Two Benedictine nuns profess solemn vows at Walburga Abbey chapel
By Nissa LaPoint
Photo by Nissa LaPoint/DCR
Among the gentle hills and red rocks of northern Colorado, two Benedictine nuns professed before their family and friends in a monastery chapel last week to prefer nothing to Christ for the rest of their lives.
A congregation gathered to witness the solemn profession of two women May 31 at the Abbey of St. Walburga in Virginia Dale, close to the Wyoming border. Bishop James Conley, apostolic administrator for the Denver Archdiocese, presided over the Mass.
In his homily, Bishop Conley compared the celebration of the nun’s profession to Elizabeth’s response in faith to Mary’s visit in Scripture, when she shared the good news of Christ in her womb.
“This is what we celebrate this morning—the response to the visitation of the Lord of our two sisters, who are about to pledge their hearts and their lives to God in a unique and singular way in solemn monastic profession, sealing if you will their hearts with their beloved spouse, Jesus,” he said.
During the rite of solemn profession and monastic consecration into the order of St. Benedict, Sister M. Lioba Headlee—formerly Julia Headlee—and Sister Maria-Gertrude Read—formerly Angela Read—prostrated themselves before the altar and vowed obedience, stability and humility in their cloistered and monastic way of life.
After reciting their vows to abbess Mother Maria Michael Newe and leaving them on the altar, the two sisters received blessed signs of their vocation: a cuculla—or Benedictine habit—a black veil, ring and wreath.
“They are accepting God’s invitation,” Sister Hildegard Dubnick said after the Mass about the two nuns. “This is putting the seal on it.”
The sisters devoted themselves to life in the Benedictine monastic community, where the 21 nuns devote their day to chanting the Divine Office, also called the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the official set of daily prayers prescribed by the Church. Following the rule of the sixth-century St. Benedict, the sisters observe a contemplative life. They sing the 150 psalms of the Bible every week in addition to meditating on the Scriptures in private prayer.
Prayer penetrates their daily work life, explained Sister Dubnick, which includes running a retreat house, making altar bread for Mass and raising grass-fed cattle.
The nun’s vocation, Bishop Conley told the congregation, is an example of the importance of prayer.
“We’re all called to have a cloister within our own hearts, as St. Catherine of Siena has told us, where we can retreat to, where we can be silent and listen to the Lord speak to us,” he said.
Sister Headlee, 46, said she felt called to the monastic way of life after she converted to the Church in 1995. She recalled in the monastery’s newsletter that she was “drawn by the beauty and solemnity of the Catholic Mass.” A Virginia-native, Sister Headlee spent 10 years working as a secretary and computer programmer in Kansas City. She first entered the abbey and made her temporary vows in 2008.
Sister Read, 27, was born in Boulder and had a long association with the abbey. As a young child, she visited the abbey with her parents and later became influenced by the order when attending Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. She also professed temporary vows in 2008.
After the Mass, friends, family and fellow religious greeted the nuns with hugs, smiles and words of congratulation. They joined for a meal afterward in the abbey lunch hall.
Bishop Conley thanked the sisters for following God’s call.
“Thank you sisters for your radical example,” he said. “(Your) radical and joyful witness to the importance and place of prayer in our world.”