faithfulness and success
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8 THE LIVING CHURCH April 20, 2014Mother Miriam with Mrs. Beatrice Magangani, wife of Bishop Fanuel Magangani of Northern Malawi,
Sr. Silvia (left), and Sr. Jane, at a volunteer event cleaning the Mzuzu Central Hospital grounds.Photos courtesy of the Community of St. Mary
By Richard J. Mammana, Jr.
Mother Miriam is the 18-year superior of theCommunity of St. Mary, Eastern Province, whichhas houses in Greenwich, New York, and Mzuzu,Malawi. Five sisters founded the community in1865 and the Rt. Rev. Horatio Potter, Bishop ofNew York, received them as a monastic order.
The sisters publish books (The Monastic Di-urnal Revised, vols. I and II, and the forth-coming Monastic Diurnal Noted Revised),appeared in a PBS documentary (The HiddenLife: The Story of the Sisters of St. Mary),sell goods made of cashmere wool, and makecards, calligraphy, and bookmarks.
How were you drawn to the monastic life,and how did you come to live it in the Com-munity of Saint Mary?Oh, Richard, God is so patient! My mother saved apicture I drew at age 6 while Hurricane Donnapassed over our home in Orlando, Florida. Thescene was the house across the street, and the cap-tion I wrote was God is love. However, it was notuntil I was 15 that I felt called to the religious life. Iam a fifth-generation cradle Episcopalian and wasprivileged to attend Episcopal schools all throughmy growing-up years.
I remember distinctly the moment I declared my
Faithfulnessand SuccessTWENTY MINUTES WITH MOTHER MIRIAM
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April 20, 2014 THE LIVING CHURCH 9
desire to be a nun. It was not in church. It wasnot to God. But it was to my tenth-grade gymteacher, when I refused to play powder-pufffootball! I was sent to the deans office, ofcourse; but the miracle was that he was a priestassociate of one of the newer Episcopal reli-
gious orders then and knew what I was searching for.Obviously, I had started out on a very human, willfulpath, but God could use even my foibles to get mewhere he wanted me.
I always marvel at his timing. While a sophomore atthe University of the South, Sewanee, I visited the Sis-ters of St. Mary several times. The first time I metMother Mary Basil, who was there on official visitationfrom the motherhouse in Peekskill. The second time I
met Mother Mary Grace, then Mother General of thecommunity. I loved both of them and felt I could trustthem and live under their direction. There is not muchglamor in my story, but a lot of personal growth andsurprises on the way.
How has CSM changed during the time that youhave been a sister?I entered in 1975 when most of the post-Vatican II up-heaval of the 1960s in the religious orders had settleddown. I am one of the last sisters in the community tohave experienced community life at the Mother Houseof the Eastern Province when it was a thriving com-munity of 35 sisters in six branch houses. That changedshortly after my novitiate. We all remember MotherMary Basil as the one called to close all those branch
houses, bring sisters back to the mother-house, and reinvent the service of thesisters to the Church through the retreatand Benedictine hospitality ministry. For15 of those years I was the youngest inthe house.
CSM has always adapted to outside in-fluences because the sisters were serv-ice-oriented, even when their last-re-maining capacity was prayer. When Ientered, the days of running largeschools, hospitals, homes for orphans ortroubled teenage girls were numbered.The number of sisters was declining, andthe increasing governmental regulationsmade it impossible to fulfill the obliga-tions of both a religious and a social serv-ice professional. We chose the Opus Deigladly, as we would like to think MotherHarriet, our foundress, would have cho-sen. The monastic life is countercultural.We chose faithfulness over success be-cause we believe that is what God is al-ways asking of us.
The consequence of that choice was acascade of circumstances that pointedto our eventual relocation from the met-ropolitan New York area to upstate NewYork in the Diocese of Albany. When weclosed St. Marys School in Peekskill andultimately sold it to a real estate devel-oper, our time in Peekskill was limited.Peekskill had grown into suburbia forNew York City. In 1870 Mother Harriethad envisioned the rural Peekskill con-vent for training her young sisters inmonastic prayer and giving elderly sis-
TWENTY MINUTES WITH MOTHER MIRIAM
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10 THE LIVING CHURCH April 20, 2014
Children of Likoma Island, Malawi, lead Mother Miriamfrom St. Peters Cathedral back to the boat.
banys Christ the King Spiritual Life Center, doing thethings we do best: pray, teach, preach the gospel, leadretreats, raise much of our own produce, meat, andcashmere goats. Our aim is the wisdom of the Bene-dictine balance of prayer, study, and manual labor allfood for the soul in the school of the Lords service.
Who have been the most important influencesin your monastic life?I should say first that the rector in my childhood parish,Christ the King, Orlando, Florida, was the one who in-stilled a love of the Lord in me. I remember my confir-mation at age 10 with joy because I understood that Iwas now allowed to receive the Body and Blood of ourSavior, a most magical moment for me.
Mother Mary Basil was a role model in wisdom, pa-tience, and trust in God. She gave me a lot of scope as
ters their well-deserved respite in prayer.It was no longer that rural oasis in 1980.
I was elected the Eastern MotherProvincial in 1996 while still one of thetwo youngest sisters in the house. Instudying our history, I found that onlyMother Harriet and Mother Mary Am-brose (the first western sister electedMother Provincial in Kenosha, Wiscon-sin) were younger upon their election.Clearly, the sisters knew that radicalchange was in the air. It was a time tohonor the wisdom of the past and findthe common thread into Gods Kingdomfor us all in a new era.
In my 18 years as mother, so far Iwould say that the two major changesfor us were the coming of the MalawianSisters in 1999 and the relocating andbuilding of a new motherhouse at Christthe King Spiritual Life Center in the Dio-cese of Albany in 2003. My belovedMalawian sisters have taught us muchabout the gospel life as we laughed,cried, and struggled our way to a com-mon understanding of the sacrifice andjoys of living as a monastic family.
Sr. Martha, the first Malawian novice,today will tell you that she is my mem-ory. I have a terrible memory, especiallyif I do not write things down. As anovice, she was convinced that I did notlove her because I always forgot to gether needed things. Now she has learnedthe weakness of my education com-pared to hers. Her learned memory skills are phenom-enal compared to mine, but it does not mean she lovesme more than I love her. The American sisters taughtthe Malawian sisters what we knew about prayer, the-ology, church history, animal husbandry, computers,and bookkeeping. They are well positioned to make thetransition into the 21st-century Anglican Communionthe African way.
The second change, the move of the American sis-ters to Greenwich, was a community-accepted realityfrom the moment the city of Peekskill planned to de-clare the convent road a public thoroughfare in 2000.Only one sister departed this world during my time asmother in Peekskill. Life was just too interesting rightthen. The five sisters over 85 when we moved all livedinto their 90s. Life was a fun time of making newfriends and dreaming new dreams for the kingdom,and still is. We are an integral part of the Diocese of Al- (Continued on next page)
April 20, 2014 THE LIVING CHURCH 11
Mother Miriam repairs a chasuble for the missions of the Diocese of Albany.
a novice to research Canon Winfred Dou-glass work and finish the plainsong adap-tation for the Monastic Diurnal NotedRevised.
I have Dr. Burton Grebin, the presi-dent of St. Marys Hospital for Children,Bayside, New York, to thank for sup-
porting my desire to go to Fordham UniversitysGraduate School of Business. At the time it seemed acrazy thing for a nun to do, but without the skillslearned there, I do not think we could have organizedthe Greenwich relocation successfully and debt-free.Frankly, working under him for five years at the hos-pital saved my vocation as a religious. As a young sis-ter, I was too restless and hungry for new experienceand learning for a purely contemplative lifestyle. For-tunately, ours is a mixed life of prayer yes butalso work and study.
I have lots of heroes besides Mother Harriet,among the monastics of the past: Evagrius Ponticusfor his masterful understanding of temptation; Bene-dict, the father of us all; Aelred of Rievaulx becausehe was not afraid to encourage true friendshipsamong his Cistercian brethren; Dame LaurentiaMcLachlan of Stanbrook Abbey, who is known forher plainsong scholarship, her unusual friendshipwith the old renegade George Bernard Shaw, and asa model for Rumer Goddens In this House of Brede;and lastly, Dom Gregory Dix for his theological schol-
arship, both in The Shape of the Liturgy and in his lastwork, Jew and Greek, on the formation of the Apos-tolic Church.
In our conversations over the last 15 years, Ihave learned that we both have Mother Harriet,one of the founders of CSM, as a close spiritualadvisor. What do you think she is telling hercommunity today?Yes, you are right. Since I was a young sister I have al-ways wished I could sit down with Mother Harriet andhave a heart-to-heart chat with her. Everything I coulddig out of the archives pointed to an extraordinary ladywith ardent devotion to Jesus Christ. She convinced methat the only-child attitude was not what I wanted i