to another. But when someone comes to us, we have to make sure their offering is whole. It is not impossible to overcome a difficult background; Mother Angelica herself came from a broken home. And, as Fr. John Hardon said, we can only lean on psychology so much, but there is not accounting for grace.
Most of our sisters come from intact families, but for those who do not, some issues can be corrected. There is a “detox” in the silence. Our sisters tell me that in our silence they see all sorts of things about themselves that they did not realize.
CWR: Do you have conflicts among the sisters?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: This is one area where silence really can help! That’s something that has really surprised me. We have 32 women living together, and conflict is rare.
If an issue does arise, we can speak to the superior and she can dispel things pretty quickly. We try to make sure we give any apologies before the sun goes down. Grace works wonders.
CWR: What needs does your community have?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: We’re certainly in need of donations for the church. Other than that, we had a wish list on our website, but they were fulfilled so fast, we took it down.
CWR: And you take prayer intentions.
Sr. Scholastica Radel: Yes. People can send them through the mail or through the website. Mother reads them out loud to us.
Even though we are contemplatives, we don’t always see the result of our prayers. In the next life we’ll see the fruit that our sufferings and prayers have produced.
However, I can think of one time when we did see the result of our prayers. A man came to Mass and was crying afterward. We asked him what was wrong. He said he had heard one of our music CDs and was so happy to be here with us for Mass. He’s becoming Catholic.
CWR: Are you happy in this life?
Sr. Scholastica Radel: We’re very happy. Joy is really the mark of accepting God’s will. When you’re doing that, and living close to the land, it leads to a happy life.
I know I’ve made the right choice. And, I’ve never regretted it.