KANSAS CITY, Kan. — In their small chapel in Kansas City, Kan., the voices of the Little Sisters of the Lamb enfold their visitors within the Psalms they sing. The harmony of their voices lifted in prayer spills from the open windows and settles on their neighbors who daily reap the benefits of the sisters living among them.
To the uninitiated, the prayer of the sisters brings a jolt to the soul with an urgency and a peace that seems out of place in the inner-city neighborhood in which the sisters live. In the short time they have been here, they have become friends with many in the area and have taken on the building of the first North American monastery of the Little Sisters of the Lamb.
In a time when vocations appear to be declining, signs of vitality appear in some unlikely places. The Little Sisters’ presence in Kansas City exemplifies the answer to the call of Vatican II for religious orders to rediscover their roots and for the faithful to participate in a New Evangelization.
The Little Sisters of the Lamb in their blue habits hail from Poland, France, Austria and Luxembourg and bring with them a lifestyle radical by any standard. Founded in France by Little Sister Marie, the community espouses a life of contemplative prayer and poverty . A branch of the Dominican order, the community has Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, a fellow Dominican, as its bishop protector.
The sisters came to Kansas City at the invitation of Archbishop Joseph Naumann who encountered their community in Rome. Archbishop Naumann believes that the effectiveness of their ministry flows from their poverty, which requires them to go out and beg for their daily bread and, in the process, share the Gospel with those they meet.
“By coming in poverty, many people welcome them,” the archbishop said. “Their strong and beautiful prayer life sustains them in living out this radical poverty.”
The sisters travel in threes to beg for their daily bread in the tradition of St. Dominic. They offer to pray with and for the people they meet and share the Gospel with them. Their motto is “Wounded, I will never cease to love.”
Retired sheriff Currie Myers met the women soon after their arrival. He is impressed with the impact they are having on the people they meet. “We are always amazed at how God is working through them,” Myers said. “They go to poor and rich neighborhoods to share the Gospel. By the time they leave, whether [the people they meet are Catholic, Protestant or unbelieving], they are singing and praying all together.”
Little Sister Alma described how people helped them when they first moved into the old rectory of a demolished parish church. The rectory had been neglected, and there was a lot of work to do. “We went to the parish and told the people we needed help,” she said. “All we had was a pocketknife to open our cans and do everything. Immediately, we had help.”
People from all walks of life came to their aid, wielding tools and supplies to make the old rectory more livable until the sisters could build the monastery. Among those helping were Mario Gutierrez and his family.
“You can feel God’s love through them as soon as you walk through the door,” he said.
Having them in the neighborhood and being part of the sisters’ community as a third order member gives him strength. “I feel strong enough to walk away from some things,” Gutierrez said. “And strong enough to walk toward others.”
He looks forward to the construction and completion of the new monastery, a humble structure that will include small cells for the sisters and women who want to experience their life, a group of cells for visiting priests, and a refectory and a large chapel where they can receive visitors and where visitors can join them for prayer or Mass.
The building they now occupy severely limits the number of people they can accommodate and poses numerous challenges to living their charism of contemplative prayer and outreach to the poor.
The sisters have raised about one-fourth of the estimated $1.1 million needed for the new monastery. They plan to acquire the necessary permits to begin construction in September but need to have at least half of the required funds before construction can begin.
Fundraising on Friendship
But you won’t find the Little Sisters drumming up support for their new monastery with a glossy building campaign and extravagant fundraising events. True to their charism, the sisters base their low-key fundraising on friendship.
About the sisters’ fundraising, Myers said, “They stressed how they wanted people to give from their hearts, so the widow’s mite was just as important to them as the big donor.”
Michael Book, a local attorney who assisted the sisters with legal matters when they first arrived from Europe, is helping with their fundraising efforts. “We don’t want to violate their special charism,” he said. “So, we focus on introducing people to them. It’s exciting to see people participate in love and detachment [from their worldly possessions].”
Gutierrez is excited that people from all walks of life have been donating toward the building fund. “It will be like the monastery belongs to all of them,” he said.
Archbishop Naumann sees the sisters’ building project as a sign that the sisters intend to become a permanent presence in the area.
Just as Providence was cited by Archbishop Naumann as the channel through which the sisters came to Kansas City, it is evident in even the small things concerning them and their new monastery.
Soon after the name of the new monastery was chosen — Lumen Christi (the Light of Christ) — a neighbor stopped by. According to Sister Aude, the neighbor said, “I need to tell you that the neighborhood has changed. This place is a light in the darkness.”
Sister Bénédicte described the planned monastery as a simple structure in keeping with their charism. “It reflects in its architecture the message of the Gospel,” she said. “A simple building to be part of the New Evangelization, to go back to the basics. Each aspect of our life reflects the simplicity and beauty of the Gospel.”
The sisters hope that their monastery in Kansas City will help to spread their community and its charism throughout the United States, just as their community spread through Europe from its beginnings in France.
This branch of the Dominicans sprouted in France in the 1980s, a time that seems to have been ripe for the beginning of other communities.
Working for the Bridegroom
During that decade, the Bride of Christ community also came into being. The Bride of Christ Community is described on its website as an “ecclesial movement of nuptial spirituality for intimate communion with our beloved Bridegroom, Jesus in the Eucharist, open to his Spirit like Mary, our model and mother, and the other saints of every culture and time, and faithful to the teachings of the Holy Father.”
According to Father Martin Jones, the community’s founder, the Bride of Christ Community exists as both an ecclesial movement and a private association of the Christian faithful based in Colchester, Conn.
“At present, we have a dozen members of the private association who are participating in a spiritual formation program and over a hundred married and single men and women, seminarians, deacons and religious and diocesan priests from several states who are members of the ecclesial movement,” Father Martin said. “The demographic of our community is a microcosm of the Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ herself.”
The focus of the group is to work for community through prayer, fellowship and service to the parish and the diocese. In addition to serving in parish and diocesan ministries, the community also has its own ministries.
“Special apostolates of the Bride of Christ community include the New Adam’s Academy, a parish-based, intergenerational, multicultural enrichment program, and the Institute of Healing Science, a multimodal healing ministry which creates a healing community of health-care service professionals and spiritual prayer warriors,” Father Martin said. With author Ronda Chervin, Father Martin hosts a monthly cable television program, “The Prophetic Call: Are You Ready for the Wedding?”
A different charism has sprung up in Omaha, Neb., and spread throughout the country and overseas. Led by Mother Nadine, a former cloistered sister, the community of the Intercessors of the Lamb’s primary ministry is contemplative communal intercession.
“We promote contemplative spirituality and provide spiritual guidance in the development of individual relationships with God,” Mother Nadine states in her online letter.
The community offers conferences, prayer workshops and retreats as well as family formation materials for use in the home and the opportunity to join them as prayer companions.
Kathleen Beckman of Orange County, Calif., joined the community as a prayer companion in 1993. “The charism of contemplation formation for intercessory prayer sparked my interest because, as a Catholic wife and mother, interceding for my family was a natural part of my prayer life,” Beckman said.
Beckman’s prayer group, the Orange Diocese Intercessors of the Lamb, now has a core team of 17 lay leaders and three priests. “We lead a diocesan prayer group attended by approximately 100 people regularly, and up to 200 people sometimes, depending on the IOL formation we may be presenting,” Beckman said.
While the three groups may have distinctly different charisms, their zeal and their appeal to the faithful are evident in their strong growth. With the support of friends, the Little Sisters of the Lamb hope to achieve the construction of their monastery, and other movements, associations and orders will continue to grow and spread.
The Bride of Christ Community, in its mission to “prepare each person, and thus the universal Church, as the Bride of Christ in joy for the wedding of the Lamb,” joins other communities to further engage the faithful in the New Evangelization.
As Archbishop Elden Curtiss said when the Intercessors of the Lamb were recognized as a public association of the Christian faithful in May of 1998, when he was archbishop of Omaha, “You’ve just begun, and you have much to do.”
Laurie Ghigliotti writes from Atchison, Kansas.
Little Sisters of the Lamb
36 South Boeke St.
Kansas City, KS 66101
Telephone: (913) 621-1727
Bride of Christ Community
Saint Andrew Parish
128 Norwich Ave.
Colchester, CT 06415
Telephone: (860) 537-2355
Intercessors of the Lamb
11811 Calhoun Rd.
Omaha, NE 68152
Telephone: (402) 455-5262