As the nuns of the Monastery of the Infant Jesus say, more than one kind of seed can grow in the piney woods. In 1945 a special seed was sown in Lufkin: Dominican cloistered contemplative life.
15 sisters, ranging in age between 18 and 72, came from the Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament in Detroit to found the cloister. For 70 years, this community has been growing, praying, working and praising God here in East Texas.
The Monastery of the Infant Jesus is truly a monastery, not a convent. A convent is a house for active sisters who work outside. A monastery implies the monastic life, enclosed for complete dedication to prayer. The 23 nuns living inside the cloister come from the United States, Cuba, Mexico, Tanzania and Vietnam.
Sister Mary Jeremiah said, “Most Dominican monasteries are in heavily Catholic areas of the nation, but ours isn’t. When we first came, some of the local people were a little afraid of us, I think. Over the years, we’ve grown very close to the local community, and sometimes Protestant ministers will even come pray with us.”
The sisters take this outreach to non-Catholics seriously. “Once the people found out why we are here, for prayer, that broke down the barriers,” said sister Maria Guadalupe. “People in East Texas are very religious, and I think prayer is what has united us even with non-Catholics here. People can come and use our chapel, and so many do.”
Sister Mary Jeremiah agreed, “Many non-Catholics like to come and hear Vespers, because of the extensive use of scripture. They are impressed with the familiarity with the Bible in the community. I think that can be a model for any Catholic. If non-Catholics know that you are a person of prayer and that you read the Bible, that is going to speak to them. There is a bond already, that’s real grassroots ecumenism.”
Father Gavin Vaverek, pastor of St. Patrick parish in Lufkin, said, “The sisters are our go-to prayer warriors in Lufkin. They know this diocese well. They are a valued spiritual presence here, not just for Lufkin, but for all of East Texas. Many local people go to the monastery to pray.”
The sisters obviously like their home. “We love Lufkin! The community takes care of us. Local businesses help us raise money. The police promised us they will check on us, and we see them on patrol, making sure everything is OK,” reported Sister Mary Augustine.
The sisters have a strong desire to help lay people deepen their spiritual life. Asked for some practical suggestions, the sisters were overflowing with ideas. “If you want to deepen your spiritual life and don’t know how, just start by reading the Scripture readings from the Mass, every day. Maybe only one sentence will speak to you, but it will be important,” said Sister Maria Guadalupe. “Scripture speaks to the person who is attentive to it. Whether you read the Bible or hear the readings in the Mass, it will speak to you. Make it a habit to look at the readings, every day.”
Sister Mary Margaret agreed, “If you find that one sentence, that one phrase from the readings that catches your attention, repeat it to yourself, at work or during your day. The word of God will work on you, it will affect you and the way you treat other people.”
Sister Maria continued, “Start with five minutes a day, every day. Your life is busy, with work and family, but if you can spare five minutes for God, every day, it will make so much difference in your life. Take that five minutes to pray, to read the Mass readings, and let God speak to you. I know He will speak to you, because you are unique and special to Him, and He has a plan for you. He cares about you, who you are, and what you do. God loves you and is interested in you. Spending 5 minutes a day with Him will help you to realize this.”
The sisters have a special concern for young people who are discerning their vocation. When they spoke about the plight of young people, it was easy to see the real concern they feel. “For someone to discern a religious vocation, it can be an agonizing time. If someone starts to feel like a regular worldly life is not for them, it can be really difficult and confusing. We all need to pray for young men and women who are considering a religious vocation. It’s a delicate time for them,” said sister Mary Jeremiah.
The sisters are enthusiastic to help. “Some people start thinking about their vocation as adolescents, at age 11 or 12, although some of our sisters here seem to have been born wanting to be a nun. We’re here to help no matter the age. We don’t even care if they don’t come here; if we can help to find their vocation, no matter what it is, we’re glad,” Sister Mary Margaret stated. “Anyone in the Diocese of Tyler who is discerning a vocation should contact us. We can help, even if we just pray. We like the prayer for vocations the Bishop has sent to us, since it prays not only for the person discerning, but also for their parents. Parents need support, too.”
Sister Mary Margaret said, summing up the community, “Our life here is very regular, but it’s not boring. The prayers are the same, but different every time, because we are different every time. The world tells people they must turn away from God to ‘be themselves,’ but the world is wrong. Here, with God, I am truly myself.” Her sister chimed in, “And I’m me.” Another sister said “And I’m me, too.” o
Author’s note: Speaking to the sisters, I was struck, as I always am when speaking to Catholic religious brothers and sisters, what fun they seem to be having. I’ve known a lot of monks and nuns, and I’ve never met an unhappy one. The sisters laughed, joked, poked fun at each other, and were generally a joy to speak to. Often, it seems people expect monks and nuns to be sour, angry, or frightened. The reality is the opposite. The Dominican sisters are fantastic. This was my first trip to the Monastery of the Infant Jesus, but I hope it’s not my last.
If you have a prayer request for the Sisters, you can contact them via their website, www.lufkintxnuns.com