[H/t to Fr. Steve Petrica for bringing my attention to this article from _The Cap Times_ of Madison, Wisconsin. The first part of the article is attached below. The link is here. These are the only Cistercian nuns of the Common Observance (O. Cist., rather than O.C.S.O.s, who are Cistercians of the Strict Observance, also called “Trappistines”) in the U.S., as far as I’m aware. I had the privilege of getting to know them in the early 1990s. All indications were that they were genuine, and their continued successes indicate the good sowing from those years continues to bear fruit.]
PRAIRIE DU SAC — Sister Christina Marie, 33, was an entomologist. Sister Mary Benedicta, 36, studied to be an aeronautical engineer. And Sister Mary Bede, 30, intended to become a professional violinist.
They left those lives to become nuns, cloistered together at Valley of Our Lady Monastery in a small village in Sauk County. It’s home to a Cistercian order, the only Catholic convent of its kind in the country.
In four weeks, Erin Wells, 24, heads there, too.
She’ll come from her parents’ house in Columbus, Ohio, after earning a degree in mechanical engineering from Ohio State University. She’ll sell her car, get rid of most of her possessions and bring only a few things, including a Bible and her rosary.
“I went to college thinking I was going to be an engineer, work for Honda and travel to Japan all the time,” she said, “and be rich and write a book and be on the New York Times best-seller list.”
Now Wells is set to be part of an ancient tradition of communal religious life known as contemplative monasticism. She will live simply, becoming singularly focused on prayer, talking and listening to God without distraction.
“I’ve thought about serving in various ways, but ultimately what would fulfill me the most would be to hold the world in my heart and pray for them,” she said.
Wells will be one of growing number at Valley of Our Lady, an outlier in a 40-year downward trend in women entering convents. With 21 nuns once Wells joins this month, the convent will be at full capacity, millennials comprising more than one-third of the group.
Although the monastery in Prairie Du Sac is growing, nationwide, the number of nuns and priests has decreased dramatically. In 1965, there were 179,954 religious sisters in the U.S. Last year, there were 47,170, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a nonprofit research group affiliated with Georgetown University.
If current trends continue, there would be fewer than 1,000 religious sisters in the United States in 2043 as they die out, according to CARA.
Wells will enter the monastery’s ranks as a postulant, a “trying it out” position that lasts one year. She’ll continue to go through phases called “formation,” eventually wearing a white robe and veil and taking a religious name. Five years from now, she will decide whether to make a permanent vow.
Until then, like others at the monastery, she will live a radically austere life behind closed doors, working out the mystery of what she views as a distinct calling from God.
This begins by waking up at 3:30 a.m. every morning to pray, one of seven formal times throughout the day. The sisters also attend mass before an 8:30 p.m. bedtime.