Contemplative Sisters of the Immaculate
The “vocation within the vocation”
The Contemplative Communities of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate (“I Colombai”, that is, “Dove Houses”, as we call our Contemplative Houses) are a gift of inestimable value. They are the secret but powerful wellspring for the vitality of the Institute. The Contemplative Franciscans of the Immaculate do the work of Moses when he prayed on the mountain with his arms raised.
The “raised arms” of the Contemplatives support and give energy to the Sisters and the Friars, so that they may always carry on the diverse universal activities of the “Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix” on earth. If their help ceases, if there are no “raised arms,” how shall this Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix bear fruit?
Consider the example of Jesus Who remained a long time on the mountain in prayer (cf Lk 6:12); of the Immaculate, Who at Lourdes and Fatima asked for “prayer and penance” for the salvation of the world; of Mary of Bethany, who, seated “at the Lord’s feet” (Lk 10: 39) had “chosen the best part” (Lk 10: 42); of the Church, which never tires of reaffirming the primacy of contemplation in the religious and apostolic life. Need we any more examples than these in order to comprehend the preciousness of such a great and desirable good as that of a contemplative community?
We must add to this theme that with these Contemplative Houses we form part of that golden thread of Franciscan Hermitages and retreats. A number of these are renowned. There are, for example, the hermitages of the “Carceri,” in Assisi, already in existence during the time of St. Francis of Assisi; the Retreat of the “Incontro,” above Florence; of St. Leonard of Port Maurice; the Retreat of “Solitude” of St. John Joseph of the Cross-, on Matese Mountain. And let us not forget the famous Retreat “Pedroso,” of St. Peter of Alcantara in Spain.
Our Contemplative Communities, then, constitute the innovative element in the “return” to a Franciscan reality, lost sight of and drowned in a flood of activism.
Our Founders already foresaw our Contemplative Houses and that is why, even before we officially began them, a section in our Constitutions and Directory has been dedicated to them, describing them in detail.
We also apply to these Houses the expressive name “Oasis of the Virgin”, where one lives the most loving and profound union with Jesus in imitation of that union with Jesus lived by the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph at Nazareth.
In our Houses of Contemplation, there are at least seven hours of community prayer (while in the Houses of apostolate there are at least five hours). Community work, apart from the domestic tasks, includes: work in the orchard and garden; making Miraculous Medals, Rosaries and small statues of alabaster and other materials; embroidery work and sewing, especially sacred vestments and linens for the altar; translations, recordings, work at the computer, and making wine and hosts for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and more.
The most essential work, however, in an Oasis of the Virgin is that of intense and loving contemplation: every Franciscan Sister of the Immaculate present in the oasis is called to live in imitation of the Immaculate, who kept all these things, pondering them in Her Heart (Lk 2:19); in imitation of the Angels who “always see the face of [the Heavenly] Father” (cf. Mt 18:10), and in imitation of Mary of Bethany, who “hath chosen the best part” (Lk 10:42), “sitting…at the Lord’s feet” (Lk 10: 39).
As of this article we have opened three of these Contemplative Houses: two in Italy and one in the Philippines Islands. We eagerly await the next Colombaio to which the Immaculate will call us.
The “Colombaio” in Alassio (Imperia, Italy)
Since 2001, the Monastery of St. Clare in Alassio, which was for several centuries a Poor Clare monastery, and which had been closed for about two years, was entrusted to the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate who, on June 23 of that year, began their first experience of the Contemplative life.
The “Colombaio” in Citta’ di Castello (Perugia, Italy)
On May 15, 2005, Solemnity of Pentecost, with a celebration presided over by the Bishop, the Poor Clares were officially succeeded by the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate of the Contemplative life, in the Monastery “Delle Murate” in Citta’ di Castello (Perugia, Italy), the town famous for the great Franciscan saint and mystic, St. Veronica Giuliani.
The “Colombaio” in Carmen (Cebu, Philippines)
On February 22, 2004, feast of the Chair of St. Peter, in the Monastery dedicated to the Immaculate Mother of the Eucharist in Carmen (Cebu, Philippines), the statue of the Immaculate was placed on the location of the future monastery of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate of the Contemplative life, with the certainty that She would continue to lavish Her blessings on the new foundation. The Sisters in the Philippines sacrificed much to raise the money for the new monastery (including days and nights of Christmas caroling!). Finally, on January 23, 2007, the Filipina Oasis of the Virgin, in Carmen was opened.
The aim of our Contemplative Sisters is to support the Pope and the Church, starting with their own religious Family and extending to the whole Mystical Body of Christ by means of a life of incessant prayer, of generous penance, of seraphic poverty, living the vow of unlimited consecration to the Immaculate, preserving the rites, uses and traditions of the precious Franciscan and monastic patrimony, especially with regards to the liturgy. Their model is the Immaculate Virgin, first and Summa Contemplatrix, to whom Jesus, dying on the Cross, entrusted the Church and especially every consecrated religious.
The Sisters in the Houses of Contemplation are still members of the Institute of The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, under the jurisdiction of the Mother General. The Sister who feels she has the call to this “vocation within the vocation” must first receive permission from her spiritual director, and then from Mother General. Normally, one may enter the “Colombaio” or “Oasis of the Virgin” only after her formation in the Contemplative-active life and after her religious profession. This is due to the need there is of first learning and living the Marian Vow, which is the distinct characteristic of our way of life, allowing the Sister with this “vocation within the vocation” to understand more fully the life She will be embracing.
Sister Maria Cristiana
Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate
House of the Immaculate
4 Brownhill Road, Catford
London SE6 2EJ
tel: +44 (20) 8697 0601
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