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Visitation Nuns Mark 400 Years of Life of Prayer, Salesian Charism
Peggy Weber
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Friday, March 5, 2010
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TYRINGHAM, Mass. (CNS)—Four hundred years ago the Visitation Nuns didn't have a Web site. Nor did they release a musical CD.

Many things have changed throughout the four centuries of the community's existence, yet so much has remained the same.

The habit the nuns wear is identical to that of the first women who began the order in Annecy, France, in 1610. They write their vows in a "vow book" every Nov. 21 as did the nuns who came before them. In fact, three Visitation nuns who visited France last year were able to write their names in the order's original vow book.

And the community's Salesian spirituality, based on the teachings of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, still influences its members.

The order's 400th anniversary is being marked with special celebrations and events. For example, Visitation Nuns and their associates from throughout the United States joined with the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and other to create an anniversary CD, "Live Jesus."

But most days, the nuns at the Mont Deux Coeurs monastery in Tyringham follow the same rhythm of prayer, recreation and work that has been the life of their community since it began.

"We know other communities have been around even longer. For instance, the Springfield Dominicans have had 800 years," said Mother Mary Ruth Dolch, superior of the community, who has an ever-present smile.

"I am proud to belong to this order, simply because I am very devoted to the founder, Francis de Sales, and most particularly, the foundress, St. Jane de Chantal," she said.

St. Jane was married and the mother of six children, two of whom died at birth. She became a widow, endured mistreatment by her father-in-law and his mistress, and found comfort and inspiration in her faith. Eventually, with the guidance of St. Francis de Sales, she began the Visitation order with her two daughters.

Its constitution states that it was formed "in such a manner that great hardship may not deter the feeble and infirm from embracing it, thereby applying themselves to the perfection of divine love."

It also said that "the usual monastic practices of sleeping on boards, keeping vigils, perpetual abstinence from meat and long fasts were not prescribed, in fact, they were prohibited."

"I'm happy to be able to live their charism because I never could have done the more penitential orders like the Trappists or even the Benedictines," Mother Mary Ruth told The Catholic Observer, newspaper of the Springfield Diocese.

At Mont Deux Coeurs, there are 19 nuns—seven are in formation, while 12 are professed.
Their response to God's call lately has been drawing a lot of interest from outside the community.

"It goes in waves and right now we are onto a wave where a lot of people are inquiring about our life," said Mother Mary Ruth.

She noted that three applications were given out in one month recently. "There's an enormous amount of interest in religious life and somehow more in the monastic life," she added. "Who can account for that except for the working of the Holy Spirit?"

The nuns hope to become better known among locals. It has been in the Springfield Diocese since 1993, opening the monastery on 125 acres in 1995. Their community was founded in Iowa by the order's motherhouse in France. It moved to New York state, then Delaware, before relocating to the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts.

"It's a paradox because it is a life that's hidden in God, as we say. Yet, we can't be too hidden from society. We have to let them know that we pray for them and we are open to new members," said Sister Miriam Rose, who joined the community in 1998 after teaching high school for years in California.

She was attracted by the order's charism and spirit. "It is a spirit of simplicity, humility and listening to what the Lord is saying. It is learning to understand what that means to listen to the Lord in your heart—to listen to the Lord's will."

Salesian spirituality, she added, is characterized by "the practice of ordinary virtues that are accessible to everyone in their daily lives." Those virtues, she said, include humility, gentleness, charity and neighborly cordiality.

At Mont Deux Coeurs a typical day involves morning prayer, the chanting of the Divine Office, Mass, breakfast, work, more prayer, classes for those in formation, lunch, recreation, midday prayer, quiet time, work, supper, recreation and evening prayer followed by the "great silence" and bedtime.

The public is welcome to pray in the monastery's chapel and attend daily Mass, celebrated at 7:45 a.m.

The nuns take the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They rarely watch television or listen to the radio but subscribe to a local and national paper and spirituality magazines.

Gesturing at her religious habit, Sister Mary Emmanuel said: "Although we dress like this, we are not in the Middle Ages. We are very relevant to today. We're interested in the events that are occurring in the world because that's what our prayers center on. We bring this to the Lord. We bring it to our prayer."

She hopes the order's anniversary celebration will help U.S. Catholics know more about the Visitation Nuns and know that the spirit of the order's founders "continues to live in us."

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