Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 5, 2000
The stay at home sisters
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
You could say the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood are a little out of touch with the real world. They only leave their west-side property to buy groceries or clothes and for doctors' appointments.
One sister goes through the daily newspapers and clips out only the stories relevant to the sisters. Sometimes they tape the evening news and watch only what they need to, fast forwarding through the commercials. They exclude movies like Phantom of the Opera from their collection because "it's a little spicy."
"We don't need to know about all the garbage," said Sister Margaret Mary Arnold. "We don't need to hear about who shot who. When you hear about all those things, you start to appreciate your own environment."
The environment the sisters live in is one of contemplative prayer, which keeps them in touch with the world.
"People send us prayer requests," Arnold said. "We pray for broken homes, young people who left the church, families."
There is a minimum of six hours of prayer starting at 7:30 a.m., although some rise as early as dawn for walks or morning meditations. The remainder of the day is spent on housekeeping duties and making altar bread, a task which the sisters have performed for decades. They also have about two hours of free time in the afternoon.
"When you live in a community like this, there are a lot of things to do in a day," said Arnold, who has been with the order since 1951.
The order was founded in 1861 by Mother Catherine Aurelia Caouette. June 5 marks the Precious Blood Sisters' 75th anniversary in Edmonton.
Caouette, a Quebec nun, spent much of her adult life in meditation and setting up monasteries, which can be found as far afield as Japan. She was known for her prayerful life and devotion to Jesus. She was also known for unusual phenomena witnessed by clergymen and locals.
A Quebec bishop saw blood coming from her forehead when she received Communion. Other witnesses saw blood from the area of her heart moisten her clothes, while others saw her dress miraculously change colours, from black to white, then to red.
The sisters came to Edmonton in 1925 on the invitation of Archbishop Henry Joseph O'Leary. In the early years, they were busy with homemaking duties. They kept the monastery spic and span. They sewed their own habits and were responsible for making and cleaning the linen for all the churches in the city.
Today there are 11 sisters, ranging from 33 years of age to 88, in the Edmonton house and six in Calgary.
Their lifestyle has changed little over the years. Like many religious orders, the sisters have toned down their attire. Gone are the long heavy habits that covered them from head to toe. Today they are knee-high and lighter, but still retain the signature white and crimson colours. However, unlike most orders of religious women, the Precious Blood Sisters are not involved in parish and community ministries. Theirs is a ministry of prayer.
"We live prayer, we eat prayer. It's all around us," Arnold said.
Their ministry may not include direct evangelization, but it is nonetheless one of importance to the Church.
"The pope has said that no matter how pressing the work gets, the contemplative life must never be sacrificed," said Arnold. "The Church considers (contemplative orders) the powerhouse that pumps the energy for the active orders."
What also hasn't changed significantly over the years is the cost of the order's altar bread. The last time the sisters raised their prices was in 1983. The prices of flour and upkeep of the machinery has gone up. The sisters have had to hire someone to help with production.
"We don't make anything on it anymore," said Sister Blanche Leindecker, also known as Mary Teresa. "The altar bread is not our livelihood."
Arnold added, "We're not going to make a profit on the host."
The monastery is located behind Annunciation Church and St. Francis Xavier High School. Cars pass by the busy street in front of the house and the school bell often signals crowds of students huddled by the bus stop near the monastery's front door.
But behind the trees in the backyard and the monastery walls, the sisters keep out most of the hustle and bustle. Their prayers drown out the noise.
"The rest of the world is trying to get in half the time," Arnold said. "If people knew what we have here, we wouldn't have enough room for them. We have everything here - peace, harmony, a life with God. What else do you need?"
Their livelihood has always depended mostly on donations and the generosity of the community. Food is not plenty, but it is enough. The housework seems endless, but so are the witty stories that accompany them.
The sisters never visit neighbours or the nearby schools. For the most part they're secluded from the community. But it doesn't mean they're anti-social. They welcome visitors.
"Do you think we walk around like this?" Arnold asked as she crossed her arms over her chest and puts on a disgruntled looked. "I think every time you have a serious nun, it doesn't work. We're not like that."
The sisters will commemorate their anniversary on the feast of the Precious Blood, July 1, with an 11 a.m. Mass celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Collins at Annunciation Church, 9420-163 St.