The Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters have a calling to take on the intentions of the world, presenting them to God through their perpetual prayer before the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
The cloistered-contemplative community of women religious, nicknamed the “Pink Sisters,” have dedicated their lives to the Holy Spirit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament for more than nine decades in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Mount Grace Convent has been a mainstay of the College Hill neighborhood of St. Louis, with many visiting for eucharistic adoration, Mass or the annual Sacred Heart Novena in June. (See related.)
“It is written in our constitution that we take all the needs (of the world) into our prayers, and we embrace the needs of the world in our prayer,” said Sister Ancilla Maria, who is celebrating her 50th anniversary this year. “That’s what gives us the impetus to be there, kneeling and praying before the Blessed Sacrament. We have the whole world in our embrace, and then we are presenting that to God. For me, I am not here for myself — I am here for the whole world.”
The community today includes 18 women — five of them are celebrating significant jubilarian anniversaries in 2021. According to the congregation’s constitution, the sisters see their prayer as sustaining the missionary activity of the Church all over the world. The sisters have a presence in a dozen countries; through their witness, the Pink Sisters assist in building and extending the mission of the Church.
SISTER MARY GRACELYN (25th profession)
Sister Mary Gracelyn always loved going to church, even as a child growing up in the Philippines. “At school, we were close to the church and I would always run to the church,” she said with a laugh. “When I was in high school,
before going home, I would always pass by the church. I liked to stay inside, it was quiet and peaceful. I find my joy in there.”
Sister Mary Gracelyn read about the Pink Sisters in a book on religious vocations and realized that’s where God was calling her. She was the only one of her three sisters and one brother to have a religious vocation. She entered the community in 1993 at St. Joseph’s Convent in Quezon City, and made her first profession in May 1996. In 2012, she came to Mount Grace Convent in St. Louis. She currently helps in the kitchen and as a calligrapher for the sisters’ Mass enrollment cards. She also has been assigned to convents in Kalibo, Aklan, Philippines, and Corpus Christi, Texas.
It’s the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and praying for the needs of others that has solidified her vocational calling. “When I was young, my mother told me, you talk to Jesus,” she said. “I will never forget that. If you have problems or if you have pain or anything. So I like to be there with Him.”
SISTER ANCILLA MARIA (50th profession)
A native of Manila, Philippines, Sister Ancilla Maria began her religious vocation as a Religious of the Virgin Mary, an active congregation that primarily taught catechesis to public school children. After 11 years with the community, she sensed God was calling her to more of a contemplative life.
She told her priest spiritual director that she felt “out of place” being in an active community. He suggested she look into the Pink Sisters, who had a convent in Quezon City. “When I went back to the RVMs, I told the mother general … but she knew already. She saw me in the chapel always, while all the other young sisters were in the compound. I was at peace.”
Sister Ancilla Maria entered the congregation on Nov. 21, 1968, and made her first profession on May 16, 1971. From 1994 to the present, she has served at Mount Grace Convent. Her work assignments have included assistant superior, portress and helping in the procure. She also was a house official and a postulant directress at the sisters’ convent in Davao City, Philippines. She was also assigned at convents in Cebu and Tagaytay, Philippines.
Each sister has a period of nocturnal adoration in the middle of the night, with a special intention for priests. “That is our founder’s wish for the priests, especially the priests who are suffering at this very moment. It’s very nice at night. The chapel is very dark and you have the Blessed Sacrament there all lit up. You are there only with Him.”
SISTER MARIA GORETTI (50th profession)
A native of St. Louis, Sister Maria Goretti attended St. Catherine of Alexandria Elementary School, and was a member of the first graduating class from Rosary High School in 1965.
She learned about the Pink Sisters from her older sister, Toni, who worked Downtown and often visited the chapel to pray for their parents, who had health issues. Around Christmas in the eighth grade, Sister Maria Goretti made a visit to the chapel. “I saw the sisters coming out from behind the chapel, and they had this sheer white veil over their pink habit, and it was so stunning and beautiful. It stayed every day through high school and three years of working. Every day, it was, ‘I want to be a Pink Sister.’”
On Nov. 21, 1968, she entered the community and made her first profession on Nov. 21, 1971. She has served 20 years in the kitchen and the rest of her years as a portress, greeting visitors to the convent. Sister Maria Goretti also was at the sisters’ Convent of Divine Love in Philadelphia from 1968-76 and again from 1982-83.
On answering God’s call to a religious vocation, Sister Maria Goretti said her superior told her, “you have a vocation until someone tells you you don’t have a vocation. It’s awe-inspiring, and it’s the work of God. Because God called us, He gives us the grace to persevere. But it’s all His gift when you look at it; it’s very little on our part. The whole vocation of perpetual adoration and praying the Divine Office as a sister, it’s really the work of God.”
SISTER MARY JOZEFA (65th profession)
A native of Schaeberg, Limburg, Netherlands, Sister Mary Jozefa entered the Pink Sisters at Soesterberg, Netherlands, on May 7, 1953. She made her first profession in November of 1956.
After a brief stay at the sisters’ motherhouse in Steyl, Netherlands, she received her commission in 1958 to move to Mount Grace Convent in St. Louis, where she stayed for two years. After a short assignment at the sisters’ convent in Philadelphia, she came back to Mount Grace, where she has been ever since. During her active years, Sister Mary Jozefa was assigned in the printing room, kitchen and the sewing room. She was also a skilled calligrapher for the sisters perpetual Mass card enrollments. She now serves a ministry of prayer and presence in her room.
SISTER MARY BERTHA (75th profession)
A native of Springfield, Missouri, she entered the Pink Sisters in Philadelphia in May 1946 and made her first profession the same year. From there, she had assignments in Corpus Christi, Texas and in Steyl. Her duties have included organist, a sister portress and in the correspondence room. Sister Mary Bertha received her transfer to St. Louis in 2017. Due to her declining health, she now offers spiritual support to everyone through her apostolate of prayer from her room.
>> History of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters
The congregation was founded on Dec. 8, 1896, by St. Arnold Janssen. St. Arnold was a German diocesean priest and a mathematics teacher. Early on, he became involved in the Apostleship of Prayer, which awakened his interest in Christian unity and eventually in the mission to non-Christian countries.
St. Arnold founded a congregation of missionary priests and brothers in the town of Steyl on the Dutch-German border, the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), in 1875 and one of missionary sisters, the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters (SSpS), in 1889. His third foundation, the cloistered sisters, was to be the powerhouse of prayer behind the active missionaries, since St. Arnold understood that all work for the kingdom of God was firstly and decisively a work of prayer.
>> History of Mount Grace Convent
The Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters opened their first convent in the United States in Philadelphia in 1915. As the congregation grew, Mother Mary Michael, co-foundress and the congregation’s first superior general, founded convents in the Philippines, Germany and the Netherlands. She was also looking to make a second foundation in the United States.
Theresa Kulage, a wealthy St. Louis widow, had a desire to establish a convent of perpetual adoration in her native city. Kulage learned of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters through the Society of the Divine Word, and traveled to Philadelphia to meet the sisters. She approached Archbishop John J. Glennon and offered to establish an adoration convent in St. Louis. Kulage personally oversaw the construction of the chapel and the cornerstone was laid on Oct. 30, 1927. The preacher remarked:
“ It was a worthy idea, a testimony of faith, to found an institute with the noble purpose of perpetually adoring Christ the King whose feast we celebrate today and thus erect an altar and throne for the Eucharistic Savior.”
According to Kulage’s wishes, the new foundation would be called “Mount Grace Chapel of Perpetual Adoration.” From the convent overlooking the Mississippi Valley, the sisters would ask the Lord to pour a constant stream of graces on the world. Perpetual adoration was begun on that day and has continued ever since. In 1958 the Legion of One Thousand Men, whose members pledge a weekly visit to the Blessed Sacrament, was organized. Later the Legion was expanded to include women and is today known as the Legion of 1000 Adorers.
For more information on Mount Grace Convent, visit www.mountgraceconvent.org.
>> Sacred Heart Novena
The Pink Sisters’ annual Sacred Heart Novena will take place June 3-11 at Mount Grace Chapel, 1438 East Warne Ave. in north St. Louis. The novena begins each evening at 7 p.m., with Mass and family consecration to the Sacred Heart, followed by 24 hours of eucharistic prayer. Dates and Mass celebrants include:
• June 3, Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski
• June 4, Father James Theby
• June 5, Msgr. Mark Ullrich
• June 6, Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso
• June 7, Archbishop Robert Carlson, with concelebrant Father Lawrence Herzog
• June 8, Bishop Edward Rice
• June 9, Msgr. Timothy Cronin
• June 10, Msgr. James Ramacciotti
• June 11, Bishop Richard Stika
A noontime Mass will also be celebrated on the feast of the Sacred Heart, Friday, June 11. Father John Vogler will be the celebrant.