SIOUX CITY — The medal of St. Joseph which Mother Agnes lost in 1960 while trudging up a hill to check out the last possible site for a new monastery in the wilds of Morningside remains on the hillside of the grounds of the Carmelite monastery.
"I was just thinking yesterday, wouldn't it be something this year if we found the medal?" said Mother Joseph of Jesus, OCD, prioress of Sioux City's Discalced Carmelite Sisters, on the eve of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Our Lady of the Incarnation Monastery, 2909 S. Cecelia St. "It fell out of her pocket and this is the place where we ended up building our monastery."
Apparently, St. Joseph approved the site before Mother Agnes did.
In celebration of the golden anniversary, the Carmelite sisters will hold a public reception from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday in the meeting room. Then, as is done every Sunday, they will pray the rosary at 3:45, followed by the Second Vespers of Sunday.
At 9 a.m. Monday, a special Mass on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord will be held in the monastery chapel, celebrated by Bishop R. Walker Nickless of the Diocese of Sioux City and concelebrated by a number of diocesan priests and visiting Carmelite friars from the Oklahoma Province, including Father Provincial Luis Joaquin Castaneda, OCD.
Mother Joseph, formerly Marilyn Rich of Ohio, said the seven sisters now in residence at the monastery are relative newcomers to Sioux City. Mother Joseph joined the order about 20 years ago, soon after the monastery opened its doors to the public in 1991 for a 30th anniversary open house celebration.
"Our other sisters who had been here many, many years have all gone home to the Lord. We lost five sisters since 1997," she said. "Our last was Mother Agnes, our foundress from the Bettendorf (Iowa) Carmel, who had been in Carmel for 72 years. She was 91."
Mother Agnes died in 2009.
She was one of the seven sisters in residence when the monastery opened in 1962. The monastery has had as many as 17 sisters at one time, and in the late 1980s, the number had dropped to four sisters and one novice. At this time, Mother Joseph said, the sisters started a weekly procession that prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary for vocations. This was the Marian Year as declared by the Holy Father. The result was that 11 novices came in 1988, which was when Marilyn Rich made her first visit to the monastery. She didn't enter the life at that time, but she did return as a sister in 1991.
"And we're hopeful," she said. "We think the vocations are out there. But not everyone who comes here, perseveres. Like in any life, it's a special calling."
It was a late vocation for Mother Joseph. She had been a secretary for many years, but she wanted to be a sister when she was a young Catholic school girl.
"But you don't always do what you maybe think you're going to do, and for various reasons," she said, admitting that for a time she even drifted away from the church.
She was drawn back in the 1980s, having what she called a "little conversion," rekindling that childhood desire to be a nun.
"But I realize now, it really wasn't so much what I wanted to do. Well, I wanted to do it, but it really is God's work," she said. "God called. He really calls you to a certain lifestyle."
Unlike many religious orders, the Carmelite sisters still wear the traditional full habits.
"Why? We think this is Our Lady's scapular. It's a witness to the world set apart for God, I believe. We're not following the fashions. We're the people that are chosen as the brides of Christ. And really we are betrothed to him. I have my ring," she said, showing the ring that she received when she made her first profession.
Life at the Carmelite monastery is one of "hidden prayer" and contemplation.
"We have three vows ... of poverty, chastity and obedience," Mother Joseph said.
Contrary to what some believe, the sisters take no vow of silence, but they remain silent throughout the day. The silence is out of respect for each other, she said.
"It helps to foster our union with God, the silence. Silence is beautiful," she said.
The sisters also enjoy two periods of recreation each day where they gather together for talk, sewing and other pursuits.
"It may not sound too exciting to people out there, but believe me, it's exciting. Well, maybe that's not the best word to use, but our boring life is never dull," she said.
"Basically we're here to love God and to let ourselves be loved by Him," Mother Joseph said. "And we're here for the church. We pray for priests. We're here for the world and for people. There are so many people needing prayers for various hardships, whether it's unemployment or sickness, addictions, all sorts of things. We're just here for God's children and we offer our lives in prayer and sacrifice, but mainly it's a thing of love. It's a love relationship. We want to give ourselves totally to Him."
The grill at the entrance is a sign of the sisters' intent to be free from the distractions of the world.
Only on rare occasions do they watch television, though they do read the newspaper to be aware of what is happening in the world and, consequently, where their prayers should be directed.
The local Carmelites are self-governing and self-supporting. They package and distribute altar bread, the hosts used at Mass.
"And also, our benefactors are very good to us," she added.