July 27, 2021

Our Beloved Mother Gabriel

Four years ago, our beloved Mother Mary Gabriel Long, SsEW, foundress of the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word, passed on to her eternal reward.  When reflecting on Mother Mary Gabriel’s life, it was love that animated her entire life, a love that was poured into her heart by the Holy Spirit.

Mrs. and Mrs. Long and their six children (Mother Mary Gabriel on right)

Her life was the gift from our Heavenly Father, through the love of her parents, Nell and James Long. Her parents had a deep love for God, each other, and their six children. It was manifested by the way they lived their lives.  Mother Mary Gabriel quoted her father as saying “there is nothing worth a dern in this world but the Catholic Church.”

Nell and James Long with Mother Mary Gabriel as a Dominican Sister at St. Cecilia’s, many years prior to the founding of the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word.

Her parents loved their Catholic faith.  They assisted at Mass, received the sacraments, prayed the Holy Rosary, attended Novenas at the Church, and sacrificed so that their children received a Catholic education. Jim cultivated a garden of flowers for the Church and Nell would bake cakes for the priests.  They would also take in people who for various reasons needed a place to stay for a while.  Mrs. Long also would bring food, clean house, and wash clothes for neighbors who were sick and needed help.  Jim used to say that when Nell died there really would be an energy crisis.

When Jim’s father was at an age when he needed to move in with one of his children, he chose to stay with Jim and Nell, and he came into the Catholic Church on his deathbed.  The witness of her parents’ life of sacrificial love had a profound impact Mother Mary Gabriel. She would often say, “I have no excuse because my parents were living examples of sacrificial love.”  Nell and James Long handed on to her a love for the Catholic Faith and the desire to live a life of sacrificial love. Her formation in the faith at home was reinforced by the Catholic education she received from the Nashville Dominicans.

From a young age she had a love for our Eucharistic Lord and His Blessed Mother.  She loved the stories of the Eucharistic saints such as Tarcisius and Blessed Imelda.  Her love for the Mother of God greatly developed after she prayed for a deeper devotion to the Blessed Mother, and Mary answered her prayer!   Mother Gabriel especially loved the prayer of the Holy Rosary. She had a great love for Bible Stories and the heroic lives of the saints.  Her confirmation saint was Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the “Little Flower,” whose emphasis was to do small things with great love.  Like her confirmation saint, Mother Gabriel was bold in her trust in the love and Providence of God, but she also had a great love for a humble and hidden life.


She was young when she began to think about a vocation to religious life (left: Mother Gabriel pictured with her two of her siblings).  In High School she attended St. Cecilia’s boarding school in Nashville through a work scholarship and suffered the trial of homesickness.  One of the Sisters at the school helped her through it by walking and talking with her, and during her time there, Mother Gabriel received the grace to respond to the call of becoming a spouse of Christ, a life of self-sacrificing love. Mother Mary Gabriel always had a great love for the Sisters in the convent and the students she taught, as well as a great desire to do for others what God had done for her: to lead souls to love God and each other.

Mother Mary Gabriel with her own mother, Nell Long, and Sister Mary John Paul.

Mother Gabriel also loved good recreation and making the other Sisters laugh and having a good time.  She understood that the essence of following Christ was the perfection of charity and it began with a pure heart.  One of her favorite prayers she would often quote was:

My God I love You, yet not for hope of gain,
Nor that I fear the pain of Thy just rod, but as Thou loveth me,
I love and shall love Thee, My Lord and My God.

Mother Mary Gabriel laughing at the Holy Father’s quip about two “John Pauls!”

The purity of her love for Jesus was her faithfulness to all that God asked of her.  She went wherever He wanted her to go no matter how great the cost. Starting a new community requires a great leap of faith, and while she always treasured her Dominican heritage, she answered God’s call to start the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word, and she never looked back.

Sister Marie Francesca after her Profession of Vows

She said that we need to choose to have the character to love.  Many times, she would say that the way you know that you are growing in your life of prayer is by love. Mother Mary Gabriel would say to the Sisters often that the early Christians were known for their love: “See how those Christians love one another.”

The Sister Servants lovingly cared for Mrs. Nell Long in the last years of her life.

Mother Mary Gabriel lived these words.  She would see to it that the sick and suffering were taken care of without counting the cost.  The last years of her life she had many health challenges.  When she would visit a particular doctor’s office, he said she brought a great peace to that place the whole day.  Another nurse said that, from the first time she met her, she saw something beautiful in her spirit, and that nurse ended up converting to the Catholic faith. Many stories like these can be told about Mother Mary Gabriel.

When it came to her own illness she never wanted to be a bother to other people.  When a Sister would ask, “Why does God not heal you?” she would always answer that we have to trust Him. This does not mean she did not want and ask to be healed, but she accepted her sufferings as God’s Will. While she was honest about her sufferings she also desired that being with her be a joy for others. She was particularly good at uplifting others! This is the heritage she has given to us her daughters.

Memorial Mass for Mother Mary Gabriel on the 4th anniversary of her entrance into eternal life.

We pray that the Good God may give us the power to live by love as Mother Mary Gabriel did and we conclude with another prayer she loved by Saint Thomas Aquinas:

Jesus, give me the Understanding to know You,
The Dedication to seek You,
The Wisdom to find You,
A Way of Life that pleases You,
And the knowledge that I will one day, at last, embrace You.

July 11, 2021

June Apostolic Travels: FOCUS New Staff Training & Camp Wojtyla

Earlier this summer Sr. Marie Therese and I were blessed to attend the Fellowship of Catholic University’s Students (FOCUS) new staff training for its missionaries. Having been once before in 2019, it was wonderful both to see missionaries we had met previously and to meet many of the first and second year missionaries for the first time. Over two full weeks, we joined the missionaries for classes, group discussions, recreation times and meals. The training took place at Ave Maria University in Florida with young missionaries arriving from all over the United States. One of the biggest blessings was hearing their stories, stories that illustrate what God has done in each of their lives.

Our hope is that our presence at NST is a source of encouragement and support to the individual young people preparing to go out on college campuses to evangelize students. With so many obstacles present to the preaching of the Gospel in our world today, the missionaries are aware of the importance of prayer and sacrifice. It was humbling to be with so many men and women preparing spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally for the battle for souls on campuses. Please keep these young missionaries in your prayers!

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“I Have Come That They May Have Life, And Live It To The Full.”- Jn. 10:10

In the middle of June, our postulant Sister Madeline and I were given the great opportunity to travel to Colorado to participate in a week of activities at Camp Wojtyla. The camp is named after and takes as its patron, Pope Saint John Paul II, who loved ministering to youth in the beauty of creation, especially the mountains.   In this spirit, campers from all over the USA gather to encounter Christ in the magnificence of the Rocky Mountains.  All the camp’s activities, challenges and adventures are designed to lead the campers into deeper relationship with God, themselves, each other, and creation.  Ultimately, Camp Wojtyla strives to inspire and help the campers “live life to the Full” (John 10:10) by being “led and challenged through adventures in the wilderness into a joyful and transformative relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church” (Camp Wojtyla’s mission statement).  These adventures in the wilderness that Sister and I were able to experience provided an opportunity that was full of beauty, fun, and prayer. 

The beauty of God’s creation was amazing and the Rocky Mountains captivated us!  Each day we gazed on this beauty and recalled the words of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati: “Mountains, mountains, mountains, I love you.”  The week also never lacked in fun and activities, and each day the two of us joined these various adventures.  From hiking to fishing, archery to crafts, and bonfires with s’mores, “hobo burgers,” and root beer floats, we did it all!  Though these activities were always a blast, they didn’t simply stop at the fun.  Each one was an analogy for the spiritual life which the camp’s counselors and directors helped the campers understand.  As a camp, we also gathered together for prayer and the Celebration of Holy Mass.  In the Scriptures we hear of Jesus going up the mountain to be alone to pray.  At Camp Wojtyla, we were invited to be with Jesus atop the mountain where we encountered Him, spoke with Him, and received Him in Holy Communion.  Consequently, this intimate time with Jesus empowered us to live fully the fun and adventures of the day and to appreciate the beauty around us.  In other words, we experienced what Jesus tells us in the Gospel: “I have come that they may have life, and live it to the full” (John 10:10)! 

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June 29, 2021

Corpus Christi 2021 at Casa Maria

Every year, we look forward to the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi. In years past, the Mass would be immediately followed by a long Eucharistic procession around our parking lot with the Sisters, several flower girls and altar boys, and a very large congregation. Many of you have joined us in the past and look forward to this celebration as much as we do!

This year, with Corpus Christi not falling on one of our weekend retreats, we had the honor of Fr. Anthony Mary from the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word celebrating our Corpus Christi Mass and Procession with Fr. Leonard Mary joining him to concelebrate.

Fr. Anthony preached a beautiful homily reflecting on the words of the Ave Verum Corpus and the movie, I Am David. With Father’s permission, we share his homily with you:

This year’s procession was simpler than those of past years due to the pandemic. We had originally planned to have Fr. Anthony process with the Blessed Sacrament in our courtyard beneath our beautiful baldacchino, but we woke up to a windy, stormy day. We quickly shifted gears and decided that we would have a Eucharistic procession down our hallway as we do on the Saturday night of each of our weekend retreats. At the end of Mass, the rain stopped long enough to allow us to move the procession back to the courtyard at the last minute.

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June 1, 2021

Bring Flowers of the Rarest

On Mother’s Day, the Sister Servants gathered to crown the statue of Our Lady beside Mother Mary Gabriel’s crypt (pictured below) as well as the statue of Our Lady in our conference room. In this reflection, Sr. Mary Anthony recalls her memories of the May Crownings her family always celebrated together.

The May Crowning was a traditional event in our home, always celebrated with all the solemnity that children’s hearts can muster! Every year at the beginning of the month, we had to make our May Altar. Someone would select a table and find a place for it, someone would find a candle or two, and the rest of us would go outside looking for flowers. Anything was fair game. Everything from clovers and dandelions to Mom’s irises would be ruthlessly plundered for the sake of Our Lady! And no matter how beautiful the bouquets or how simple or even straggly were our offerings, neither our Mom, nor our heavenly Mother ever rejected any of them.

Sr. Mary Anthony and some of her siblings crowning Our Lady when they were younger.

The statue would be brought out and one of us would get to place the crown on Mary’s head while we all sang, “Bring Flowers,” “Tis the Month of Our Mother” and any other Marian hymn of which we could remember a significant number of words (If you forgot part, you just hummed, or thought up other words that sounded relatively suitable). Then it was not uncommon to do it all over again, because somebody was sad that they hadn’t been chosen to crown Mary, so they had to have a turn. Over the years, as nieces and nephews came into the mix, we might crown Mary on several different days, sometimes at the May Altar, sometimes at the outdoor statue, with whichever bunch of kids was visiting. Sometimes we would pray the Rosary, sometimes other prayers, but we always sang, and we always brought flowers.

Was it as perfect as I am making it sound? Of course not (memory has a way of smoothing off the rough edges!), but one thing I know is that my relationship with Mary was fostered by that devotion in my family. And the idea of Mary as a Mother who is as pleased with my little bouquets of clover as my own Mom never failed to be has been with me ever since.

Sr. Mary Anthony’s nieces and nephews continue the tradition of crowing Our Lady to this day!

I asked Mother Louise Marie if I could share my memories with you in the hopes that you might consider making this devotion a tradition in your own family. Even if you live alone, making a special place to honor Mary in your home and your heart during the month of May will surely bear fruit. Our Lady will certainly be pleased, and you might find that it’s a little easier to relate to her as Mother when you come to her “bringing flowers of the rarest” or at least with the simplicity of a child.

Pictures from our 2021 May Crownings at Casa Maria

April 29, 2021

Easter Season with the Sister Servants

Easter Preparations

Every year, we look forward to Holy Week and the Easter Triduum. Our religious life allows us to enter more fully into the rhythm of this sacred week. All hands are on deck as we prepare for these holiest of days through our work in the chapel, in the yard and in the kitchen.

The Triduum Liturgies

Fr. Patrick Mary, MFVA, celebrated our Triduum liturgies, and he was joined by some of his brother Friars who assisted him with preaching. Fr. Joseph Mary, MFVA, celebrated our Easter Sunday Mass. Still restricted by COVID, we were not able to have the larger crowds of past years. We look forward to welcoming our friends again for Holy Week in 2022!

Easter Octave Outing to the Bankhead National Forest

One of the ways we celebrated the Easter octave this year was by taking an outing to the Bankhead National Forest in Northern Alabama. Several of the Sisters went hiking in the Sipsey Wilderness area while others enjoyed the nature and fellowship with one another.