When Sister Mary Elizabeth Brungardt, CP, first learned about the Passionist Nuns of Ellisville in the mid-1990s, it was from an ad in a newspaper clipping.
Now, 25 years after her own first profession
, she spreads the news of the Passionists through another kind of square: Instagram posts.
The Passionists’ Instagram account,
@passionistnunstl, gives the world a look inside the Ellisville monastery. Since the Passionist nuns are a contemplative, cloistered community, they remain physically separated from the rest of the world except for necessary visits outside of the monastery, such as doctor’s appointments. This year marks 75 years since the Passionist nuns came to the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where four sisters now reside.
Since launching the Instagram account in 2019, the sisters have shared photos and videos that give insight to their daily living. The caption accompanying a photo of vegetable soup explains that the sisters fast and abstain from meat every Friday. A time-stamp sticker on a photo of Morning Prayer of the Divine Office shows that the prayer takes place at 6 a.m. daily. Have you wondered how the sisters make the hosts that are used in the Eucharist? There’s a video showing the giant mixer. What does the chapel look like from the cloister side? Plenty of photos give you that view.
One of the sisters’ most popular recent Reels — a video format on Instagram — shows the process of “tabling” altar linens. “After laundering submerge them in water & lay them out (top side down) on a smooth surface. We’ve been told the ancients perferred marble stone! It’s important at this point to smooth them with your hands & get the air pockets out. The next day, when they’re dry, pull them up & fold! Voila! Praised be Jesus Christ,” the caption reads.
Sister Mary Elizabeth is the one who typically posts to the account, and Mother Mary Veronica and Sister Maria Fatima help out with crafting captions and taking photos — and appearing in the occasional video, of course. The content is “whatever the Holy Spirit inspires,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said.
“I have so many things to do, I could never spend all that time (planning),” she said. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re sure that the Lord is blessing this, because things are just popping into my head and I’m running with it.”
Sister Mary Elizabeth has also found Instagram to be a fruitful way to connect with young women who may be interested in discerning a call to the religious life. “In vocation work, even before social media, you go where the young people are,” she said. “If you don’t, you’ll never get your message through.”
All of the women on the “docket,” or currently interested in the Passionists, first connected with the community through Instagram, Sister Mary Elizabeth said. As the vocations directress, she created a series of Reels of 15- to 60-second “vocations talks, real brief,” where she and the other sisters explain the Passionists’ five vows and what it looks like to live them, share Scripture verses and ideas for personal lectio divina, offer personal vocation stories and more.
Offering these insights for anyone to see can help women discover the Passionists and learn about their daily lives even before they visit the monastery for a “come and see.” “Hopefully, by the time they come here, things don’t seem so weird, and they’ll understand more,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said.
And, sometimes, everyone needs some positivity in the form of a cute animal in their Instagram feed; the sisters oblige, with photos and stories — short video clips that disappear after 24 hours — of the deer, squirrels and bunnies found around their expansive grounds, hashtagged #conventcreatures.
Sister Mary Elizabeth typically carries her phone with her throughout the day, to be ready in case she gets the nudge from the Holy Spirit to capture a photo or video to share, but she tries to keep her communications on Instagram to her work hours to avoid feeling tethered to every message or notification. And while the sisters “follow” plenty of other Catholic accounts, they keep scrolling to a minimum, just looking occasionally for good ideas to learn from.
Sister Mary Elizabeth sees the sisters’ presence on Instagram as a form of evangelization, in the style of St. Therese of Lisieux (who, she believes, would be on Instagram if she lived in this day and age).
“It’s the evangelization spirit that we’re all supposed to have, even cloistered nuns — St. Therese
the Little Flower is one of the patron saints of missionaries,” she said. “She’s a Carmelite, but we like her a lot. I think she’d be all for what we’re doing here.”
Sister Mary Elizabeth sees social media as a way for any Catholic to help share the Good News. “If cloistered nuns are doing this, you know, it’s a little positive peer pressure that, ‘I should be doing this too,’” she said.
The most important message the sisters strive to share with their nearly 1,300 followers? “We just want to make sure everybody knows that they are loved by God, and that we’re here to pray for them,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said.
>> Follow the Passionist Nuns of Ellisville
Instagram: @passionistnunstl (or scan QR code)
Contact: (636) 527-6867