Carmelites and Coffeecake


My parents and I had the blessing of visiting my sister's convent this past weekend - Monastery of Mary, Mother of Mercy and St. Joseph in Alexandria, South Dakota.  Sister Michael Joseph of Our Lady of Mount Carmel entered there about three and a half years ago.  It was a lovely visit - I had talked to her on the phone at Christmas, Easter and Mother's Day but hadn't been able to see her for a whole year. 

This visit was great, as usual, but particularly special because it was over Father's Day.  Dad hadn't been able to spend Father's Day with this one of his three daughters for the last three years.  (He hasn't been able to have all of us together for even longer than that - a situation which will be remedied.  Darn 4-H State Band!)  He was able to serve at the altar for Sunday Mass, a Mass offered particularly for all the fathers of the nuns there!  The fathers received a blessing and Sister Michael was pleasantly surprised to see her father up there.

Carmelites, besides being generally epic, also serve extremely generous portions of food.  We were amply fed while at the convent - three trays minimum per meal, with a main dish or two, several side dishes including bread and vegetables, and much dessert.  The nuns themselves subsist entirely off of donations and what they can grow.  Their meal system is both penitential and practical - 8 months out of the year is a "Black Fast", so breakfast and dinner are standard items like oatmeal and tea, or beans, bread, and a vegetable, and portions are measured; lunch is a bigger meal and unmeasured.  During the summer, when food is more plentiful anyway, lunch and dinner are unmeasured and they can eat as much as they need to.  No meat, unless you're sick - they take a vow of poverty, after all, and meat is a luxury.  It's a lot of fish instead!  Whatever meat is donated they save and serve to guests, in ample quantities!

When we go out to visit Sister, since we can only get out there about twice a year, she is given all the time that she's not eating or praying to spend with us.  This adds up to 6-8 hours a day.  She's dispensed from work and we become her recreation time.  Visits are made in the grille room, through a double metal grille - full physical separation.  It's a bit difficult, but it isn't keeping them in like a prison, it is keeping the world out.  Sometimes it is hard to realize that family is, indeed, part of the world.  More to come tomorrow, I got caught by time!