Some nuns from the Dominican Monastery of St. Jude in Marbury, Alabama enjoy a walk in the woods within their enclosure. (Photo courtesy of the Dominican Monastery of St. Jude)
Sister Mary Jordan is a member of the Dominican Monastery of St. Jude in
Marbury, Alabama. The cloistered community was founded in 1944 and
welcomed women of all ethnic backgrounds, a practice not typical of the
era. The community is today
home to eight nuns, who devote five hours a day to praising God and praying for
various intentions in the outside world. Sister Mary recently spoke with CWR about her vocation and about her unique community, the first
interracial cloistered community in the United States.
CWR: Can you tell us about the founding of your monastery?
Sister Mary Jordan: The Dominican nuns were founded by
St. Dominic in 1206. He wanted them to support the apostolic preaching of
his friars by their lives of contemplation, prayer and penance. Our constitutions
say that the friars, sisters, and laity of the order are called to preach the
name of Jesus Christ throughout the world. The nuns are called to seek,
ponder, and call upon Jesus in solitude so that the word proceeding from the
mouth of God may not return to Him empty but may accomplish those things for
which it was sent. We bear fruit in two ways: by our intercession, because
our prayers call down grace for the salvation of souls, and by our example,
because living a life totally dedicated to God is everyone’s goal in heaven. By
living that now on earth, as much as we possibly can, we provide an example of
what everyone is called to.
The Rosary plays an important role, because our
particular branch of nuns was founded in France as the Dominican Sisters of the
Perpetual Rosary in 1880. We keep the perpetual vigil to honor Mary and
intercede for souls.
The idea of establishing our particular monastery in Marbury began in a Dominican sisters monastery in
Catonsville, Maryland (near Baltimore). Mother Mary of Jesus, a sister living
there, had a vision of a race riot. People of different races were engaged
in a violent struggle.
She then saw a
Dominican friar with dark skin, whom she recognized as St. Martin de Porres,
walking amongst the crowd. He was holding up a rosary as he walked. The
weapons people held in their hands then turned to rosaries. St. Martin
then pointed to the top of a hill, where Mother Mary of Jesus saw a monastery
of Dominican nuns of all races praying the Rosary with their arms outstretched
in the form of a cross.
To her, the message
of the vision was clear, that prayer, especially the Rosary, obtains the
reconciliation of all things in Christ. She wanted to found a monastery that
accepted people of different races, something that did not exist at the
Mother Mary of Jesus shared her vision with two other
nuns in the community, Mother Mary Dominic and Mother Mary of the Child Jesus. They
began writing bishops, requesting that they be allowed to establish a new
monastery. The very last bishop they were allowed by their superiors to
write, Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen of Mobile, Alabama (1886-1976),
agreed. It was Divine Providence.
So our community had two foundresses, who began receiving
vocations shortly after establishing the community. It received much
attention in the media, as it was the first interracial cloistered community;
it would accept qualified women of any race. Ours was a community where
race didn’t matter. Our goal was to be nuns. We were not involved in the civil rights
movement; we simply lived the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
CWR: What is the most number of sisters your community has had?
Sister Mary: Sixteen. Of
the eight we have today, our youngest sister is 22, our oldest is 88. We
have cells for up to 20 sisters, but that would be a tight fit.
CWR: What role
does intercessory prayer have in your life?
One sister said you were a “powerhouse of prayer.”
Sister Mary: That’s right. St. Dominic founded the Dominican nuns
to be at the heart of his holy preaching. We offer ourselves to God
through our religious consecration; our intentions are those of the Sacred
Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. People also send us
prayer intentions. It gives us the opportunity in our hearts to feel the burden
of spiritual motherhood. We also pray for those things we read about in
CWR: What is the religious make-up of the surrounding community?
Sister Mary: We are in a rural area, about 30 miles north of
Montgomery. We have about 100 acres, 80 of which are behind an enclosure.
It is a great blessing to be in a peaceful area.
We’re in the Bible belt, and there are few Catholics
here; maybe 3 or 4 percent are Catholic. But being a small community, the
faith of our local Catholics can be intense.
community’s prayer schedule is posted on your website; what does it look like
Sister Mary: We have three hours of liturgical prayer, and two hours
of private prayer. We also have time for study, household work, and
recreation together. Our monastic life is arranged in such a way that our nuns
can be mindful of God throughout the day.
CWR: Is it difficult to keep up your schedule?
Sister Mary: I would describe it
as regular. It is one thing that astonished me when I was a
postulant. The same thing happens the same time every day, whether it be
Vespers or recreation. Unexpected things pop up and we have to adjust our
schedulea delivery truck arrives, someone knocks on the door, a water pipe
breaksbut otherwise our life here is very consistent.
CWR: Many of your prayers are in Latin. Why is that?
Sister Mary: The liturgical tradition of the Western Church is
Latin. The Dominican Order standardized its liturgy in the mid-1200s, and
has had a pretty consistent tradition of Dominican chant. So, after the
Second Vatican Council when the liturgy changed, our Marbury community decided
that it was important that we continue our Dominican tradition. We sing Lauds
(morning prayer), Vespers (evening
prayer), and Compline (night
prayer) in Latin using our traditional Dominican chant.
CWR: Do you have Mass in the Extraordinary Form?
Sister Mary: We do not have it
regularly, but celebrate it whenever we have the chance. It happens
several times a year.
CWR: Tell us about the your habit.
Sister Mary: We wear a white tunic and white scapular. The
scapular was given to our order by the Blessed Virgin Mary. It represents her
protection that surrounds us. It is a long strip of cloth that extends down the
front and back.
We wear a black veil, which represents our consecration
to Christ. For novices who have not yet made vows, the veil is white.
The white we wear represents purity of life; the black
represents the penance necessary in a fallen world to maintain that purity.
We also wear a Rosary attached to our belt, where a
knight would wear his sword. It’s our spiritual weapon for the salvation
CWR: You are separated from the outside world by a grille. What is its
Sister Mary: It is a symbol of
our being set apart from the world and dedicated exclusively to God. In
our chapel we have a grille, which separates us from the sanctuary and the
peoples’ chapel. We have a grille in the parlor, which separates us from
those who come to visit. Around our grounds there is a wall or fence, which
marks out the sacred space in which the nuns live.
CWR: How aware are you of the outside world? Are you following, for
example, the US presidential election?
Sister Mary: In order to have
the tranquility of heart necessary for the contemplative life, it is important
that we’re not too plugged in to all the details of what’s going on in the
world. However, it is important that we are aware of the needs of the
world so that we many bring them before God.
We vote by mail-in ballots. We receive local
newspapers and Catholic publications. We follow the news of the Dominican
Order, as well as the Archdiocese of Mobile, in which we are located. We
also have many friends and benefactors from the outside world who write us with
CWR: When you read the news, what do you think is most pressing to pray
Sister Mary: Globally, there is intense violence and political
upheaval which is very grave. As Our Lady of Fatima requested, we pray for
peace and conversions.
On a human level, many people are alienated from
God. They make choices that make them unhappy, so we bring them to God in
We’re also always praying for our Dominican friars and
for priests and others working in the active apostolate. As a powerhouse
of prayer, it is our job to obtain grace. It is not the preaching that
converts, but God’s action in the heart. Our prayers obtain the help these
apostolates need to be fruitful. It is a beautiful relationship of working
CWR: How is your community funded?
Sister Mary: We rely on donations to supply our needs. Our Lord
provides for us through our friends and benefactors.
We have a wonderful example of Divine Providence from the
days we were building our monastery. A contractor came to the back door
demanding payment, and the sisters didn’t have the money. Meanwhile, there
was a knock on the front door, and it was Fulton Oursler, author of The
Greatest Story Ever Told. He had a check in hand for the exact amount
the contractor was demanding.
We’ve had benefactors who have supported us since the
early days. We’ve been gratified when their descendants, the younger
generation, step up to take their place as they pass away.
When our temporal
needs are provided for, we are free for God alone. We continually remember
our benefactors in our prayers, and even have a day on the liturgical calendar
in which Mass is offered for our deceased benefactors. We will pray for
them as long as we are here.
CWR: How often do your sisters leave the cloister?
Sister Mary: We leave as little
as possible. Usually, it is for medical care. As one sister says,
“You can’t send your teeth to the dentist.”
CWR: As a community dedicated to the Blessed Mother and the Rosary, of what
significance do you place on the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Mary
Sister Mary: This year, we celebrated
the 800th anniversary of the Dominican community. Next year, we’re looking
forward to the 100th anniversary of Fatima.
We hope it will
raise awareness of Fatima and Our Lady’s message there. There are good,
practicing Catholics today who are unfamiliar with Fatima. People need to
pray the Rosary for peace and make the five First Saturdays.
CWR: How did you come to join the Dominican Monastery of St. Jude?
Sister Mary: I grew up in Loveland, Ohio, a suburb of
Cincinnati. I owe much of my vocation to my parents. The combination of my
dad’s Catholicism and my mom’s seeking God led us to become an active Catholic
family. We homeschooled. I was also blessed to attend a Dominican parish,
and participate in Youth 2000 (a Eucharist-centered youth retreat) and the Legion
I have long had a Dominican’s thirst for the truth. I
was interested in studying philosophy and history. I had a Dominican zeal for
souls. I saw the problems with the culture and that people needed help in
figuring out how to live their faith.
That led me to Christendom College in Virginia. It
offered a strong Catholic community, a solid liberal arts education with
Thomistic philosophy and theology, and a beautiful liturgical formation.
Upon my graduation, I had several good options available
to me. I could enter into a beautiful Catholic marriage. I could
teach. Or, I could enter religious life. I taught at a private Catholic
school for a year.
When I met the sisters in this community in Marbury, it
became clear to me that this was where God was drawing me to serve Him. I
was impressed with the sisters’ joy and spirit. Our custom book says that
the Perpetual Rosary Sisters should have a double spirit of joy and tender
fraternal charity. That really came through to me.
I also liked the emphasis the sisters placed on
Eucharistic adoration. We’re at 12 hours a day now; we hope to get back to
perpetual adoration once we get the sisters we need. I liked their
devotion to Mary. I liked the Latin chant, to which I had been exposed at
Christendom, and the Dominican emphasis on study. I liked the idea of spiritual
motherhood; my zeal for souls would be realized in the contemplative life
through a total outpouring of myself to God in the community on behalf of souls
rather than through an external apostolate.
CWR: Do you see your family?
Sister Mary: Our families can
come twice a year to visit. Mine does. We visit with them in the parlor, just
like we would with anyone who shows up.
My family finds
this a very special time when they can visit their daughter and sister who is a
cloistered nun. It is a sacrifice, as we can’t visit every day, but our
love has to go to a deeper level. They know we’re here praying for
them. They can write letters. They can also take home with them the
peace of the monastery.
CWR: What did your parents think of your decision to enter the convent?
Sister Mary: They were
supportive of my desire to become a religious sister. However, they weren’t
sure that the cloister was right for my personality. They thought my
talents would be better used in an active apostolate. But, after visiting
and seeing how this life is attractive to me, they’ve come to believe I made
the right decision.
CWR: What kind of woman would be a right fit for your community?
Sister Mary: There is no particular type. We have sisters with
many different personalities, and from all over the country. When women
come to us interested in pursuing a religious vocation, however, we look for
someone who is really seeking God in her life and earnestly living her Catholic
faith. Usually, God has disposed her heart through circumstances in her life to
embrace the countercultural vocation that is the cloistered life.
A young woman may be attracted to an aspect of our life,
such as Eucharistic adoration, Marian devotion, Latin chant or study. To
flourish in this vocation, she has to come to love all of these things.
We do have some other requirements. Our age for
entry, for example, is 18-30.
CWR: Can people visit the monastery?
Sister Mary: They can come for
Mass, and stay and pray with us in our chapel.
They can send us prayer requests and sign up for our newsletter
through our website. We also offer prayer enrollments.
CWR: What needs does your community have?
Sister Mary: We always have the
need for material support. We need prayers, as we need divine help to
persevere in our vocation. We also need people to spread the word about
our community. While it is God who plants the seed of a vocation in a
woman’s heart, if she is unaware we exist, she won’t be able to come to our
community. Ours is a hidden life, but the monastery itself has to be a