The Redemptoristine Nuns of Liguori are bringing to a close their prayerful presence in the Archdiocese of St. Louis after more than 60 years here.
The last two sisters to depart Liguori, Sister Ann Marie Gool and Sister Louisa Olmo, said their prayers would endure despite their departure.
Eight sisters in the contemplative, cloistered community have died since 2016. Four elderly sisters died of various causes between 2020 and 2021, including Sister Eleanor Wilkinson, one of the founding members of the Redemptoristine monastery, who died in 2020. The situation gave the sisters pause to discern the monastery’s future in Liguori, about 25 miles south of St. Louis along Interstate 55.
“You have to have a certain number of sisters to be autonomous, or self-sufficient,” said Sister Ann Marie, who will be the last sister to leave Liguori on May 11 for another Redemptoristine monastery in Dublin, Ireland. “We prayed about it. We realized that we have to do something, because it’s not possible to maintain the life in the same way.”
A closing Mass was celebrated April 23, with Father Byron Miller, CSsR, as the principal celebrant. Dozens of friends were present, including lay associates and other supporters of the community. Sister Eleanor’s niece, Mary Knippling, drove from Mitchell, South Dakota, to attend the Mass. A graveside prayer service was held the same day, as Sister Eleanor’s family couldn’t attend her funeral due to the pandemic.
Sister Louisa, who departed April 25 for the Dublin monastery, will continue her formation and anticipates making her solemn vows there. She came to Liguori in 2015, a later vocation, after serving for many years as a nurse.
“We share one bread,” Sister Louisa said. “And our prayers have no limits.”
From Canada to Liguori
In 1959, Father John McCormick, provincial of the Redemptorists’ St. Louis Province, visited the Redemptoristine monastery in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, to ask if several sisters could come to Liguori. Then-Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter invited the Redemptoristines of Barrie to the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Eight sisters — four from Canada and four from the United States — departed the Barrie monastery on April 28, 1960, for the new foundation at Liguori.
Over the years, the Redemptoristines welcomed sisters from all over the world, including Scotland, South Africa, Malaysia, Argentina, Thailand and the Philippines. The religious community has monasteries in the Philippines, South Africa and Thailand.
The sisters’ remunerative work primarily had been sewing, including making habits for Redemptorists and ceremonial robes for the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre. The sisters also maintained the mailing list for Liguori Publications.
Prayers and peace
Prayer has been the sisters’ primary charism over the years. One of the sisters once compared religious vocations to a beautiful flower garden.
“In that flower garden, you might have roses, tulips, daffodils and chrysanthemums,” Sister Ann Marie said. “Each one is special and makes that garden beautiful. In the Church, we have different kinds of vocations: some are teaching sisters, some are nursing sisters, some are praying sisters. Our ministry is prayer.”
Five times a day, the sisters gather to pray the Divine Office. They also presented other opportunities to welcome the faithful to join them in prayer, including a public novena in June, around the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
Eucharistic adoration was another way in which the community prayed with others. The monastery was one of several designated sites for the Legion of One Thousand Men, which Cardinal Joseph Ritter started in the late 1950s to enlist men to visit the Blessed Sacrament weekly and increase eucharistic devotion in the archdiocese. Adoration in the chapel continued long after that effort.
Over the years, the sisters have received prayer requests in person, by phone and through email. Email requests have come from all over the world. The intentions have been many: “My husband is having surgery, or my son is trying to get into college, or my daughter is having a baby or I need a job,” Sister Ann Marie said.
Sister Eleanor told the sisters once that “there are so many things going on in this world, and we as contemplatives, maybe we are to hold the peace of the world,” Sister Ann Marie recalled, “that the peace we have here can somehow radiate throughout the world.”